Category Archives: Church Architecture

Church of the Nativity Restoration

The Church of the Nativity is undergoing a 19 million dollar restoration. The mosaics which have been hidden for centuries are being uncovered and restored by a team of Italians. The project is being financed by the Palestinian government, the Vatican, the King of Morocco and countries and churches around the world. What a treasure to be restored so pilgrims can delight for many more centuries in the beauty that extols the beauty of God Incarnate in human flesh and blood.

Chora Church: Four Gospel Hymnographers

More frescoes from Chora, in Istanbul.

The Four Hymnographers are seated in the pendentives below the dome. These are Byzantine poets noted for their hymns honoring the Virgin [224-227].

John of Damascus, in the northeast pendentive, is the most famous, a theologian active in the eighth century. He is identified by his turban and is depicted writing the Idiomela for the funeral service.

Kosmas the Poet, in the southeast pendentive, a student of John of Damascus, who is shown with an uninscribed book in his lap.

Joseph the Poet, in the southwest pendentive, holding a scroll on which he writes his Canon for the Akathistos Hymn, an addition to the most important Byzantine hymn honoring the Virgin. The verses connect Joseph to the Old Testament scenes depicted below him.

Theophanes Graptos, in the northwest pendentive, a ninth-century writer who was a monk at the Chora. He is shown writing verses from the funeral service, which refer to the adjacent scene of Jacob’s Ladder and to the role of the Virgin in salvation. Read more.

In this pendentive is Saint John of Damascus. He is clad in Oriental costumes.

Enjoy this chant of the Paschal Canon of Saint John:

Istanbul-091735 Istanbul-091744


Exploring Renaissance Florence

Monday, Sept. 7. We started our first full day in Florence with morning prayer at the basilica of San Lorenzo. Like most major churches here there is a special door for those who wish to pray or attend Mass so that aspect is preserved in contrast to tourism. This was the parish church of the Medici family and many are buried.


We attended Mass at the Duomo, again, entering at the prayer door. This might be the only way we enter this trip because even before it opened the line to enter was down the street. This cathedral is awesome inside and out, with many colors of marble creating geometric patterns. The dome is largest brick dome in the world engineered by Brunelleschi.

Main doors of the Duomo (cathedral). Florence, Italy.

Main doors of the Duomo (cathedral). Florence, Italy.

Duomo. The Florence cathedral.

Bell tower of duomo

Interior of the dome.

Morning Mass at the Duomo

High altar.

We were excited to go to the Museum of San Marco. It was the monastery which was home to Fra Angelico, and his frescoes are in every room and monastic cell. Like the Scrovengni chapel in Padua it is considered a masterpiece of European art. The works are familiar but it was amazing to see them in their original context.


The Last Supper. Monastery tefectory (now a gift shop). Museum of San Marco.

Crucifixion with saints. Monastery chapter room. Museum of San Marco. Florence, Italy.

Crucifixion with saints. Monastery chapter room. Museum of San Marco. Florence, Italy.

Fra Angelico fresco in monastery cell. Museum of San Marco.

Fra Angelico fresco in monastery cell. Museum of San Marco.

San Marco Church sanctuary in Florence, Italy.

San Marco Church sanctuary in Florence, Italy.

Side altar with local saint, Antonio Pierazzi. San Marco Church. Florence, Italy.

Side altar with local saint, Antonio Pierazzi. San Marco Church. Florence, Italy.

A local sanctuary. Florence, Italy.

A local sanctuary. Florence, Italy.

Hospital of the Innocents

After lunch we hiked up to an overlook of Florence, the piazzale of Michaelangelo. The hike was through a gate of the city walls and up into the surrounding mountains. From the city it is easy to forget that Florence is ringed with mountains.

This view posted is panoramic. If you wish you can download to see it in its entirety.

Saint Ann Church.

Saint Ann Church.

In Saint Ann church.

After dinner we attended a concert in Or San Michele. The concert was held on the upper floor, amidst original statues. The windows were open that afforded great views of the city, but also admitted the noise from the lively street life below.

San Michele sanctuary. Florence, Italy.


The Palazzo Vecchio . Florence, Italy. (The statues are reproductions).

Santa Croce Church. Florence, Italy.

Santa Croce Church. Florence, Italy.

San Miniato Church. Florence, Italy.

San Miniato Church. Florence, Italy.

After dinner we attended a concert in Or San Michele. The concert was held on the upper floor, amidst original statues. The windows were open that afforded great views of the city, but also admitted the noise from the lively street life below.

Facing East in Prayer

Rom21-052920 When I arrived in Sinaia, the falling snow was an unexpected touch. The fresh snow drifting down so gently covered the southern range of the Carpathian mountains.

This monastery was built by King Carol I in the late 19th century


The Virgin is enthroned in the apse.

Gazing heavenward

This is where the cantors chant the liturgy.

Although there is a new church, the monastic church was founded by Mihail Cantacuzino in the late 17th century after he returned from a pilgrimage to mount Sinai, hence the name, Sinaia.

This is the porch with the traditional Last Judgement.

The icon screen

Gazing Heavenward

Gazing Heavenward

The eyes of the Virgin Mary under whose protection I have placed myself as I travel, search deeply into the soul of those who enter the temple of her Son. This will be the final image of the Virgin I will see on my journey into the artistic heritage of the Romanian people, rooted in the Christian faith. This image will remain in my mind as I begin my journey to central Asia to journey a little bit on the Silk Road on which so much cultural interaction occurred.

The church in Bucharest that evoked a powerful spiritual emotion within me was the Stavropoleos.  The monastic church which today is the heart of the life of prayer of the sisters who live there makes me realize how important prayer is at the heart of the city.  I would like to share with you what I found striking.

   Icon screens always appeal to me because they speak of the mystery of the Mass.

My eye always turns to the all-powerful Christ because it reminds me I must stand before him and render an account of my life.

The icon of the Virgin draws me to prayer. The greatest impression on me has been the very careful way in which people make the sign of the cross three times and then venerate the icons. I have seen people bless themselves three times as they walk in front of the church. I have even begun to do that! The sign of the cross is so ancient and the people of the cross should take deep spiritual consolation in that through the cross joy has come into the world. The greatest gift I have been given through the public piety of the Romanian people is a renewed sense of the beauty of the sign of the cross.


 The roadside shrines dedicated to the cross abound and not just a cross but a cross with the image of Our Lord.

And people even place the cross on the apex of the roofs of their home. The cross is the sign of the victory of truth.

Hidden Gems of Bucharest

This morning to continue celebrating Julian Easter I decided to enjoy another walk and listen for the sound of church chant that would lead me to prayer. The church reflected in the glass was consecrated on September 8, 1850 hence its name: The Birth of the Virgin Mary Church. The original structure from the 17th century was destroyed by an earthquake.

This is the interior of the church of the birth of Mary which is reflected in the glass of the building.

The chanting lead me back to the chapel that once was part of a medieval palace complex of Vlad Tepes who is often portrayed outside of Romania as Dracula. In Romania Vlad Tepes is a symbol of freedom in that despite his monaker the Impaler he defended Romania against the Islamic aggression of the Ottoman empire. The myth of Vlad Dracula and vampires has nothing to do with this man who led his people to resist aggression.

Buch-032155Here are the recently excavated ruins of his citadel that dates to mid 15th century.


As I walked I became even more attentive to the beauty of some wonderful architecture which stands in such stark contrast to the Soviet style which is out of proportion and just plain ugly.

I continued my walk to Unirii Square which testifies to the Communist dictator Ceaușescu’s plan for urban development. He destroyed much of old Bucharest in the process. I became intent on discovering a few churches that survived the demolition. This church survived and is hidden behind huge apartment complexes.

My next quest was to find vestiges of the old Jewish community in Bucharest which prior to the second world was thriving and strong in the city.

A Jewish synagogue, hidden, like the churches, by Ceaușescu block apartments.


Buch-042348And I found another church unexpectedly hidden by Communist block apartments. Saint Nicholas Church: what a find!

This is the Parliament which is another Ceausescu creation that amount to a multi million project undertaken in 1984.

Once again, the beautiful walled Saint Antim monastery of 1715 is hidden by Communist block housing.

This is a hidden work of beauty.
Buch-050305Stunningly beautiful

In the evening I attended an evening piano recital at the Athenaeum given by Vassilis Varvaresos.

Buch-125043 Buch-124641



This is Karlskirche in Vienna (in January). The “Karl” here is Saint Charles Borromeo.

In this detail, you can see an inscription reading “Vota mea reddam in conspectu timentium Deum” which is the second half of this verse: “From thee comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.” Ps. 22:25.


Frankfurt, a Day of Pilgrimage, Part 2

From there I went to the cathedral or Kaiserdom where the emperors from 1562 are consecrated and crowned at the crossing where the free standing altar stands.



When you walk in, the porch shelters the only piece left from the 18th century baroque interior. Today it is a lovely devotional chapel.




Then on entering the church to your left is a 1509 crucifixion by Hans Backoffen which makes a powerful statement of our hope in the Resurrection.






This scene is complimented by a beautiful 19th century Pieta in the chapel that houses the 18th century baptismal font.

Walking a little further I looked to the crossing on the right and saw the organ.


I planned to remain for the noon mass and thought I would hear the instrument. I was disappointed because it was not used however the congregation sang unaccompanied and it was stunningly beautiful. And the priest celebrated mass ad orientem at the magnificent high altar from the 15th century.

Frankfurt112243On the high altar is the Wahlkapelle where the the seven prince electors would elect the new emperor. I did not take a picture because today it is a chapel for eucharistic adoration. The church brochure requests that we pray before the Sacrament for justice and good politics in the world. The chapel is behind the Magdalene chapel.

There are many 19th century Neogothic altarpieces, however there is one from the 15th century that depicts the Dormition of Our Lady.





The cathedral was an invitation to linger and prayer through beauty to God and for me the crowning was Mass. The church can just be a beautiful museum however when you experience the Mass it becomes what is was built for: that is, a house for the worship of God.

From there I went back to Romerberg to visit Nikolaikirche from 1290. Today it is a Lutheran church that has many statues of Saint Nicholas.






Frankfurt131540From there I crossed the river to continue my pilgrimage to two more churches.  The first was the Church of the three kings from the 14th century.  In 1531 this church joined the Lutheran Reformation.



I had a strong determination to see the pulpit from which the pastor denounced the Nazi ideology and the church joined the Bekennende Kirche, that is the Confessional Church, a movement which opposed the national socialism of the Nazis. Such witness to the Gospel in the face of an evil that will murder you emboldens my faith in Jesus. Evil may murder the body but it cannot extinguish the freedom of the spirit of truth.

In the church I learned of Stolpersteine, that is stumbling stones, that are inserted into sidewalk pavement across Germany with the names of those Christians who were murdered by the Nazis. They are placed in front of their home. Over 40,000 in 800 cities have been placed over the past two or three years.

Rabbi Steiman prayed at the laying of one of these stones:

“People who were once violently driven from this place should be restored to where they belong by means of commemoration. Let us join hands and build a circle around these stones so the souls of those who once lived here may again be in our sight.”

The stumbling stones called to mind all the memorials to so many people that opposed the Nazis and were even murdered for their witness to the truth for the sake of the Gospel. Their witness demonstrates the power of the Resurrection of Jesus.

From there I walked to the Deutschordenskirche about I had read has the most beautiful nativity scene in Frankfurt. When I entered the church I turned around and the whole wall had been transformed into the nativity.




Frankfurt134454Frankfurt134933The scene is remarkable not to be out done by the festive high altar.







Frankfurt135026Frankfurt134422These were two altar pieces that united it all.  One of the Sorrowful Mother holding Jesus after his death and one of the Annunciation. These altars show the unity of cross and crib and the serious demands confessing faith in Jesus makes. My thoughts immediately went back to the “Stumbling stones.”



Frankfurt130659The day was a day of pilgrimage from church to church in a city where church towers once dominated but are now overshadowed by towering buildings dedicated to commerce.











As I was looking at all these impressive modern structures reaching into the sky my eyes just happen to look at the pavement and behold a stumbling stone.

My heart and soul were overwhelmed. Did I just happen to stumble upon a srumbling stone or was it the the Lord’s way to sum up the meaning of my Christmas pilgrimage in Frankfurt?

As we read in the Gospel of John, “No greater love has a man than to lay down his life for his friends.” My thoughts turned to another stone set in pavement at Tyburn in London where men laid down their in resistance to the tyranny of state ideology. I stopped and looked at the stone again. The home of this faithful believer was leveled in the bombing of 1944; however in the words of Rabbi Steiman that this faithful believer who was driven from this place has been restored to this place. I looked up again at the towering financial and commercial structures reaching into the sky and then looked down again at the stumbling stone and heard a voice: “Blessed are the humble…. Blessed are those who are persecuted for my sake. Rejoice and be glad.”

Today was profound. It was more than admiring beautiful churches reconstructed after the horror of war; rather, today unexpectedly revealed to me a truth in the lives of these believers. In the face of the untold suffering unleashed by evil people often say, “Where is God?” The answer is powerfully given in all these stumbling stones.

Frankfurt, A Day Of Pilgrimage, Part 1

Since it is Monday [December 29th] and all museums are closed I decided to make my day a pilgrimage and walk from church to church in the old city. Over 90% of the old residential center of the city was leveled during the bombing so once again I marveled at the ongoing rebuilding and reconstruction of ancient buildings. When I see photos after July of 1945 I am stunned.

Photo of city after bombing. Notice the tower of the cathedral.

Notice the tower in the photo which stood even in the massive bombing.

Notice the tower in the photo which stood even in the massive bombing.

But even more chilling is this one from the tower of the cathedral.

Walking through the streets of the old town I have come to deep appreciation of all the efforts to restore what was destroyed because all this reconstruction and preservation keeps alive a vital part of our western cultural heritage. The Romer Platz was completely leveled however was painstakingly restored. These are of the Romer Platz that was leveled in the bombing.








Church of Our Lady, Liebfrauenkirche (Frankfurt am Main)


The 17th century altar immediately caught my attention. Fragments of the high altar were salvaged and reconstruction began.

The church was so quiet and is an oasis on this busy part of town. And it was wonderful I arrived as daily Mass was beginning. On Monday there were a little over 100 in attendance and everyone sang accompanied by the 2008 Karl Gockel organ. Over these past few weeks I have grown to love the German hymnal but even more how German Catholics are serious when they sing!









There were other pieces art that attracted my attention.

After Mass I walked over to what is called Romerberg after remains of ancient Roman settlements. This too was destroyed however this complex of buildings was restored.