Monday, August 25, 2014

St. Timothy's Catholic Church Mosaics

I snapped this picture while driving down Pico and looked it up later--the mosaic dome topping the cupola is part of St. Timothy's Catholic Church. And while I couldn't find out much about the mosaics--inside or out--St. Timothy's itself has a very interesting history.

The church was built in 1949 at the corner of Pico and Beverly Glen. The parish had been in existence for six years, holding services in--among other temporary sites--an ice cream parlor while fundraising for a permanent building.

St. Timothy's website has tons of photos taken during construction, including the one below right showing the cross over the yet-to-be-constructed-and-tiled cupola.

The site says, "The cupola itself is constructed of flat steel bands formed in the shape of the cupola over which the cupola tile was placed."

Was not able to learn if any particular artist or designer was involved with the cupola mosaic, so that's it for the outside.

Inside is another story. There IS a mosaic behind the altar which was not part of the original design but commissioned later by Bishop Ward--probably in the early to mid 1960s, the years, just after Vatican II Council. Vatican II advised churches to do some remodeling so that the priest would face the congregation during Mass. That's when the altar was moved away from the painted back wall (you can see the painting, with rays shining out, below), and that's likely when the mosaic wall was installed.

By the way, the reason Bishop Ward was in a position to change St. Timothy's is that he was also pastor of the church. Why? I don't know, but it's very rare for a bishop to also be a pastor. Still, Bishop Ward was pastor of St. Timothy's for thirty years, so there's probably a tale behind that.

The really interesting story is about the wooden altarpiece itself. Constructed in Spain (date unknown, but likely 17th century), it was shipped to the Yucatan in 1900, but confiscated by the Mexican govenment. Somehow it ended up being auctioned off in the 1920s, and the woman who bought it--supposedly the wife of a secretary of the Doheny Oil Company--had it shipped to Los Angeles.

Her intention was that it be used in an Episcopal church. But she died before that happened, and the altarpiece sat in storage for a couple of decades, until it was put back on the auction block.

At this point, we must mention the church's connection to the movie community in the 1940s. Several of the parishioners worked for Fox Studios and MGM, constructing sets, etc. They were craftsmen, and they used their expertise to help build the new church. For example, the tabernacle--of bronze castings, plated in gold, that house silver statues of the Apostles--was created by MGM's Special Effects Dept, because the Dept. Manager was a parishioner.

Back to the altarpiece. Somehow, folks at Twentieth Century Fox found out about the altarpiece that was up for bids, and they told Father O'Shea, the pastor of this fledgling parish. Based on that information (sight unseen, iow) Father O'Shea sent a man to bid on the altarpiece and some other objects for the planned church, like heavy wooden doors.

So by the time the church was built, there was a small art collection in storage, awaiting placement in the new building.

At left is the altarpiece in the new church. Below is the same altarpiece. I zoomed in on a picture by professional wedding photographer Robert Greer.  The full color, uncropped photo at Greer's website shows so much more of the church--the ornamental ceiling panels (also from 1949), the stained glass windows, and side altars  that were also part of the altarpiece.

Anyway, it is the only good photo I could find of the mosaic that now sits behind the altarpiece.

The statues in those side altars have been in a 1946 movie--"The Jolson Story." They were supposed to be part of St. Mary's Home for Boys, and were later given to St. Timothy's.

One more thing to add--the church website also mentions that the Stations of the Cross in the church are mosaics. The webpage presents a slide show constantly playing, and I did see one of those mosaics flash by there. However, I couldn't find a picture to show here, and it's getting late. If you go into the building, though, be sure to look for them.

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