Sunday, November 09, 2008

My visit to Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago

I like to visit local churches when I'm on business travel. Two weeks ago, I was in Chicago and decided to drop in on Holy Name Cathedral on a Saturday afternoon. Knowing what I do about recent Catholic history in Chicago, I was expecting to see yet another example of "wreckovation". Sadly, I wasn't far off.

The exterior of the Cathedral is still quite lovely. Here are two photos:

And from another angle:

Once inside, though, the ambiance was something not quite Catholic. By way of comparison, here's a photo of the inside of the Cathedral circa 1958 before the "modernizaton" took place.

And here's what the interior looks like today (apologies for the blur):

The ceilings, columns, and floor remain quite beautiful, but notice the apse in particular which has been almost completely desacralized. Also notice the disappearance of religious statues.

When I entered, the organist was playing some horrible 12-tone piece that seemed better suited for a slasher movie than for a Catholic cathedral. With that noise echoing throughout the vast space, it was impossible to pray. So instead, I went and visited the bookstore in the basement. To my surprise, the selection of books and religious items on sale was excellent and I walked out with a Byzantine/Russian style icon of Our Lady Hodegetria.

By the time I left the bookstore, the "music" had ceased so I decided to say a rosary. At that point, I went looking for the tabernacle. Of course, there was no sign of it in the apse, and for a moment, I felt a little like Mary Magdalene on Easter morning when she said, "They have taken my Lord away and I don't know where they have put him." I found what I assumed was the tabernacle in one of the two side "chapels" flanking the apse. Calling them chapels is a stretch, however, as there are no altars in either of them. As works of religious art, both are horrifying:

I assume this piece was done in honor of the Blessed Virgin, although to me it looked more like a haphazard display of heavy bronze cobwebs.

The tabernacle was worse:

In this one, we see our Lord emerging from a Sputnik-like object which has apparently exploded in a taffy factory.

It was a bit difficult to pray with these disturbing images in front of me, and the cynical part of me speculated that this was the whole point of having them there. But I persevered. At least the huge, stylized crucifix hanging over the altar wasn't completely awful. The rose windows were also quite beautiful, but I suspect these were left untouched from the original construction.

The rear of the cathedral was dominated by the organ, which had a foreboding appearance--almost like the warp core of the starship Enterprise:

On a positive note, I was able to attend Confession at the cathedral, and there was a steady stream of penitents there when I went. As I left, I noticed that there is currently a capital campaign underway for the building, and refurbishment is in process on the exterior of the building. I can only hope this means that some major dewreckovation may be in the works on the interior as well in the not-too-distant future. It would be a shame to leave such a beautiful edifice so barren of religious adornment.

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