Sunday, May 09, 2010

Some thoughts on the Cathedral in Milwaukee

When Archbishop Weakland decided to renovate the Cathedral in Milwaukee (virtual tour here) there were strong reactions to the plan. I shared in the general dissatisfaction with such a radical redesign that seemed to ignore the building itself by moving the altar to the middle, the choir and organ to what was the sanctuary, and the Blessed Sacrament to the former baptistry. I liked the old copper domed baldachin, even if some thought it was chintzy.

I was in the Cathedral today to participate in a Mass at which the Notre Dame Liturgical Choir, including two of my kids, sang. What I noticed was that the new design is not as bad as I originally thought.

I am still quite critical of some aspects. The corona and crucifix really have to go. Even if they were artistically excellent, they just don't fit in a classic building. Besides, the prominence of the thorns causes in me an emotional reaction that is a distraction to the spirit of the Liturgy. I also sorely miss the Blessed Sacrament in the main part of the Church.

On the other hand, I can see why a Benedictine (Weakland) would like the design. It has the flavor of a Benedictine chapel, with the nave for the people, the altar, the choir, and the ambo. The furnishings are actually quite handsome, to me at least, especially the cathedra and the presider's seat, although they look awfully uncomfortable! I always like the baptistry at the entrance.

Besides the corona, I would probably make one change: Since it would be very difficult to move the choir back to the choir loft, so the Blessed Sacrament could be where it used to be, I would move the Blessed Sacrament to where the current presider's chair is (on the opposite side of the altar as the cathedra) and put a regular crucifix above it. Then I would put the presider's chair next to the cathedra, but a step lower. Right now it is the same height as the cathedra. That way, since the altar is a perfect square, the celebrant could face the Blessed Sacrament and the crucifix while offering the Sacrifice.

Fr. Last, are you reading this? I thought not.


Love2Learn Mom said...

I agree. I finally saw the cathedral a few months ago and I guess I've just seen cathedral renovations that are a lot, lot, lot worse than that.

Nate said...

Like you said, the actual decorations are quite nice, but I think that the worst thing is the complete disregard for the space. The church is oriented a certain way, but the decorations seem to want to fight it and there's so much unused space. I think that they should put the altar where the ambo is and fill all that space with chairs/pews. And the problem with the organ could be solved with a baldachin to set apart the altar area.

Robert Gotcher said...

Nate. Good points, all. My main two concerns are to get rid of the corona and to get the blessed sacrament back in the sanctuary. Getting the copper dome back would be, to quote your generation, sweet.

I for the first time noticed the couble columns between the nave and the side aisles. I've never seen that before.

Joe said...

Where's the iconostasis? ;-)

Nate said...

Not an eastern church, but I agree, I think that an iconostasis would look "sweet" in this western church.