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 – 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: Trinity Episcopal Church, New York, New York

Trinity Episcopalian Church

In lower Manhattan’s hustle and bustle lies a gem from the colonial days, and I would imagine is one of the oldest continually operating churches in the United States (not THE oldest, factcheckers!). Trinity Church is an Episcopal Parish in the Diocese of New York, situated on Wall Street, featuring beautiful stained glass and the corpse (maybe just the gravestone now) of famed colonial rapper Alexander Hamilton.

Trinity Episcopalian Church

My visit to Trinity Church was, not unlike my visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, a welcome opportunity to warm up on a very cold day in New York. This was something like six years ago, so the details aren’t so fresh in my memory, but mommyPrimate and I met her sister for lunch in Lower Manhattan. I had some delectable swedish meatballs (of course I remember what I ate.) We stopped at a bakery (where I had the most wonderful pistachio macaron I can remember ever eating) then checked out Battery Park. We stopped into Trinity to warm up and see if we could find Mr. Hamilton.

Trinity Episcopalian Church

I do remember the simplicity of the architecture, and thinking that the exposed beams were beautiful. When we visited the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Hong Kong, I remember thinking the construction was very similar. The stained glass was brilliant, and the darkness certainly gave everything a nice warm feel in contrast to the cold wind outside.

Trinity Episcopalian Church

Once we warmed up, we ventured into the graveyard. The snow was fairly deep, and I was amazed at the years on the gravestones. This part of the country was colonized at perhaps even a later time than the part where I currently reside, but by a different group of people, of course. I’m not so accustomed to seeing old gravestones in english, so it was a historical treat.

Alexander Hamilton's Grave

After a bit of a search, we finally found Mr. Hamilton, in the ground, where notorious rapper Aaron Burr put him many years ago. Yes. I realize they were actual important historical figures, and calling them rappers is just throwing some humor at my amusement over the popularity of the musical. I would really like to see it.

The end.

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: Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, Hong Kong, China

Hong KongHong Kong, a city that truly never sleeps…pretty sure you could see it from space if you needed to. 

I knew that Hong Kong was a former British colony well before I ever had the opportunity to visit, but I guess I never realized just how British it would still be nearly two decades after the colony was handed back to the People’s Republic. I also had no idea at the time that Anglican churches and their histories would become very interesting to me – I certainly did not foresee my return to church, nor my return to church happening in a member of the Anglican Communion.

Hong KongBell tower of St. John the Evangelist in Hong Kong’s Central district

So today, looking through my old photos for a beautiful old church to write about, I came across the photos of this beautiful old church in Hong Kong, only to to burst with joy in my heart when I realize it’s the Anglican Cathedral in Hong Kong, the seat of the diocese of the Anglican Church in one of the world’s most vibrant cities. The church I’m referring to here is the beautiful, understated, Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist.

Hong KongEven the interior of the church is stately, reserved, and beautiful

The Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist is, like the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, a haven of calm in a frenetic, bustling city. Given all of Hong Kong’s glitter and glamour, a quiet, calm spot is a bit of an oasis. I guess it always seemed that way, as the were conducting mass in the church even as the Japanese were shelling the island during the second world war.

Hong KongThe Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist is completely dwarfed by its more modern surroundings

It’s also a great contrast between 19th century British Empire and ultramodern Hong Kong/Chinese architecture. The contrast is stark. From any angle of St. John’s, a skyscraper looms in the background. The sound of taxis and the lift to the summit of Victoria Peak create a din in the background. The tropical environs clash with the British decorative-Gothic architecture of 1849.

What a cool old church, in a cool old/new city.