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In Chains

posted by awelborn

We made it to, er..most of Mass late this morning at St. Peter in Chains Cathedral in Cincinnati. It was my first visit there – went to the mother St. Peter in Chains in Rome, after great effort (it was the only time in Rome we ever felt lost.), but the one time I tried to visit our version, it was locked up.

We stayed for the tour of the church offered after the Mass (common in many Cathedrals and other historic churches we’ve been to. Last time was across the river in Covington), which was brief, but interesting, despite the fact that this is not, IMHO, on of the most "magnificent churches in the country" as their brochure brags. The history, though, is intriguing. Originally finished in 1845, in the Greek Revival style, it went through some transitions:

After serving as Cincinnati’s cathedral for nearly one hundred years, St. Peter in Chains found itself in a rapidly deteriorating section of town with quickly disappearing parish community. The building itself was in need of substantial repair. As a result, Archbishop John T. McNicholas decided, in 1938, to abandon the old cathedral and made the newly built St. Monica church in Fairview his cathedral church. But in 1950, shortly after becoming Archbishop of Cincinnati, Archbishop Karl J. Alter, taking note of the city’s intention to invest substantial money and effort into a revitalized downtown, decided to completely restore and enlarge the old cathedral and return it to its former status as cathedral church of the Archdiocese. The work began in 1953, adding the transepts and an entirely new and greatly expanded sanctuary, sacristy, rectory, convent and office areas. The rededication took place on November 3, 1957 with week-long ceremonies and celebrations.

The most fascinating detail, and one which I’d like to return to study without a (naturally) restless baby running laps are the Stations – which are enormous, the primary wall decorations, and in the style of Greek vases:

The guide pointed to one bit of decoration above the stations, and indicated that it was unfinished (it was lacking some ornamentation its companions had), and he said this was traditional in churches – to leave some aspect of the work unfinished to symbolize the fact that this isn’t yet the End. Can anyone verify?

Odd historical nugget: Behind the sanctuary, in the hall in front of the (large) sacristy and (small) museum, stands a carriage. Yes, a mid-19th century carriage which belonged to Bishop John Baptis Purcell. Whose long, otherwise distinguished episcopacy ended in disgrace as he allowed his brother, a priest, to handle financial matters, not only of the archdiocese, but of a number of ordinary people as well, people who did not trust banks. The money was lost, an coadjutor appointed, and Bishop Purcell retired to the grounds of a convent outside the city from whence his carriage was eventually retrieved.

(The original Don Corleone?)

(Listeners of Cincinnati talk radio will get that one…unfortunately!)

A valuable, educational visit to a structure that has its points but is not exactly moving or inspiring – being as it is a combination of the original Greek Revival style with the renovations of the Schematic, Moderne 50’s.



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Margaret

posted July 9, 2006 at 7:02 pm


I’ve been there a few times, and always found Greek Revival to just be an… odd choice to design a cathedral after. A civic building, a university, yes, but a house of worship? I’m not quite sure why it feels so strange.



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Rich Leonardi

posted July 9, 2006 at 7:22 pm


The guide pointed to one bit of decoration above the stations, and indicated that it was unfinished (it was lacking some ornamentation its companions had), and he said this was traditional in churches – to leave some aspect of the work unfinished to symbolize the fact that this isn’t yet the End. Can anyone verify?
Hmmm. I know that Westminster Cathedral notes in its brochures that it too is unfinished, though I don’t recall any mention of its symbolism.
We took trips to the Cathedral earlier this year, first for a Sunday 11AM Mass and then for Tenebrae. Anthony DiCello’s choir is superb. I wrote up the first visit here.



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Christopher Fotos

posted July 9, 2006 at 7:23 pm


The guide pointed to one bit of decoration above the stations, and indicated that it was unfinished (it was lacking some ornamentation its companions had), and he said this was traditional in churches – to leave some aspect of the work unfinished to symbolize the fact that this isn’t yet the End. Can anyone verify?
Not exactly, and forgive me if I’m mis-remembering something I read a long time ago–but I wonder if that’s related to an Orthodox Jewish practice I seem to recall: Leaving some imperfection in your home, like a nick in the wall behind a framed picture, to symbolize and remind its inhabitants of their own imperfections, a rein on pride.
Also I agree with Margaret–it does feel strange, definitely evoking something like a temple to Apollo (or choose your favorite Greek deity) in one of the photos available on the cathedral site. Fascinating.



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Anne-Marie

posted July 9, 2006 at 7:51 pm


In Cologne they say that if the cathedral (which has been under construction/repair for about 800 years) is ever finished, it will be time for the Second Coming.



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John Murray

posted July 9, 2006 at 7:54 pm


Purcell was a good bricks-and-mortar bishop but, as Amy noted, not much on finances.
He might better be remembered as debating the formidable Alexander Campbell, founder of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) several times in 1837.



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Tom Craughwell

posted July 9, 2006 at 9:18 pm


That’s right, John. A Cincinnati newspaper that covered the Purcell-Campbell debates pronounced Campbell’s effort “a grand failure,” in which “Protestantism gained nothing… and Catholicism suffered nothing.”



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Dave Hartline

posted July 9, 2006 at 10:57 pm


I was at the cathedral for a wedding several years ago and heard a variety of interesting opinion about the cathedral. There is some beautiful artwork there. However, during the Mass I was also waiting for Socrates to come out and engage someone in a debate. The Greek Revival style might not be most Catholics idea of a cathedral. However, I have known some to think it was the most unique cathedral they ever saw. Across the street, if memory serves me well, is one of the most unique synagogues I have ever seen. I believe it was built in the mid 1800’s and has a Moorish style to it. You certainly can’t say both (cathedral & synagogue)are boring.



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Fr Martin Fox

posted July 9, 2006 at 11:40 pm


AAH! “Not exactly moving or inspiring”! Ouch!
I think our cathedral is beautiful; as a boy, it always seemed like Solomon’s Temple to me, very holy.



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Nance

posted July 9, 2006 at 11:47 pm


All comments about decor aside, I must say, St. Peter in Chains is a very cool name for a church. Far, far cooler than Scum of the Earth, which strikes me as 10 pounds of churchy hipness in a five-pound bag.



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LaVallette

posted July 10, 2006 at 2:00 am


The guide pointed to one bit of decoration above the stations, and indicated that it was unfinished (it was lacking some ornamentation its companions had), and he said this was traditional in churches – to leave some aspect of the work unfinished to symbolize the fact that this isn’t yet the End. Can anyone verify?
My understanding is that this is mainly a Southern Italian tradition particularly Neapolitan. It has two aspects to it; one sacred the other superstitious:
The sacred: Nothing can be completely perfect except God.
The superstitiuos: Dont tempt the devil by perfection, he will seek to destroy it.
My reading would suggest that most, if not all, the monumental buildings in Naples have some minor fault or other in line with this belief. This includes the Palace of the old Kings of Naples.



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inhocsig

posted July 10, 2006 at 7:40 am


As to the quality/completion of workmanship my experience has been the opposite.
When I was on a tour of Notre Dame in Paris, the guide turned over one of the chairs and pointed out some excellent workmanship. The reason for the workers attention to detail was that, though no human would normally see it in such places, God would.



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David L Alexander

posted July 10, 2006 at 9:31 am


Being from the Cincinnati area, I always loved the Cathedral there, and found it an excellent example of the architecture of the period.
http://www.aquinas-multimedia.com/church/peter1.html
In addition, the Pro-Cathedral of St Monica still stands on the hill north of downtown, near the UC campus, and is quite beautiful itself, if you ever get a chance to see it.
http://www.aquinas-multimedia.com/church/monic.html



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Eric

posted July 10, 2006 at 10:27 am


“Can anyone verify?”
This is more than a Southern Italian tradition. The facade of Notre Dame in Paris is asymetrical for the same reason–to indicate that perfection cannot be found this side of the eschaton.
The peaks over the central and right doors have rounded sides, while the peak over the left door is triangular. See here: http://perso.orange.fr/anthony.atkielski/NotreDameFacadeLarge.jpg.
I believe that this was first brought to my attention in a wonderful book, The Gothic Cathedral, by Otto Georg Von Simson.



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James Englert

posted July 10, 2006 at 1:14 pm


Dave Hartline makes a nice point about the counter-intuitive styles of both the cathedral and the synagogue directly across the street — the Plum Street Temple, built by Rabbi Issac M Wise in the 1860s when Cincinnati was the center of Reform Judaism. The exuberant Moorish/Islamic style reflects the cultural confidence of that period of American Judaism; there are many hundreds of light bulbs outlining arches and architectural elements which younger congregants like to count during lengthy High Holy Day services. It also includes an elaborate pipe organ, which most synagogues then and now do not have. Well worth a visit.
There is another very handsome Greek-temple style church in Cincinnati — Annunciation parish in Clifton, where the new liturgically minded pastor leads beautiful services.
http://www.aquinas-multimedia.com/church/annun.html



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DF

posted July 14, 2006 at 1:05 pm


The Greek revival can also be seen in the little book, Scriptural Rosary: Christianica Center 1961.



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