Month: March 2019

The Lenten Dome

There’s a carefully arranged catechism with an interesting Lenten theme included in the twenty-four stained-glass windows of the Guastavino Dome at St. Francis de Sales Church, but since the windows are so high above the nave, few people are aware of it!

Imagine a cross made by connecting four compass points through the middle of the dome. The dome window to the North, showing three nails and the crown of thorns, would be at the “head” of the cross, its symbols representing the physical “sufferings of Christ.” At its “foot,” to the South, is a window showing the “hammer and tongs” that inflicted the wounds.

Now find the imaginary “crossbar.” To the West, is a window showing the “Scourges,” or whips, used in Christ’s humiliation. Exactly opposite, the Eastern window shows a “Lantern.” This was described in the 1911 and 1940 lists of dome window symbolism, as “the Light of Christian Doctrine which illuminates our pilgrim journey on earth.” An alternate reading, is as an emblem of Christ’s lonely nighttime agony and prayer vigil while his followers slept. Biblical symbolism sources note that “A lantern calls to mind nighttime activity, and it is used particularly as a symbol of Christ’s Passion, which began in the evening at the Garden of Gethsemane and continued under the cover of night” and “Lanterns were carried by the mob which arrested Jesus in Gethsemane.” The lantern completes the story of Christ’s suffering.

A previous column described another invisible cross in the dome – its axis running from the altar towards the back of the church, connecting the ascending and descending dove windows; and its crossbar stretching side-to-side linking the Papal Tiara window to St. Peter’s Keys.

The two groups of symbols encapsulate religious teaching: one set, defined by the building’s interior architecture, describes the structure of the Catholic church, showing the relationship between priest and pews; St. Peter and the Pope. The second cross, aligned to the strange forces represented by the compass and the sunrise, is about the central mystery of faith: Christ’s death and resurrection. Why is the lantern placed in the Eastern window? Think of the “Star of the East,” the beacon star, guiding wise travelers to Bethlehem. Also consider the direction of sunrise, when Jesus rose from the dead. Which leads us back to the original description of that holy lantern “which illuminates our pilgrim journey on earth.”

Our church decorations are quietly filled with layers of symbolism, which even its original parishioners likely did not fully appreciate (And we are still trying to find out more about the mysterious designer!).




“In Support of Television” (1959)

1953 nicholson's tv and radio serviceWhen did technology start to take over our lives? A long-ago SFDS Parish Monthly Bulletin offers a clue. Step into the time machine, travel back to 1959, and read how a fuzzy black-and white screen in a chunky box, topped with a V-shaped “rabbit ears” antenna, was changing the world. Many of the concerns seem familiar, but with period details!

“Television is the soul of our civilization. In a few years…man will…be able to discard that drying-up apparatus – the human mind –…, and, equipped with portable ‘rabbit ears’ (future headphones?!) that keep him attuned to some master brain, he will walk serenely and secure, knowing exactly which paste is best for his teeth…what tobacco best for his taste, what deodorant best for his odor, and what songs best for his ears…

(Television) brings much light into our lives…on such subjects as: ‘Which is the best automobile on the market?’ (and) ‘Which foods have the most proteins?’ ….’ Nor should anyone make light of these matters. All human people will agree that your dog deserves the finest dog food; your children deserve the most healthful vitamins…; and your girth, the snuggest girdle…

With the educational value of television no one dare argue. Children have been made to realize that just the knowledge of which is the longest river in the world, or the highest mountain, or the oldest city, may be enough to win anywhere from $100 to $20,000, while ignorance of these things may only get them a washing machine or a Cadillac (quiz shows were very popular!)

Or take Westerns (a favorite TV theme at the time)… Westerns have given us a greater and deeper understanding of the Pioneer Spirit that made America great. And now that the savage Indians are no longer a menace to peace and real estate, magnanimously may we recognize the sterling qualities of the first, true, genuine American.

Furthermore, what television has done for music is incalculable…No longer do great composers need stars, moonlight, flowers and love… Given a bit of guano (bird poo used in fertilizer), a dry cereal and/or a gallon of wine, music makers for commercials have enough melodious material to cause Chopin to rock and roll in his grave.

Quite obviously it is easy to criticize TV…Monstrously does TV monopolize our time. Yet it is grossly unfair to misplace the blame. For actually we control the controls.

Although a television set may occasionally be called an Idiot Box, it is in reality a Magic Box that can bring the whole world into our living-room…Television was never meant to supply for the Beatific Vision” (that is, it was never meant to guide us to heaven. Its purpose is to sell product, not save souls).

Look how far we’ve come?