Saturday, November 8, 2014


The past few Blogs have presented some art in our Seattle Cathedral, but there is much more to see and people come from all over to gaze and pray.

Perhaps the most "controversial" is also the oldest. No one knows how it came to be in Seattle. Art historians, church administrators and amateur sleuths have all taken their shots at solving the puzzle, but none has succeeded. It is clear the masterpiece is not listed on any stolen-art registry

After the work was discovered in a crate in the cathedral basement in 1950, it hung for decades in the chapel. In 1991, it came to the attention of  University of Washington student, Elizabeth Darrow, who recognized its worth.  For decades, the 55-by-64-inch painting got little fanfare or care.

It suffered from poor handling and crude retouching efforts over the past 500 years. It was painted on four poplar planks, the top one of which was, at one point, out of alignment. Gluing it back during some past amateurish effort at restoration warped the panel. Finally, it was sent to a local hospital for x rays  which found that most of the original colors were still in place beneath layers of yellow-brown varnish and past retouching. The saints' faces had been poorly repainted.

In 2005, after careful restoration,  it was finally hung in a place worthy of its grandeur. The Virgin and Child with Six Saints is a  15th-century altar painting by Florentine artist Neri di Bicci.  It is the most important Renaissance artwork in the Northwest.


It depicts the Madonna and Child, flanked by  Saints  Luke, Bartholomew and Lawrence on the left; John the Baptist, Martin, and Sebastian on the right.  This subject, a very familiar one in Renaissance art, is known as a sacra conversazione, (a “holy conversation,”) as saints of many different times and places are imagined in “conversation” with Mary and Jesus.

A much more modern depiction of Madonna and Child is THE SEATTLE MADONNA by the German artist, Hans Gottfried von Stockhausen, who also created the three East Apse windows in the Cathedral. This colorful piece depicts Mary holding Jesus, surrounded by rich foliage and flowers, recalling the words of the prophet Isaiah: A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse,
and from his roots a bud shall blossom (Is.11:1)

Inscribed in German around the figures  are words from a poem by St. Hildegard of Bingen: “O leafing branch, abiding in your noble state, just as the dawn light grows, now rejoice and be glad, and see fit to deliver us from our weakened way of life. Stretch forth your hand to strengthen us.”

 From 1907 to 1916, the Cathedral had no stained glass – all the windows were clear glass.  But when these windows were destroyed in the collapse of the dome, the Cathedral’s pastor at the time, Father William Noonan, commissioned the Boston firm of Charles Connick to create stained glass for the Cathedral.  The windows were blessed in 1918.

St. James

 Before one even enters the Cathedral, you encounter the ceremonial BRONZE DOORS, the work of sculptor Ulrich Henn, which depicts the journey of humanity towards the heavenly city.  The story begins with Adam and Eve's first faltering steps as they leave the garden.  The angel sends them forth, but one hand is raised in blessing:  already we know how this "divine comedy" will end - in a new paradise.

The beauty and intensity of these doors reminds me of the ones by Manzu at St. Peters in Rome.  Photos do not do them justice.
Palm Procession

The Shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary is one of the best-loved places in the Cathedral.  The Chapel, which dates from 1994, was designed by architect Susan Jones.  The dark floor, the rich, warm tones of the wall, and the light of dozens of beeswax candles create an intimate place where the faithful kneel at the feet of Mary, who is Christ’s mother and ours.

The statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary holding the infant Jesus is inspired by a 15th-century image from the monastery church of Blaubeuren in Germany.  Jesus holds an apple, a reminder of the fall of Adam and Eve.  Jesus, the new Adam, offers grace and life.

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