Thursday, December 22, 2011
Advent Wreaths Take 3
Last weekend The Beau and I took a field trip to the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark, NJ. It was worth the 45 minute drive. The fifth largest basilica in the United States, it was by far one of the most magnificent churches I've seen in this country. I haven't been this bowled over since I spent a year exploring the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.
Planned in 1859, the cathedral was the brainchild of Newark's first bishop, Rev. James Roosevelt Bayley. He was a nephew of St. Elizabeth Seton and a Roosevelt on his mother's side. Like his aunt, he converted from the Episcopal and was subsequently cut out of his parents' will. Bayley grew the fledgling Newark diocese into a flourishing Catholic community, introducing religious orders and encouraging education. He was also history buff who organized church archives and wrote some histories of early American Catholicism. My kind of guy.
Construction began in 1899, and the French Gothic style cathedral hosted its first mass in 1928. It wasn't until the 1950s that the final interior decorations of stained glass windows and carved oak screens appeared.
In 1995 Pope John Paul II visited the cathedral and elevated it to a minor basilica. While he was in town he presided over evening prayer, with President Clinton in attendance.
It's the attention to detail that makes this cathedral so incredible. Every time I turned around I found something new to marvel at. Why yes, that is Judith holding the head of Holofernes in the center of that pediment over a side door.
The myriads of stained glass windows depict more saints than you can count, giving the impression that you are surrounded by the "great cloud of witnesses." I was excited to find one of my patrons in an apse side chapel.
So if you ever find yourself flying into the Newark airport, see if you can make your way to this American Gothic gem. It's not in the greatest neighborhood, but that makes its splendor all the more astonishing. The product of generations of hard work, it stands as a testament to the Communion of Saints we all hope to join in eternity.