Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Cathedral of St. Augustine

Work on the Tucson landmark—commonly referred to as a cathedral, even then—was completed by 1868.

A new church of St. Augustine was rebuilt in 1897; the original plans called for a Gothic structure with thin pointed spires, but because of lack of funds the spires were never completed.

It was only in 1928 that the brick structure was transformed into its present Mexican baroque form, including the cast stone façade, which was inspired by the Cathedral of Querétaro, Mexico.

A restoration project, which entirely demolished and rebuilt the cathedral with the exception of its façade and towers, coincided with the centenary anniversary of the completion of the original church. It was initiated in 1966 and completed in 1968.

Above the entry is a bronze statue of St. Augustine, the patron saint of Tucson.

As part of the first ground-up restoration project since 1968, the oldest cathedral in town began renovations under the leadership of John Alan a Phoenix artist and Historic Preservationist. The artist recognized the existing and potential beauty of the church and was brought in to enhance the sacred space and worship experience. Trompe l'oeil (meaning "fools the eye") style painting and ornamental art are used frequently to create a more inviting atmosphere within the church.
Hard to paint, the trompe l'oeil piece requires meticulous attention to detail on the part of the artist. Proper sizing and every detail, nuance of light and gradation of color must be skillfully incorporated in order to make the two-dimensional work appear to be three-dimensional.

The cathedral's floor is set on a slight grade, so that the main altar is clearly in view of the entire congregation. The seating can accommodate up to 1,250 people.

The curved ceiling contains a number of these colorful blocks.

Stained-glass windows follow the history of St. Augustine.

A mural of the Good Shepherd tending His sheep is high on the back wall of the sanctuary.

The crown jewel of the makeover is the Pamplona Crucifix. The crucifix was carved in Spain and is at least 600 years old. It was a special gift to the cathedral and installed in 1981. The crucifix stands at 17 feet and weighs 2,000 pounds. It was restored by art conservators over a six-month period. It now rests on the back wall of the sanctuary behind the altar.

The side altars, also known as retablos, were made from handcrafted wood.

This one contains the Cathedral’s historic painting of Our Lady of Guadalupe,

and, I believe, this one is decorated to honor the Blessed Sacrament Chapel.



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