Masterpieces of Light and Space: St. Dominic’s Church (Igreja de São Domingos), Macau, China

I really don’t know what I expected out of our visit to Macau, other than to eat a pork chop bun, see (but perhaps not gamble in) casinos, and be visiting a place I had always wanted to go that was also featured as a finals destination for America’s Next Top Model. I do know that I didn’t expect to find myself walking with my beautiful bride-to-be from Church to Church and sitting and pondering the meaning of life in each one, being thankful to be in a place that felt somewhat Western after spending two years in East Asia.

Macau

So we arrive in Macau by ferry from Hong Kong, get out of the bus that takes you downtown, walk across the plaza and into this church. St. Dominic’s. Hard to miss as it’s canary yellow. It seemed kinda old, but I just googled it to get its name and basic facts (I have photos from 5 years ago and basically no notes…) and would you believe it was founded in 1587? It’s going on 500 years old.

Macau

So you walk into St. Dominic’s and it’s BRIGHT white. I imagine it’s kinda the shade of white that the Portuguese could find to make paint with when they arrived that most reminded them of churches at home. It reminded me a bit of the old Spanish missions here in South Texas that came with the Conquistadores around the same time period, however the imagery is just a little different. It’s like the images of Mary and Christ that you see as more realistic in the Spanish churches were a bit more stylized so as not to be “graven” images by the Portuguese. I don’t think that’s the real explanation, but there is a difference in style.

Macau

For example, this wood carving.

Macau

The whole church is wooden, I guess due to the lack of marble available on the island. I found the construction to be very straight, too. There’s lots of ornamentation on the surface, but it seems to be mostly appliqué.

Macau

I’m not sure, but I’m guessing this is St. Dominic himself. I think the art style I’m referring to has to do with the high contrast of his facial features and low contrast of his robes. I just asked a Catholic friend if this was him. She thinks maybe. The one finger is a little weird, he’s missing his full iconography, but he’s in a dominican habit.

Macau

Once again, I think the art style is kinda high contrast around the face, low contrast everywhere else. Putting the unimportant parts in a manmade bokeh.

Macau

This chancel is baroque AF. Can you not imagine that in this church you are in Baroque Europe, not in China? I could. The whole day in Macau I felt connected to my Western roots. The food, the language on the signs (where I live it would be Spanish, but dude, Spain and Portugal share a few similarities, amirite?)

Macau

The man himself.

Macau

Once again guessing St. Dominic.

Macau

Immaculate Heart of Mary imagery, “looking Portuguese” according to my Catholic friend who is helping me with this post.

Macau

Maybe Mary, Queen of Heaven. Heaven knows.

Macau

JC.

Macau

Then back to the real world. Macau was amazing because it was almost like being at home. I grew up around Spanish language, Spanish colonial churches, and the sort. These Portuguese churches, the Portuguese language…it hit close to home. But then unmistakably you realize that you’re in a unique pocket of China, thousands of miles from the Western culture you grew up in. And you’re happy because not many people (even though millions upon millions) will ever go to such a unique place.

Masterpieces of Light and Space: St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome, Italy – Part IV: The Art

So there’s probably close to a billion historically significant works of art in St. Peter’s Basilica, mostly by Italian renaissance artists who later lent their names to a ragtag group of martial arts knowing turtles. The former (unqualified) art history professor in me wants to show you some of the highlights, but I don’t really know in most cases who made what, nor do I feel like looking it all up on wikipedia and pretending I knew all along.

Unlike my previous posts, my comments about the art will appear above the photo. As if we’re on a tour and I’m speaking before you get a chance to look.

Here’s perhaps the most famous piece, Pieta by one Michaelangelo Buonarroti.

Rome, Italy

The Baldachino by Bernini…

Rome, Italy

One of the Apostles, who appears to have just hurled something at you.

Rome, Italy

Followed by another Apostle, who perhaps caught what the first had hurled.

Rome, Italy

Another Apostle (I’m crossing my fingers now hoping I photographed all four…)

Rome, Italy

Myriad statues popping their heads out and looking around. It’s like a whole city of the biblically famous frozen in marble…

Rome, Italy

Throne of St. Peter:

Rome, Italy

I guess I didn’t get a photo of the fourth apostle at the dome, so we will have to travel back to Rome one day. However, upon exiting St. Peter’s you run headlong into Swiss Guard with their Halberds. Their uniforms are artful AF, aren’t they?

Rome, Italy

So this will conclude my 4 part series on St. Peter’s Basilica. I think that anyone regardless of faith would enjoy a walk around in this church. There’s literally so much to see. If you attend a mainline Christian church, you will appreciate it from a heritage viewpoint. If not, there are all sorts of curiosities to indulge your brain. Plus the scale is just overwhelming altogether. I’d say St. Peter’s Basilica is not to be missed.

Masterpieces of Light and Space: St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome, Italy – Interior

Rome, Italy

If you feel small standing in St. Peter’s Square, you’re only going to feel smaller as you get closer to the entrance of the basilica itself. As you get close to the many, many doors, you notice that the relief carvings on the doors themselves are as big as you are. Maybe bigger.

Rome, Italy

Once you’ve used half of your camera’s memory card on the door frames, you step inside and immediately start clearing space so that you have plenty of pictures remaining. I think perhaps this building is 4 dimensional, in the sense that it certainly seems like it is bigger on the inside than on the outside. My favorite view is this one, looking straight up the Nave towards the transept, with the many domes and windows gushing in light.

Rome, Italy

Once your glasses change from dark to clear (OMG I’m SUCH a dad!) you notice the myriad details. Saints and apostles leaning out from the wall to speak with you. Frescoes so high they might as well be actual images of heaven. Beautiful Latin text that you kinda understand but not totally lining the walls in gold. Windows and trimmings as far as the eye can see.

Rome, Italy

Clearly when the interior designer was consulted on St. Peter’s, they didn’t go for a minimalist look.

Rome, Italy

Frescoes from renaissance masters are overhead throughout the Basilica. I would imagine the density of art works from famous artists in St. Peter’s would rival the population density of Kowloon Walled City in the middle of the 20th century.

Rome, Italy

The baldachin doesn’t actually have the high chancel of the church in it, because that is farther back at the end of the longitudinal axis of the cross on the throne of St. Peter. Apparently the baldachin, directly under the dome (not like the Stephen King story) sits atop the burial place of St. Peter himself.

Rome, Italy

I think St. Peter is in that gold box!

Rome, Italy

The main dome is massive. Much bigger than the Duomo in Florence. I believe you can donate a few Euros to climb up, but we didn’t do it. It was the end of the day and stairs probably weren’t happening.

Rome, Italy

St. Peter’s “Throne” – where the high chancel of the church is. Totally looks like the Iron Throne from Game of Thrones to me. Quite an amazing piece of sculpture.

Rome, Italy

I love this view of the transept – it gives you some idea of the scale of St. Peter’s Basilica. I’m pretty sure you could take off, circle, and land a small plane in this amount of space. This is one reason I titled this blog series “Masterpieces of Light and Space.” Sometimes the negative space where nothing hangs but air (and the holy spirit) is the most powerful part of a church’s design.

Rome, Italy

Those frescoes, tho.

My goal with this post was to capture the size and general effect of the inside of St. Peter’s Basilica. I hope the images I’ve chosen have done that to some degree for you. In future posts I will explore the art and the relics that I encountered on my visit to St. Peter’s, and if you didn’t read the first part of my St. Peter’s story, you can see my thoughts on the exterior here.

Masterpieces of Light and Space: St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome, Italy – Part I – Exterior

Rome, Italy

Some landmarks simply seem too big to write about. I mean does anyone really have the words to describe the Grand Canyon or Mount Everest? That’s how I feel about St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It’s the biggest church on earth, filled with incredible Renaissance art from the likes of Rafael, Bernini, Michaelangelo, and so on and so forth. It sits within a stone’s throw of arguably the greatest art collection on earth, the Vatican Museum, and it’s built on a scale that totally bends the mind.

Rome, Italy

I guess I must start by talking briefly about St. Peter’s Square. If you want to visit the basilica, you’ll be going through the square to get through security. The scale is massive. There are two enormous colonnades extending from either side of the basilica, and perched on top are larger than life statues of all the saints. Each saint is holding the implement used to kill them. Very artistic. Kinda dark.

Rome, Italy

From a little bit closer, the scale becomes a bit more clear. The facade of the basilica is so tall that you can’t even see the cupola on top. You can see the cupola from anywhere in Rome, except for right in front of the church. Like most major basilicas, St. Peter’s is built in the shape of a cross, and the cupola sits over the transept. It is so far back from the foot of the cross, where you enter, that you can’t even see it. And it’s like 400′ tall, so it’s not easy to miss.

Rome, Italy

That’s not to say that the entry way is in any way less than major. Freaking Charlemagne was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in the doorway. Charlemagne. Does that speak to how old this building is, or what?

Rome, Italy

The exterior of St. Peter’s gets its own post because it’s SO BIG. Another couple of topics will be the interior (general), the art, and the relics. I can’t think of another church that has so much to cover, but then again I can’t think of another church that is widely considered the epicenter of western Christianity. Also, those Swiss Guard dudes were intimidating AF.

Ciao.

Masterpieces of Light and Space: Saint-Ferrol des Augustins, Marseilles, France

Marseille, France

The Vieux Port of Marseille is a pretty stunning location with views of rows and rows of boats sitting in turquoise water, cafes and brasseries, the citadel and Abbey of St. Victor, and the shining beacon of Notre Dame de la Garde overlooking it all, and one building stands out amongst the rest. It’s the building that will blind you as it reflects the sun, will make you need to take HDR photos to avoid a hot spot with your camera, and may pique your curiosity, the church of Saint-Ferrol des Augustins.

Marseille, France

Unlike Notre Dame de la Garde and Marseille Cathedral, this is a parish church. Apparently the church has been here in one form or another, continuously built upon and expanded since it was owned by the knights Templar in the 12th century. The Baroque facade and Italian style bell towers were built much later.

Smaller chapels dot the edges of the main sacred space, but there’s no super famous artwork or relics or famous dead folks to go visit it. It’s simply a nice and extremely old church that you should visit as you walk around the old port.

Masterpieces of Light and Space: St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York, New York, USA

St. Patrick's Cathedral

My first visit to New York was cold, very cold. I was there with my then-girlfriend (now wife) visiting her sister before we moved to Korea for a couple of years, in the middle of the winter, and our visit was bookended with major snowstorms making the streets a slushy, soggy, mess. If I remember the order of events right, we spent the morning at the MoMA, then walked back through mid-Town in the cold on our way to Koreatown for dinner. Frozen, tired, and in need of a respite, we ducked into St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a warm-up and sightseeing break. I was pretty certain at the time that this church was featured in Home Alone, maybe Home Alone 2, but in retrospect I think I was wrong about that.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

I remember that it was warm inside. There was a little music going, and it was very green. I guess that makes sense for St. Patrick. Anywho, I definitely remember it being beautiful and ornate, even more ornate than St. John’s, if a bit darker on the inside.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

When we lived in New York I visited St. Patrick’s again briefly, but it was totes under renovation and I don’t think I even took any pictures because it was all scaffolding everywhere. I would certainly love to go back and check it out again the next time we’re in New York, though.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

I just realized, when I took all of these pictures it was after sunset, in the middle of the winter, no wonder the church seemed dark inside.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

The Chancel was spectacular, though.

St. Patrick's Cathedral

Something about the cloisters of cathedrals really piques my curiosity. I’d probably be disappointed to go on an exploratory expedition in one to find nothing but offices and broom closets, but I imagine there are all sorts of holy relics hidden in them.

So yeah, St. Patrick’s is big and beautiful, right in midtown Manhattan ready for you to walk in and snap a photo or two. If you visit St. Patrick’s though out of church hopping interest and not just because it’s close to Rockefeller Center and on your tourist map, you must head up to 110th and Cathedral Parkway to see the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, too. It’s worth the trip.

Masterpieces of Light and Space: La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain

I’m just going to jump in today on one of the most intimidating churches to write about that I can imagine, and maybe what might be, in my opinion, the most beautiful church on the planet. I’ve been avoiding writing about it because I want to make sure and do it justice, but today is the day. I’m finally going to write about La Sagrada Familia, the still under construction masterpiece of Gaudi’s in Barcelona.

Barcelona, SpainI’m not sure how anyone ever gets a picture of this magnificent church without cranes, but whatever.

One of the things I found absolutely fascinating about La Sagrada Familia was the “rough” texture of the outside of the building. As you approach it looks like the building is furry or something, but once you’re close you see that it’s all relief carvings of bible stories and stuff. Every single surface was covered with some sort of artistic display or symbolism. I believe one facade of the church is the Nativity, and the other side is the Passion.

Barcelona, SpainThe entrance we used to the church was under the Passion Facade

Barcelona, SpainMore of the Passion Facade

Barcelona, SpainEven the floor you walk upon in the entry is used to tell the story

The exterior of the church is fantastic, but the real size of the place really smacks you right in the face when you walk through the doors and feel the upward vertical pull of the ceilings, and the brilliantly colored light from the massive stained glass windows wash over you. I wasn’t exactly religious at the time that we visited La Sagrada Familia, but I was definitely moved when we went inside. I did have to ask myself Where did Gaudí get such inspiration? because it plainly seemed supernatural.

Barcelona, SpainThe heights inside La Sagrada Familia are truly dizzying, and it feels so organic with the tree-like columns

Barcelona, SpainThe amount and variation of color in the light in this place is otherworldly

Barcelona, Spain
La Sagrada Familia is perhaps the brightest church I’ve ever set foot in

Barcelona, SpainThe very bright choir of La Sagrada Familia

Aside from the absolutely beautiful, bright, and airy design aesthetic, the building houses some amazingly beautiful art. Of course, Catalonia produced some of the best artists of the 19th and 20th centuries. Maybe you haven’t heard of them before. Guys like Picasso and Dalí. Oh yeah, those guys. Spain as a whole, and particularly Catalonia have such a rich art tradition that of course the art work in the most artful church on the planet would be amazing, right?

Barcelona, SpainEven Christ himself is beautifully artistically rendered in La Sagrada Familia

So in La Sagrada familia we have dizzying heights, beautiful light, and great art. Gaudí was clearly a masterful architect. He was also clearly a man with great faith that allowed him to still devote a huge portion of his life to the construction of a church, even though his own lifestyle was not accepted by the church. What kind of inspiration leads someone to so perfectly design every detail of such a huge space? I guess one of the things I love about church and cathedral hopping is that it always leaves me with more questions than answers.

Barcelona, SpainI mean seriously, that is a beautiful Chancel.

Certainly La Sagrada Familia is one of the most beautiful buildings of any type that I have ever entered, church or not, and it’s one that I would love to revisit – after construction is complete (if that happens in my lifetime). It’s also an example of architecture that for me, much like the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York, raises the question “is this divinely inspired?”

Masterpieces of Light and Space: Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde, Marseille, France

Marseille, FranceNotre Dame de la Garde sits atop the highest hill overlooking old Marseille

High on a hilltop above Marseille lies a beautiful church. That sentence is so ridiculous that I’m leaving it in the blog post. Ha! Anyhow, it’s true, Notre Dame de la Garde sits high above Marseille on a hilltop. Specifically it sits high above the Vieux Port of Marseille, the ancient port. Given the decorative motif and the maritime history of the city, one has to wonder if the same hilltop played host to a temple of Poseidon in the Greek times, or perhaps Neptune in the Roman. I think you’ll see why in just a moment or two. First, though, let’s talk about getting there.

Marseille, FranceThe key direction is UP

Finding Notre Dame is pretty easy from the old city of Marseille. Start at the Citadel or Abbey of St. Victor and walk up the hill. Keep walking. and walking. and walking. and walking. It’s farther than it looks from the port, but you get to walk through fields of beautiful Provençal flowers and you’ll also get a stunning view of the port and Chateau d’If floating out there in the Mediterranean.

Marseille, FranceWait…there’s more climbing involved?!?

After the long trek up the hill, we didn’t really think there was a better place to start our visit at Notre Dame de la Garde but the bottom. Yeah. We started in the crypt.

Marseille, FranceThose candles put off a lot of heat. A different take on fire-and-brimstone.

The crypt was crowded, fairly compact for a church of this size, and full of the living. I thought the heat was being put off by the candles, but it could have also been the accumulation of body heat from the visitors. Certainly not the body heat of the residents I would imagine (yeah, I just said that.)

Marseille, France
The chancel from the crypt’s exit

After moving up from the crypt to the main level, it becomes obvious very quickly that this basilica is thematic. Thematic in the sense that all of the decoration seems to be nautical. Nautical in the sense that this is a place where sailors and fishermen would worship before heading out to sea. The colors and patterns are not that different from Marseille Cathedral or San Luigi dei Francesi in Rome, but the ships, airplanes, anchors, octopi, and everything else nautical certainly sets it apart.
Marseille, FranceShips, planes, anything that could move cargo

The church itself is beautiful, and the ships and airplanes and basically all of the artwork are beautifully done, if a bit morbid. There is an entire wall of paintings of maritime and other transportation disasters. Kids getting run over by horse-drawn carts, sinking ships, plane crashes, etc. That’s a bit dark and contrasts in a strong and beautiful way against the otherwise ethereal surroundings.

Marseille, FranceSee, I told you. Transportation disasters.

According to Atlas Obscura, the miniatures and paintings are examples of “ex-voto” or rather, appreciations for the help of Notre Dame de la Garde in recovery from accidents, acts of war, or whatever might be depicted in the particular item. In addition to these crafted pieces are also life rings from boats, bandages, crutches, and other items. The site is a pilgrimage destination every Assumption Day (August 15) and people will leave ex-voto items to thank Le Bonne Mere for her assistance in the pilgrimage.
Marseille, FranceLe Bonne Mere herself

Between the nearly Arabesque gold leaf and repetitive patterns of the decoration, the marble from Florence laid in striated patterns, and its nautical ex-voto, the Basilica of Notre Dame de la Garde is one of the most interesting churches I have ever visited. It’s definitely a treasure that we should all be glad was restored after it’s damage during the French liberation in 1944, and dare I say if I were a sailor in Marseille, this would be a regular stop for peace of mind.

Masterpieces of Light and Space: Ruins of St. Paul’s church, Macau, China

MacauWhat remains of St. Paul’s, on top of a hill in Macau

I thought maybe for my next post I should get away from the super obvious stomping grounds of Italy, France, Spain, and you know, the entire western world. I was thinking back, when I realized that we had visited a very old church in China, on the formerly Portuguese island of Macau.

MacauNot sure. Could be St. Paul himself.

Truth be told, we ended up making our day in Macau all about the old churches and Portuguese food. I guess after a couple of years in Asia we were just craving some western culture. St. Paul’s is remarkable for it’s location overlooking the city, and the fact that aside from the facade, it’s not there anymore.

MacauDragons make me think Asia. Caravels make me think Portugal

The church was apparently at one time the largest in East Asia, burned down a few times, and finally completely destroyed in a typhoon.

MacauClear glass panels let you look into the foundation

St. Paul’s stood for about 300 years, and it seems that with nothing but the facade intact, there wouldn’t be much to see. However you can look down into the foundations through glass panels, and the crypt is still very much in one piece. It’s pretty crazy to see the bones of Portuguese explorers from the 1500s, but they are lying there, probably unaware that the once great church above them is nearly gone. Most interesting were the descriptions of the bodies, who they were, and how and where they died. Lots of violence, all over Asia. Apparently exploration was a tough business.

Macau
The only picture I took in the crypt, didn’t think it was respectful to photograph the dead, I guess.

So while St. Paul’s certainly has more natural light than just about any church I’ve ever been in, due to its lack of walls and a roof, I think it still merits a post in this series. I think the crypt alone merits a post. To see the reach of the European explorers who destroyed civilizations, wrought havoc, and created the world as we know it in such a dramatic fashion is enlightening. To see the interplay of east and west in the bas-reliefs on the remains of the facade makes you think that the Portuguese process of conversion was perhaps a bit more likely to incorporate the local traditions than the Spanish. But the bones. They tell the story without saying a word.

Masterpieces of Light and Space: Basilica of Santa Croce, Florence, Italy (aka omg so many famous dead Italians in one place!)

Florence, ItalyThe beautiful facade of the church that holds the remains of like, every important artist from the Italian Renaissance

Our Florence guidebook took us on walking tour after walking tour of the city, and each one was amazing in the sense of “I’m totally walking in the steps of some of my favorite renaissance artists and scientists.” When the guidebook took us to Santa Croce, I didn’t expect for all of those Renaissance masters to be freakin’ entombed in one place.

Florence, ItalyInterior of of Santa Croce with *womp womp* renovations at the chancel

The interior of the church was of course beautiful, although we could not clearly see the chancel for the scaffolding of ongoing renovations. When we got inside we paid particular attention to the Medici chapel as our guidebook suggested, took in some art, wandered around the expanse of the nave, and generally saw the sites…as you do when you’re church-hopping in perhaps the most church-rich country on earth. Then we started running into the “residents.”
Florence, ItalyBlast! It’s Galileo’s grave!

For example…Galileo. He’s been resting here for quite some time. For a few minutes it seemed that every important character you have read about from the Italian Renaissance, from art to science to literature was buried here.
Florence, ItalyMichelangelo Buonorotti

Michelangelo? Are you for real?!

Florence, ItalyDANTE!?

Dante is entombed here too! But not really. There’s a tomb for him here, but he never came back to Florence after he was exiled. He’s actually buried in Ravenna. The Florentines just wanted to take credit for his great work, which occurred mostly after his exile.

Florence, ItalyFREAKING MACHIAVELLI?!?!?!

So it just goes on and on. Even the great Italian opera composer Rossini is buried here, though of course a couple hundred years after these guys.

Florence, ItalyThe pulpit with a beautiful starry sky

I really love the art style of the Italian Renaissance, with the deep colors and overcalled stars evidenced in the photo of the pulpit above.

Florence, Italy
The entire nave is lined with famous people.

So round and round we walked, even snapping selfies in front of Galileo’s grave since our first “date” was kinda cosmic (mommyPrimate used my new telescope to show me Jupiter’s moons that night.)

Florence, ItalyReliquary in Santa Croce

I really don’t remember the story of Santa Croce (I’m guessing whose relics are in this reliquary), but I remember something about her head being separated from her body and I think it might be inside the case shaped like her head. Totally scraping the bottom of my memory pile for details remembered from our honeymoon, because searching the internet doesn’t seem to be helping at all. At any rate, super cool presentation of the reliquary.

Florence, ItalyOMG HONEY WE SOMEHOW ENDED UP IN 15th CENTURY FLORENCE!

Upon leaving the basilica we were immediately swept up by what appeared to be a 15th century marching band of sorts, with cool costumes, loud trumpet fanfares, and dudes throwing flags. I’m not sure what it was all about, but we followed them for a little while (some people followed them all the way across the Arno river) and got a coffee.

Florence, ItalyItalian Beer Drinkers

We were also treated to these dudes in felt costumes who were trolling the members of the marching band. Not sure what it was all about, but they said “Medici” quite a lot. Santa Croce and the Piazza della Republica in front of it sure had a lot to offer for one afternoon. Of course, if you ever need to sit down and talk to Machiavelli’s bones, you know where to do it now.