Sunday, April 1, 2018

Richardson's Resurrection

Easter's occurrence on April Fool's Day happened only twice in the lifetime of Trinity Church's sexagenarian Interim Rector William W. Rich, as he mentioned in his sermon that Sunday. 

And this uncommon convergence of the sacred and the profane wasn't entirely jarring. Mary Magdalene, James' mother Mary, and Salome were arguably April-fooled by Jesus' absence from the tomb when they arrived to anoint his body with spices (Mark 16:1-8). 

But regardless of whether "Happy Easter!" or "April Fool!" dominated my celebratory impulses that day, I thought the best way to observe this rare hybrid holiday was to suspend my agnostic disbelief and attend an Easter service at one of Boston's greatest architectural manifestations of the Resurrection: Henry Hobson Richardson's Trinity Church in Copley Square.

As I stood in line for the noon service, the 1877 granite-and-sandstone landmark seemed to take a new form, as a transformation of the stone rolled away from Jesus' tomb into something richly symbolic, robustly everlasting, romantically upward-tending. Its pyramidal form emphasized the mass of its stone, while its grand central tower, flanking turrets and pedimented arches evoked a transcendence of the heft of the material from heavy to Heaven, "rising out of Copley Square like a mountain of stone," as a 19th-century Boston writer observed.

And in this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of
wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined.
(Isaiah 25:6, KJV)
This phrase from that service's First Lesson describes Trinity to a T—not merely alluding to the fat figure of original pastor Phillips Brooks that necessitated wider doorways in the church, but denoting the decorative equivalent of the "feast...of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear" (the actual words from that Sunday's lesson) that was in store for the parishioners upon entering the mountainous megachurch. The offerings of opulence include opalescent stained-glass windows and egg-tempera paintings by John LaFarge, painted-glass windows by Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris, a painted suter window by Charles Mills, sculpture by Daniel Chester French and Augustus Saint-Gaudens, glass mosaics on the altar, and intricate stenciling throughout. These, coupled with the use of Red Longmeadow sandstone to create bands of color and carvings of the Apostles, Saints and vegetal capitals on the exterior, manifested Brooks' goals for Trinity: "to create as perfect a place of worship as possible, and to create a place of worship as beautiful as possible"—in short, to express the Heaven of Jesus' ascension.
I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord. Our feet shall stand
within thy gates, O Jerusalem. Jerusalem is builded as a city that is compact together... Peace
be within thy walls, and prosperity within thy palaces.
(Psalm 122:1-3, 7, KJV)
The newcomer to Trinity might well be April-fooled by the interior's unconventional layout and circus of color, with the dramatic wingspread of its transepts, the soar of its quadruple-arched central tower, and the boisterous bulge of its apse, and its prosperity of rich décor. But the balanced equilibrium among all of these elements—courtesy of the compact Greek-cross configuration—democratizes the sanctuary with proper Athenian aptitude to make everyone feel more welcome than overwhelmed. The spatial effect is more like a squared-off meeting-house ambiance than the nave-apse hierarchy of the typical church's Latin-cross form. This immaculate blend of art and architecture extols Jesus' earthly all-inclusiveness and heavenly omnipotence simultaneously.

The tower's central squareness affirms the balanced equality of all parts, and its soar emphasizes the Resurrection's supreme centrality to Christianity. The clerestory windows extol the heavenly light of Jesus' ascent, bookended by images of him from Clayton & Bell's English Medieval apse windows depicting stages in his life and John LaFarge's Christ Preaching over the organ loft.

Roman arches are not only central to Richardson's trademark Richardsonian Romanesque style. They are the load-bearing structure of the central tower, bolstered by iron ties to prevent buckling and to distribute the weight evenly. The ties are decoratively covered in carved wood to blend them with the artful elegance of the church, which also includes...
...John LaFarge's egg tempera painting
of David in the central tower...

  And it came to pass, when the evil spirit from God was upon Saul, that
David took an harp, and played with his hand: so Saul was refreshed,
and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him. 
(I Samuel 16:23)

...LaFarge's painting of Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus...

There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto 
him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God 
be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see 
the kingdom of God. (John 3:1-3)

...LaFarge's image of Jesus instructing a Samaritan woman...

There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink... Then saith the woman of Samaria 
unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings 
with the Samaritans. Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give 
me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water... Whosoever drinketh of this water 
shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give 
him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:7-14)

...The Adoration of the Shepherds, The Adoration of the Magi, and The Flight into Egypt by
Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris...

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go
even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 
And they came with
haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when 
they had seen it, they made known abroad the
saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them
by the shepherds.
(Luke 2:15-18)

And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped
him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense and myrrh. 
And being
warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.

And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the 
young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child 
to destroy him. When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt: And was there until 
the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called 
my son. (Matthew 2:13-15)
...and Eugène Oudinot's French Renaissance triptych of events surrounding the Resurrection.

And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. He is not 
here: for he is risen, as he said. (Matthew 28:5-6)

Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I 
ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God. (John 20:17)

Cretes and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues the wonderful works of God. (Acts 2:11)

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