Exploring the Sacred

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Beholding the Sacred

Epistle Side - Joseph's Side

J1: Abraham & Isaac
J2: Joseph sold into slavery
J3: Jesus in the Temple amdist the Doctors
J4: David defeats Goliath
J5: Ishmael and Hagar with angel
J6: The Stoning of Stephen
J7: The Baptism of Jesus
J8: The Calling of John and James
J9: The Centurion at the Crucifixion
J10: The Feeding of the Multitude
J11: The Transfiguration
J12: Jesus and the rich man
J13:  The arrest of Jesus




















































Saint James Chapel

Saint James Chapel at Saint John’s Seminary College,
Camarillo, CA

Saint John’s Seminary College was built between 1961 and 1964 to accommodate the growing number of seminarians in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.  The campus was comprised of administration buildings, three dormitory wings, a large assembly hall, classrooms, a library, a refectory, service buildings, athletic facilities, and a chapel all organized around a central mall.

The A.C. Martin Firm designed the buildings in the architectural style known as New Formalism or sometimes referred to as Neo-Palladianism.  This style favored monumentality, balance, symmetry, and reflected qualities of classical proportions, arches, formal landscaping, and use of rich materials such as granite and marble.  This style achieved its height of popularity between the 1960s through the mid-1970s.  The seminary was lauded as an architectural gem and received multiple recognitions for its scale and composition. 

Saint James’ Chapel
St. James Chapel was located on the east end of the mall and was axially aligned with the administration/dormitory buildings situated at the west end of the mall.  It was built of pre-stressed concrete.  The chapel’s architecture emphasizes symmetry and balance. Its architectural scheme was described as follows by the project’s lead designer, Joseph Amestoy:

   Columns and sidewalls would be used which are formed by a series of  
   (prestressed) concrete cross-shaped columns in which one arm of the
   cross receives the vertical section of the T-shaped beams and the other
   arm forms part of the wall. These columns are placed close together (8
   feet) so that the remaining void is filled with a generous amount of glass,
   giving maximum light and air. The repeating columns and beams produce
   a series of flat arch forms which strongly directs all attention forward to
   the focal point of space, the altar. (Evangelist, Volume 23, No. 3, Spring
  1961: 18).

The chapel’s columns supported a flared roof with deeply overhanging eaves. Like a Gothic-period church, the chapel’s concrete piers supported the stained-glass windows that fill the upper two-thirds of the wall surface. Those areas of wall surface that are not glazed are comprised of cast concrete panels with an aggregate finish. The chapel was designed to accommodate a capacity of four hundred persons.  (Evangelist, Volume 23, No. 3, Spring 1961: 18).

The Façade
The façade featured a centrally placed doorway flanked by large stone high reliefs set on inscribed plinths.  The relief on the left was of St. James; on the right, the relief represented St. John the Evangelist (John and James were brothers, and their sculptures represent the “brotherly” institutions of St. John’s Major Seminary and St. John’s Seminary College).  The plinths below each relief featured were inscribed with quotes from the Roman Catholic Rite of Ordination.  A large stained-glass window above the doors featured a Celtic cross whose design was inspired by Cardinal James Francis McIntyre’s own pectoral cross. 

Saint James
The relief depicts St. James below Mary and the Child Jesus seated atop a pillar.  Tradition has it that the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to St. James while he was living and preaching in Spain.  James was discouraged that the inhabitants of that land were not responding to the Gospel and converting to Christianity.  In the face of what he thought was a failure in his mission, he prayed with his disciples by the Ebro river in modern-day Zaragoza.  The Ebro river and its iconic arched bridge are depicted in the lower right side of the relief.  A small church, the old Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar, is represented on the lower left-hand side. 

 The inscription on the plinth reads: 
The office of the priest is to offer sacrifice, to bless, to govern, to preach, and to baptize. Truly it must be with great fear that you ascend to so high a station: and care must be taken that heavenly wisdom, an irreproachable character, and long continued righteousness shall command the candidates chosen for it.

Saint John
John stands looking to God in majesty above him; the King of Kings is surrounded by the seven golden lampstands and a sharp sword proceeds from his mouth.  An eagle, symbol proper of the Evangelist, rests at his feet.

The plinth below the relief reads: 
Understand what you do, imitate what you administer.  Inasmuch as you celebrate the mystery of the death of the Lord, you should endeavor to mortify in your members all sin and concupiscence.  Let your teaching be a spiritual medicine for the people of God and the odor of your lives a delight for the Church of Christ. May you thus build up, by preaching and example, the house, that is, the family of God.

The text on the plinths is from the Pontificale Romanum, specifically, the Admonition of the bishop to those about to be ordained priests. 

The St. James Chapel was in the form of a large rectangle. Thirty-one stained-glass windows extended the length of the nave.  These were designed and fabricated by the Paul L. Phillips Studio of Altadena and depicted significant events in salvation history, the seven sacraments, and the minor orders.  The sanctuary boasted a monumental cast-stone reredos depicting the Last Supper, a crucifix, scenes from the life of Christ, Mary presented in the general contour of Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Joseph with a flowering staff, and important men and women of the Old Testament.  The high-polished tabernacle sat in the middle of the reredos, directly below the grand cross; it was flanked by the apostles depicted in the Last Supper.  Their gazes were turned to the center.  The figure of Christ at the Last Supper was not depicted for it was Christ present in the tabernacle and the priest at the altar who completed the tableau.  Spanish artist Antonio Ballester Vilaseca (b. 18 August 1910 – 08 March 2001) crafted the reredos and stations of the cross.  Ballester created a replica of the Last Supper tableau for St. Anthony of Padua Church in Fresno, CA.   

Scroll below for a list of the panels on the reredos.

The Windows

The windows were especially thoughtful in theme and arrangement.  One best appreciated the windows by reading them when one entered the chapel.  The initial window on the right side depicted our first parents, Adam and Eve.  Directly across from it was the Nativity, the fulfillment of the protoevangelium.  The second window on the right depicted Moses, the great legislator and law giver of the Old Testament, it's counterpart depicts Christ, the new Moses who establishes a new law for all of God's people.  The third window on the right portrayed the prophet Jeremiah who quotes God as saying, "I will give you many fishermen to be fishers of men"; on the opposite side was the fulfillment of this prophecy when Christ called the Apostles to come after him and promised to make them fishers of men.  The fourth window on the right was of Noah holding the ark, the vehicle through which God saved humanity from extinction during the great flood; the counterpart window portrayed Jesus handing the keys of the kingdom to Peter, establishing His Church, the barque through which salvation is gained.  The fifth window on the right depicted Priest-King Melchisedek offering bread and wine for Abraham's victory; on the opposite window was a depiction of Christ, the eternal high priest.  The sixth window depicted the Cain murdering his brother Abel, whose blood cries out to God from the earth; the counterpart window depicted Christ himself, on the cross, shedding his blood for the salvation of humankind.  The seventh window pictured Jonas being spued up by the seamonster; the window on the left depicted Christ rising from the grave.  The eighth and last window depicting salvation history showed God appearing to Moses in the burning bush; on the Gospel side was a depicting of Pentecost with the Holy Spirit descending upon the apostles in the form of tongues of fire.     

The windows on the Gospel side continued in series to portray the various steps leading up to priesthood according to the former rite: tonsure, porter, lector, exorcist, acolyte, sub-deacon, and finally, ordination to the diaconate.  These windows have found a new home in the prayer hall in the Theologate.  Priesthood was not depicted because Christ himself, the eternal high priest, was present in the tabernacle. 

The ninth window on the Epistle side depicted Aaron, who was chosen for priesthood by the miraculous blooming of his staff.  the next six windows on the Epistle side designated six of the sacraments.  On the tenth window Christ was depicted with Nicodemus explaining Baptism.  The eleventh window depicted the Apostles conferring Confirmation upon the newly baptized members of the church in Samaria.   The twelfth window depicted the risen Christ conferring the power of forgiveness of sins to the apostles.  The thirteenth window depicted Christ sending out the apostles to heal the sick through anointing and prayer.  The fourteenth window showed Christ at the Wedding at Cana; the inscription below read, "Men, love your wives as Christ loved the Church" cf. Ephesians 5:25.  The fifteenth window depicted Christ instituting the sacrament of Holy Orders at the Last Supper and saying to the apostles, "Do this in memory of me", Luke 22:19.  The sevent sacrament, Eucharist, was not depicted because Christ in the Eucharist is present in the sacrifice of the altar and in the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle.  (Source: A Brief Explanation of the Facade, the Stained Glass Windows, and the Reredos of Saint James' Chapel by Fr. William Kenneally, C.M.)

The Final Chapter
Saint John’s Seminary College proudly served the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and many other Diocese as for nearly half a century but closed in 2002 due to declining enrollment.   The Archdiocese of Los Angeles sold the property for real estate development.  Construction began in 2018 and all buildings, except the Carrie Estelle Doheny Library, were razed.  The stained-glass windows were preserved, and at least the Celtic cross, and minor order windows have found a new home in the prayer hall in the Theologate.  The chapel and monumental reredos were destroyed after they were deemed too expensive to preserve. 

Gospel Side - Mary's Side

M1: Adam and Eve
M2: Ruth gathering wheat in the field of Boaz
M3: Anna at the door of the Tabernacle
M4: Judith beheading Holofernes
M5: Esther crowned queen
M6: The Annunciation
M7: The Visitation
M8: The Presentation
M9: The Wedding at Cana
M10: Healing of the crippled woman
M11: Jesus with Mary & Martha
M12: The Descent from the Cross
M13: Raising of the son of the widow of Naim

Camarillo, CA

Scroll below for a list of the panels on the reredos.

*These photographs were all taken by the author during various visits.  Unfortunately, solicitations for permission to photograph the chapel before demolition were not returned. 

I welcome submissions of better quality pictures.