Boston's Holy Cross Cathedral restoration project
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,502
    For those familiar with Boston's cathedral, the interior restoration project (which followed a beautiful restoration of the exterior that was completed in 2016 - see jpg at bottom - transforming what had long been seen as something of a grimy eyesore even 25 years after the removal of the elevated transit tracks that long and loudly blighted one's approach to the building) is now in the removing of scaffolding phase, allowing the contractors to post some photos of the nave (the sanctuary work continues). The expectation is for reopening by Paschaltide, and Richard Clark as the new music director will have the honor, privilege and challenge of building on his predecessor Leo Abbott's work in the newly restored space.

    I thought some might be interested in this:

    https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DsYB3_FU8AAi2kk.jpg

    https://twitter.com/bostoncathedral?lang=en

    When the cathedral opened, it was the largest in the USA - St Patrick's in New York opened a bit later. It's a similar size and volume as Westminster Abbey sans the Henry VII Chapel (some dimensional differences*). While James Renwick chose an academic Gothic for St Pat's, Patrick Keely did not with Holy Cross Cathedral - instead, Keely forthrightly used then-modern slender cast iron columns to create a more open space, with a stylistic sense that might be likened to Early to early Decorated English Gothic, though not an academic recreation thereof.

    With the restoration, stone flooring will replace wood throughout - it will be most interesting to hear how that alters the acoustics of the space (it will certainly help reduce fire hazard).

    http://holycrossboston.com/renovation/

    * Holy Cross Cathedral (HCC)'s main space (narthex-nave-crossing-sanctuary) is 364 feet long. Westminster Abbey's same space - without the Henry VII Chapel that extends further in length - is 383 feet. (Holy Cross's main chapel sits to the north side of the sanctuary rather than extending English-style further beyond it - HCC's configuration is more like Ely Cathedral in that regard, though HCC's Chapel is nothing like Ely's). HCC's width in the nave with two adjacent aisles is 90 feet; that cognate width at the Abbey is 72' (which makes the Abbey appear taller by relative proportions). The width of HCC at the transept-crossing-transept is 170 feet; the cognate width at the Abbey is 174'. The vault of the nave and crossing of the Abbey is 102 feet. The cognate height of the HCC vault appears to be 95' (that datum, btw, is quite obscure to find on the Internet, but comes from two sources - a 1908 centennial history of the archdiocese of Boston and also from King's Handbook of the United States' discussion of HCC in its entry on Boston; what is usually reported as HCC's height of 120' is presumably to the ridgepole of the roof itself). The Abbey shares with York the title of tallest medieval English vault (but the Abbey's vault is stone, while York's like HCC is merely of wood) - most medieval cathedral vaults in England run between 65-85'.) HCC does not have the tribune gallery or triforium level of the Abbey.


    Click twice to zoom in on pic:
    1668 x 2048 - 1M
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  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,468
    Liam, I am unfamiliar with the organ there. What do they have?
  • fcbfcb
    Posts: 253
    About a decade ago we replaced our wooden floors with stone and it made a notable difference in acoustics--better from singing, more difficult for speaking.
    Thanked by 1Liam
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,502
    PS: For folks who are curious about the unfinished Cathedral towers, below was the original design intention, but the Cathedral fronts onto the original narrow neck of land that connected the former Shawmut Peninsula (Old Boston Proper) to the mainland but has since been surrounded by infill, and the towers ultimately would not support the intended spires. But at least one of the towers is has a set of five working bells from the former Holy Trinity parish nearby (which is another story - they are steel bells, purchased by the Jesuits then in charge of that parish from Confederate contraband seized by the Union after the capture of New Orleans - Confederate churches having sent bells downriver to be melted into armaments).

    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,468
    Thanks, Liam. A magnificent instrument. I have heard the organ at the Mother Church, just never made it to the cathedral. Maybe next time.
    Thanked by 1Liam
  • Thanks Liam for the thorough update on what has been for many a very long wait. Having decades-long memories of the Cathedral, I hope I’m not too shocked by the brightly lit cleanliness. I may miss the dinginess and creaky old wood floors. You really felt a warm connection to the past, a rather blue-collar past I might add.

    Numbers 7 and 9 of the plan may prove to be the most startling innovations. I’m curious as to how this new pew rearrangement will be received by old-timers. Number 7, of course, involves repositioning the choir, which if I understand correctly, will face toward the altar at an angle. For those unfamiliar with the old set up, the choir sang not from the loft but from a confined spot near a side altar. That positioning was an acoustical challenge to put it mildly. (The choral sound from the loft is wonderful but the distance from the liturgical action is a formidable handicap.)

    As to the organ, it is a local and national treasure. Every musician should be grateful for Leo Abbott’s almost single-handed efforts through the years to restore and maintain it. And of course, best wishes to Richard Clark in his new role as music director of the Cathedral.

    Now about the parking . . .
    Thanked by 2Liam CHGiffen
  • pfreese
    Posts: 47
    Not musically related, but with the restoration of the high altar steps, are they planning to return the tabernacle there? It would a shame to do all that work to and effectively have a bridge to nowhere...
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,395
    The Blessed Sacrament is reposed in Its own chapel at the cathedral.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,013
    As in most cathedrals. The Blessed Sacrament should be in a place accessible for private devotion.
    Thanked by 1Jahaza
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,502
    Here's a pic of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel at Holy Cross Cathedral, which was beautifully renovated in the 1990s work done in the Cathedral (during which work the color of the nave, transepts and sanctuary were finally rid of their post WW2 war surplus green paint....Randolph, it was a *green* collar past....and the parking that was abundant when the area was, um, grittier, has been superseded by the Silver Line, which at least is a much less of a transit blight for the Cathedral to coexist with):

    1075 x 705 - 800K
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,013
    A tanatising glimpse of an organ. Our whole church is smaller than that chapel, and the organ spec would be of interest.
  • I'm sorry to say that this looks like so many other recent cathedral renovations where the original architecture is more or less ignored and used as a shell for what's thought be mandated by Vatican II. The oversized amorphous sanctuary, the strange positioning of the pews and choir, and what looks to be unrelieved brightness of the lighting, all strike me as very "1990s."

    I hope I'm wrong, but I'm afraid this will look as dated as the cathedrals in Milwaukee and Seattle do now.
  • pfreese
    Posts: 47
    Re rich, as someone who lived in Milwaukee for 5 years, I can tell you that Holy Cross looks much better just by the lack of a “Wishbone Jesus” hanging out above the altar...

    image
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,468
    Pfreese, I can't open the image. Is this the infamous Christ the Diver sometimes called, Touchdown Jesus?
  • pfreese
    Posts: 47
    I unfortunately can’t seem to load the image from my smartphone. Here are some pictures from the repainting Conrad Schmidt did a few years back (they didn’t do the renovation):

    http://www.conradschmitt.com/portfolio/projects/?projectid=67

    Personally, I think Notre Dame’s “Touchdown Jesus” would still be more tasteful than what Archbishop Weakland picked for his cathedral on the eve of his retirement.
    Thanked by 1CharlesW
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,468
    Weakland should have been ridden out of town on a rail after being tarred and feathered. That thing looks awful.
  • pfreese
    Posts: 47
    Not too far off. It generated so much controversy that the Vatican had to get involved, though they eventually sided with Weakland. Even current staff at the cathedral have confided to me a certain dislike of the renovations (even their auxiliary bishop/rector), because it works for chrism masses and ordinations but basically nothing else. It’s a bit of shame, since musically that place has wonderful acoustics.

    All this is to say the renovations to Holy Cross cathedral look lovely compared to what would’ve happened if Richard Vosko had been allowed to play around with yet another historic cathedral.
    Thanked by 2CharlesW CHGiffen
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,502
    I would not liken the HCC sanctuary reno as comparable to Vosko's work in Milwaukee. Vosko would not at all approve of the keeping of the OF altar to the bounds of the former sanctuary (just along the line of it, but still, let alone reinstate five steps to the reredos altar!), but would have gutted the sanctuary, and created a much shorter predella at the front of the crossing. Vosko is a worship-in-the-round fundamentalist of sorts, and HCC's sanctuary doesn't even kiss that idea. The new placement of the choir will be acoustically and functionally superior to where it's been in recent decades (the size of normal congregations at HCC is such that singing the Mass from the loft would involve too long of an acoustical gap - something I've observed in practice elsewhere back in the 1990s), and will allow much better access by the faithful to the small Lady chapel (off the south transept) that was uncovered during the 1990s reno work after decades of being boarded up. The shape of the new sanctuary predella is not amorphous but appears to be "inspired" by the shamrock (three angled lobes of three), design references with which HCC is historically replete (St Patrick being the patron of the RCAB). The flexible seating through the transept/crossing areas is aslmost certainly designed with Chrism and Ordination Masses and other odd liturgies in mind. I am glad to see the sanctuary rid of carpeting, but it would be prudent for some handrails to be installed along the shamrocky configured sanctuary steps. There's been no public mention of what is planned for communion rails for EF Masses, but flexible seating in that area could accommodate them. As for the lighting, the renderings are not indicative of the more modulated light in that area - the vault is of dark wood (painted - the design for which is being restored - in the apsidal arm of the space).
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,502
    As for the organ in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, this is all I can find:

    https://pipeorgandatabase.org/OrganDetails.php?OrganID=9675
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  • Liam
    Posts: 3,502
    And, as for Unfortunate Liturgical Design Ideas that might have been inflicted on HCC with this restoration, I am quite grateful that an idea to bulk-out, faux marble-ize and crown (with an utterly inappropriate design) the cast iron columns (I assume to conceal utility/HVAC conduits) as shown in this rendering was reconsidered and set aside:

  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,013
    Probably 1881 Hook & Hastings, Op. 1047 rebuilt by Watersmith, Opus 29 (1995); unless that is elsewhere in the cathedral (the spec is plausible).

    Bulking out columns is A BAD IDEA. Romilly Craze did it in Soutwark, so that he could add a clerestory, now they have monitors on each pillar to enable large congregations to see the sanctuary.
    Thanked by 1Liam
  • Thanks for your comment, Liam.

    I agree it could have been worse, and I hoping it's not as bad as I think, but it could have been so much better. Just when a serious and fruitful re-evaluation of the dominant liturgical thinking of the post-conciliar era is taking place, it seems that much of thought behind the HCC renovation is stuck in the 1980-90s. Even besides the liturgical positive / negatives, I'm always bothered by a basic disregard for the architecture. That space was never meant to have a shamrock or whatever shape the sanctuary now is. OK, it's better than the "altar in the round" concept, but still fitting a square peg in to a round hole.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,013
    >
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,468
    Still a beautiful building and magnificent organ. Next time I am there I have to see it.

    Rich_enough, you touched on something interesting. One of my choir members said last night he had gone to the "contemporary" service two weekends because of scheduling conflicts arranging care for a very ill relative. He stated he was miserable there and that those people are still stuck in the seventies flailing away on their guitars and singing drivel. I would extend that to cover far too much of the church being like 50-year-old teenagers who never grew up.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,013
    An altar 'in the round' can be okay, in a building in the round as here, (a round peg in a round hole). Designed in 1959, for a fairly conservative Archbishop, Heenan (later Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster).
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,502
    Richard

    I don't know if you are aware that only the center-front-most lip of the new sanctuary steps extends (but a few feet) beyond where the old sanctuary rail used to be. In the linked photo from a firefighters' requiem in 1964, you can see there was a clear wide area across the span from each set of transept doors.

    https://www.bostonglobe.com/rf/image_r/Boston/2011-2020/2014/10/01/BostonGlobe.com/Metro/Images/TrumbullStreetfire_9.r.jpg

    If this reno design were from the 1980s-90s, there would definitely be no restoration of the five steps to the reredos!
  • JL
    Posts: 151
    I, for one, am delighted to see the demise of the carpeting, which not only wrecks the acoustic but also is hard to clean and not very attractive. The old pews were lovely, but there was a tiny step up to get into them. I consistently tripped over it, and I can only imagine how much worse it must have been for people with limited mobility. It will be nice to go to Mass there with less chance of falling over.
    Thanked by 1Liam
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,502
    JL

    I remember hearing from a friend who was involved in the 1990s renos that, at the dedication of the then-new altar, Chrism dripped onto said carpet, which had to be sectioned out and buried/burned and then replaced.....
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,395
    An instance of holey carpet?
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  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 1,013
    I heard of someone having the bright idea of wrapping an altar in clingfilm (plastic wrap) so that the oil would not stain it. Quite apart from probably invalidating the consecration, unwrapping the altar did not go well!
    Thanked by 2Liam JL
  • Liam
    Posts: 3,502
    Reminds me of putting sand in holy water fonts.