Exploring the Sacred
Beholding the Sacred
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*Leo XIII holds in his hand the encyclical Aeterni Patris, in which he made scholastic philosophy an obligatory subject of all students of theology. Thomist scholar Cardinal Mercier founded the Thomastic Institute at the University of Louvain, Belgium to more thoroughly instruct men in the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas.
Saint Thomas Aquinas Chapel
Saint Catherine’s Military was founded by the Dominican Sisters of Mission San Jose as a co-education school in Anaheim in 1889. In its early history it transitioned from school to orphanage and finally in 1925 became a military academy.
One of the jewels of the Academy is Saint Thomas Aquinas Chapel on the corner of Cypress Street and Harbor Boulevard. Both the architecture and the sacred art within are examples of the Mid-Century Modern style.
I remember serving Mass in this chapel in my youth and being fascinated by the enormous stained glass windows, the mural, and the mosaic above the Sister’s choir. My family held several family events in this chapel, and as I grew older and began to appreciate the different pieces, I realized that every detail had been beautifully and thoughtfully laid out in such a way that it all came together. Much like Thomistic philosophy, everything follows a certain order and pattern to form a greater whole. The chapel was suitably named.
Construction of the chapel began 1957 and was completed and dedicated a year later.
The artistic elements are the work of famed artist Jan Henryk de Rosen (Feb. 25, 1891 – Aug. 22, 1982). De Rosen’s art is found in the private Papal Chapel of Castel upon commission by Pope Pius XI; he also designed the Byzantine style mosaic Christ in Majesty which dominates the North Transept of the National Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C. It is one of the largest mosaic images of Jesus Christ in the world and contains more than 4,000 shades and colors.
The largest mosaic in the world is also the work of de Rosen. It is in the central dome of the Basilica Cathedral of St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri.
The stained glass windows of the chapel were a collaboration between Jan Henryk de Rosen and French master glass craftsman, Max Ingrand (Dec. 20, 1908 – Aug. 25, 1969). Ingram is known for his use of bold elements and substantial use of primary colors. Ingrand's Studio produced the windows in Paris, France.
The Ascent of Truth, comprised of twenty-four mosaic figures, accentuates the South side of the chapel. The colors of the mosaics (as well as the rest of the chapel exterior) are gold, black and white – colors associated with the Dominican Order. At the center of the mosaic is a sunburst medallion inscribed with Agia Sophia “Holy Wisdom” in Greek. It is flanked on the left by fifteen great thinkers from antiquity, including Hammurabi, Hippocrates, Plato, Ptolemy, and Seneca. On the right side of the medallion are Old Testament figures (from far right to center) Adam and Eve, Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Elias, Isaiah. John the Baptist stands closest to the sunburst; he is the last prophet and fore-bearer of the Christ.
The sunburst is placed directly behind the figure of Christ depicted on the corresponding interior wall. Christ is the Logos, God’s own Holy Wisdom.
Above the west entrance is a mosaic of St. Thomas Aquinas holding the Summa. The elements: air, fire, earth, and water, flank the Angelic Doctor.
Other exterior decorations include a statue of St. Thomas Aquinas by Gemma D’ Auria in the breezeway leading to the principal entrance of the chapel and a mosaic of St. Dominic in the Atrium leading to the rear entrance of the chapel.
The Descent of Truth pays homage to the men and women who through the span of Catholicism have witnessed by word and example the search for Wisdom, Truth, and Beauty through their work in philosophy, theology, literature, the arts, and science.
Christ the Teacher at once dominates and gives meaning to the mural as he stands arms outstretched, transmitting his eternal truths to all ages. He is supported by clouds and emerges from a golden nimbus. Christ is the light which illuminates history with enters humanity to make the Truth of God’s divine love known. The placement of Christ's hands mirrors those of the Father, the Creator, on the opposite wall. A clasp depicting the four evangelists join Christ’s flowing robes. Overhead is the image of Christ Crucified and to one side the title “Christ the Redeemer” in Greek.
To his right is the head of John the Baptist on a platter; he was the first to recognize Christ while still in his mother’s womb (St. Elizabeth is depicted immediately to the left) and the first publicly identify Jesus as the Christ, the Lamb of God. To his left is the eagle, a symbol of John the Evangelist, whose prologue reads, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God...” John 1:1.
To Christ’s left are nineteen men, Apostles, Fathers, and Doctors of the Church, theologians, and mystics, courageous men who entered into the problems of their age with learning and sanctity and who in the resolving of these problems led humanity closer to the truth.
They are John the Evangelist, Peter, Paul, Antony, Athanasius, Augustine, Gregory the Great, John Damascene, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, Dante and Virgil, Copernicus, Fra Angelico, Ignatius of Loyola, Pius V, Francis de Sales, Leo XXIII, and Cardinal Mercier. *
Women, too, have played their part in history as bearers of truth. The seven women depicted are outstanding in the story of the Church, not only for the legacy they have left humanity but also for the constant inspiration they provide to women of all states of life. Strikingly, they teach that God’s will is truth.
They are Elizabeth, Monica, Gertrude, Catherine of Siena, Jane d’ Aza (Mother of St. Dominic), Teresa of Avila, and Joan of Arc.
The mural is painted in somber colors of sepia, black, bright gold and silver leaf to balance the use of color in the stained glass windows.
Directly above the main entrance in the choir loft is Max Ingrand's Marian stained glass, Sedes Sapientiae, Causa Nostrae Laetitiae, Seat of Wisdom and Cause of our Joy. She sits on a throne supported by cherubs holding an open book. The pages read in Latin, “I am the mother of fair love, and of awe, and of knowledge, and of holy hope. In me is all grace of the way and the truth, in me is all hope of life and virtue.” Ecclesiastes 24: 24-26. Four angels –the two on her right hold scepters; on her right, the first holds the Dominican escutcheon, the second a torch, a popular Dominican symbol, flank Our Lady.
Max Ingrand’s majestic stained glass window of God the Father dominates the South wall of the chapel. This beautifully executed symphony of color and glass depicts the three principal works of the Father: 1) Creation: The Father is seated and with arms outstretched he governs creation beginning from within God’s intelligence and developing in motion around Him. God is the center of Creation. 2) Redemption: as depicted in the ruby red Stations of the Cross.
3) Sanctification: as depicted in the panels of the Seven Sacraments in which are also depicted the symbols of the corresponding theological, intellectual and moral virtues (think back to the Summa Theologica).
The Descent of the Holy Spirit, completed by de Rosen in 1964, is a large mosaic completed predominantly in shades of red set on a gold background. The golden figure of a dove hovers in front of a burst of fire which transitions to tongues. The focal point of the mosaic depicts Pentecost; Mary is at the center, and the Apostles surround her. The far lower left portion of the mosaic depicts the Annunciation. The far lower right portion illustrates Pope John XXIII; he raises his right hand in blessing, and he holds a scroll inscribed with Vatican II in his left hand. The obelisk of St. Peter’s is depicted behind John XXIII, to show the Spirit’s continued work in and through the church. This mosaic depicts the work of the Holy Spirit not only in Salvation History but also in the life of the Church. This piece echoes the prayer: “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth.”
The altar stands in the middle of the chapel in direct view of the Father, and the Son depicted on the south and north walls, respectively. The Holy Spirit on the west wall completes the Trinitarian triangle as the vertex. A baldachino directly above the altar is inscribed with VERITAS (Truth).
This chapel dedicated to Truth as it has been revealed to us by Divine Love from the time of creation to the Incarnation and the life-giving work of the Holy Spirit through the ages. God has given us reason, and the human heart and mind are striving in search for Truth, Wisdom, Beauty, Love, and Happiness. Ultimately, this search leads us to Christ himself; the Agia Sophia, God’s Holy Wisdom made incarnate, who is the Source of Life.