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.

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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.

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: Riverside Church, New York, NY

Riverside Church #nyc

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I’m pretty sure my favorite neighborhood in New York City is Morningside Heights. It has a college-town feel, cool restaurants, and of course the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine. Tucked away on the other side of the university from the Cathedral is another gem, The Riverside Church. The church was designed to appear similar to Chartres Cathedral, which I think is quite obvious when you see the stained glass in the choir.

Riverside #church #nyc

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Perhaps the most striking feature of Riverside is its bell tower. It’s visible from all around the neighborhood and notably from Riverside Park because it’s frickin’ 20 stories tall. It also kinda screams GOTHIC REVIVAL right into your face.

Riverside #church #nyc #architecture

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I don’t know what it is about these Gothic Revival churches, but I really want to sit in one through a loud thunderstorm with tons of rain coming down. Something about the imposing angles and upward-jutting towers (which apparently add quite a bit of weight to the outer walls to help secure the arches for the roof) really makes me think it would be a delightful place to take refuge in a deluge that was huge. (rhyme intended, I am a dad, after all.)

So there you go, another masterpiece from good old NYC, The Riverside Church.