Yes, there are cathedrals in Pittsburgh. There are many and they are beautiful. If you ever have the chance on visiting this once frontier town take that chance and visit. The city is beautifully situated along the banks of two rivers, the Allegheny and the Monongahela, and it is here that they both join to form the Ohio River. While visiting two weekends ago I saw that fall was moving in quickly and the air changed to that wonder fall freshness. What really caught my eye was the Cathedral of Learning.
This could be the most wondrous structure I have ever seen both inside and out. I never knew it existed until I drove into Pittsburgh and saw it off to my right from the highway. There is stood, very tall, between the trees off of highway 376. Upon closer review I saw that the structure, though clearly inspired by gothic architecture, is not that old. This second tallest education building in the world broke ground in 1926 and finished eleven years later in 1937 after delays due to the Great Depression. To help fund this project through tough years, school children were asked to to contribute a dime to “buy a brick.” It worked, and now thanks to Chancellor John Bowman and the children of Pittsburgh this magnificent structure stands as a center for learning.
Inside the building is even more beautiful as vaulted ceilings push the height of the ground floor to showcase a grand enlightenment. Through this area can be seen corridors through archways, tunnels through the towering pillars and a place that invites imagination. While here I wanted to do nothing else but marvel at this wonder. I could only imagine what my imagination would feel if I could bring a book like Frankenstein or The Castle of Otranto to read under this atmosphere.
Throughout the first and third level are a series of classrooms that make up the Nationality Classrooms. With approximately 27 classrooms, each one is dedicated to a different countries and nationalities. In these rooms some of the featured countries are Austria, Japan, Israel, Ukraine, Wales, Czechoslovak, Italy, Ireland, Lithuania, Greece, Scotland and yes, they have a Romanian classroom. And each room is decorated and designed by a person of that nationality representing their country and their history. My favorite room is the Armenian room.
The next gothic build I saw was during nighttime. When I first saw the Heinz Memorial Chapel its top tower looked strange. Though the outside of the build was illuminated by ground lights the tower stood black in the background as if it were afraid of the light. My initial thought was that since it stood on top of the building the ground lights were unable to hit it. When I came back the next day I could see that I was half right.
I saw that the tower is an entirely different shade from the rest of the chapel. This gives it a great effect at night and during the day it looks like it is always in shadow. Anyway, the Heinz Memorial Chapel was build out of the will of Henry John Heinz in honor of his mother, Anna Margaretta. Construction broke ground in 1933 and the chapel was completed in 1938, one year after the Cathedral of Learning. What is fun about this is the fact that these two buildings are right next to each other on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh. While I was touring it began to rain and I actually took refuge in both buildings to take a picture of the other. Sadly my pictures were lost.
Finally, Saint Paul Cathedral. Not too far from the first two building is this grand 14th century style gothic cathedral. It was designed by Egan and Prindeville, a company based out of Chicago and was built by a Philadelphia contractor named Thomas Reilly. This build is more than 240 feet and is beautifully designed with great details on it facade. It is the oldest of the three here mentioned, opening its doors in 1906.
Since I was visiting on Saturday I was unable to go inside two of the three of these, only seeing the Cathedral of Learning. The reason is the chapel and the cathedral were both occupied by weddings. It seemed that there were weddings all over Pittsburgh and a gothic church is a prime location. Indeed it is beautiful and there is a magic about this area. With these three structures as well as many more great buildings this is a great place for the imagination of someone whom loves gothic lore.
If you have any stories about these three gothic builds please share them.
“Now focus your mind’s eye on what I say,”
he said, “and you will clearly understand
the error of the blind who lead the blind.”
“It should be clear to you by now how blind
to truth those people are who make the claims
the every love is, in itself, good love.”
I do not know what is more sad, that people in this world see a need to ban books or that it happens so often we have a Banned Books Week, which happens to be this week. Check it out here. It really exists. Now I can think of some books that I would never allow into my personal library or if I owned a bookstore I would never carry, unless a customer asked me to order a copy of said book. But this is my own personal opinion which allows me to have what ever books I want to fill up the shelves in my library. I cannot understand why people would want to go through the trouble to ban books from public libraries and school libraries.
When I first heard that books were being banned I was young and thought that it was an isolated incident. Sadly it is not as this map will show you what parts of the country are banning what books. Some of these books, Slaughter House Five, Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mockingbird, are some of the first books I have ever read and loved. Other, Brave New World and the Twilight Series, are not as well received, but that should not matter.
My biggest fear in this world is when a group of people starts something, where does it end? You ban one book because you say it contradicts the bible, as is what happened here. Does that not give the same rights of other people to ban the bible? I do not want either banned. I would like people to read for themselves and decided what is right and wrong.
This brings me to my gothic twist. There is a great book entitled The Monk by Matthew Lewis. The story is about a devout monk named Ambrosio living in Madrid, Spain sometime in the 17th century, The people of the church and of the community say that he is without sin and has never broken a single rule of his order. He is extremely popular thanks to his sermons and his dedication to the church and the Holy Bible.
He came to the church as a baby, abandoned on the steps of the abbey. His entire life is spent living in the church and being educated by the words and lessons of the faith. The book follows his down fall as his life both outside and inside becomes complicated with emotions of love and lust. He is first tempted by a fellow monk who reveals himself to be a woman in disguise. Later he falls in love with an innocent girl. I shall not spoil the rest of his fall into villainy, but I shall say that book makes it clear that the only reason why he lived 30 years with out sin was due to the fact that he was cut off from the real world outside the abbey. He had no exposure to people outside the church.
He was in fact censored and grew up not knowing any aspects of the real world.
The book, The Monk was itself banned upon its original publication in 1796. This is due to the fact that the book is an attack on the brutality of the Catholic Church in Spain during the Inquisition.
Books teach us valuable lessons from the world that we would normally not experience in our everyday lives. We learn about different characters from different lands with different languages and customs. There is nothing to be gained by banning books. It does not make those parts of the world go away. It deepens our ignorance and proves the adage that the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world that he does not exist.
Join me in reading a banned book. My book of choice: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. In this world, books are not just banned, they are burned because the contradict the existence of the society.
In my imagination there took shape
the impious deed committed by that being
transformed into the bird that lives to sing:
my mind became, at this point, so withdrawn
into itself that the reality
of things outside could not have entered there.
Then poured into my soaring fantasy,
a figure crucified, whose face revealed
contempt and fury even as he died.
It is fun how we can live our entire lives and not know that there is an artist, author or some creator that will blow our minds away with their work. It seems that as I get older, to my delight, I find more and more of these people in the world. Several years ago it was the writer Neil Gaiman. I know, it was not until I finished school that I learned of the awesome works of Neil Gaiman and now I have read just about everything of his there is to read including all four volumes of the Sandman series. This summer I found the etchings of John Taylor Arms at the National Gallery of Art. Now I wish to share with you another artist, Paul Gustave Dore.
I found him this summer, while researching Dante Aligheri as I was reading the Inferno. In researching I found this illustration of a lost pilgrim (Dante) in a dark and lonely forest and thought it to be wondrous and perfect imagery for the text of the Inferno. Little did I know that there would be more illustrations such as this to compliment not only the first volume of the Divine Comedy, but for all three volumes, Purgatory and Paradise. Again, as in the case of the work of John Taylor Arms, the attention is in the details of his work. When you look at one of his illustrations you can see the amount of time, energy and patience he put into it as you can feel that energy pervade out of it. The work is like magic like the words are poetry.
Don’t misunderstand me, I love using my imagination when every I can in reading poetry, prose, short stories or novels, but there is a different experience when you have images such as these from an artist such as Dore. There is a quality that comes with them and an experience that follows. It is art and poetry combined into one symphony that any person whom appreciates the macabre will enjoy. The gothic appeal is strong in his work as he shows the beauty in the tragedy.
Here is a brief biography on Dore.
Born in Strasbourg, France on January 6, 1832, Dore made a name for himself as a prolific artist, illustrator, engraver and sculptor, but he worked primarily with wood and steel engravings. His artistic talent was recognized at an early age by his parents and friends. When he was 14 his parents moved to Paris. While out walking he saw in the window of a publishing company engravings to match different works of literature. Knowing he could do a better job he brought his work to the shop the next day and showed them to the publisher, Charles Philipon. Philipon was amazed by what the young Dore had to show him, but thought the work to be was too good for the hand of a teenager. After Dore proved the illustrations to be his own he was given a job.
Early in his career he was commissioned to illustrate the works of Lord Byron, Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote and the The Old Testament of the Bible (1866), which made him famous not only in France, but around the world. What he is most known for, however, are his illustrations for Dante’s The Divine Comedy, Milton’s Paradise Lost and Poe’s poem, The Raven. In his life, he illustrated more than 200 books and thousands of illustrations.
He was a workaholic and managed to produce a lifetime of work in a short life. He died after a brief illness at the age of 51 in 1883. He grave can be found in the Pere Lachaise Cemetary in Paris.
His work is unequally in talent and imagination as he brings to life the very wonders of the classical works we still love and read today. As soon as I discovered that there is for sale as book of his illustrations to the entire Divine Comedy, I knew I could not finish the 100 cantos without his art. I find it difficult to understand how one person could produce so much work and have each one be excellent and amazing.
Recently I bought his work on Poe’s The Raven, which is one of my single favorite pieces of writing. His work is deep and thoughtful, complete and emotional. He seems to be able to draw out with an illustration the same passion and imagination that the author wrote in with words. The many collections he created are a testament to his talent, dedication and respect to his craft and the works of others. He was born with a unique talent that few have ever had. We are luck that at an early age he recognized that talent and was able to pursue it until the day he died.
Please share with me your thoughts on Dore’s work and any artists you think share his abilities and passion.
“Be proud, then! Onward, haughty heads held high,
you sons of Eve! Yes, never bow your head
to see how evil is the road you tread!”
Though there are many old cathedrals in the United States that can be considered as being of gothic architecture, there are few castles. Sadly for those of us who live in the United States and love gothic architecture, there are few places to visit to see the beauty of that medieval style. There may be some of similar style, but few of historic craft and artifact. Perhaps the most well known gothic castle in American is the Smithsonian Institution Building, which is appropriately nicknamed the ‘Castle.’
In terms of size and aesthetics, the ‘Castle’ is an impressive structure. With its red sandstone it appears bold in its splendor on the Washington Mall and stands out from even amongst the Capitol Building, the Natural History Museum, the National Gallery of Art and the Supreme Court, all of which are more classical in their style. I have had the chance to visit Washington D.C. many times and I have always been impressed with the layout of the mall with the Washington Monument on one end and the Capitol on the other. I have always been aware of the out of place red gothic castle, but never have I looked into why it is there or who designed it. I did know that it was the headquarters for the Smithsonian, but that was the extent of my knowledge. I am a little sad that it took me so long to learn more about this beautiful building that has stood for over 100 years.
Completed in 1855, the ‘Castle’ was designed by architect James Renwick, Jr. James Renwick was born in 1818, in New York City. His was part of an affluent family that was well educated. His mother came from a prominent New York family, and his father was an engineer, architect and professor of natural philosophy at Columbia, where later James would study engineering. James did not, however, study architecture. The only education he received in that field was from his father who taught him the trade. Indeed, he did grow up with early exposure to the craft and was nurtured in architecture throughout his life.
He received his first major commission at the age of 25 for designing the the Grace Church in New York in 1843. The church is modeled in the English Gothic Style. Even though the church received other bids from well established architects it took a chance on the young engineer believing that his background and family provided a guarantee that the church would rise without fault. The finished product was very different from what could be found in the city at the time. It was the first of its kind, gothic, to be seen in New York and one reason why the style was chosen can be linked to the churches rector, Thomas House Taylor.
Prior to his arrival in New York, Taylor had spent a year traveling throughout Europe for possible the purpose of searching for ideas as to what the future church should resemble. It is without doubt that he would have seen many gothic style churches, but we also know that Renwick had never seen one, outside of what he could find in books, thus adding to his talent, skill and vision.
Of all of his designs Renwick is perhaps most renown for the St. Patrick’s Cathedral, also in New York City. This project came later in his career after he had completed Grace Church and the Smithsonian Castle. It is a marvel to see in the atmosphere of Manhattan as it was built long before midtown became what we can see today. Once upon a time this was not the populace part of the city. Construction began in 1858, but the project was placed on hold during the Civil War. It would take another thirteen years before the cathedral would be completed in 1878.
Today, like the rest of Renwick’s monuments to the gothic style, the cathedral is a National Historic Landmark. These structures are worth seeing even though they may be hard to photograph. Pictures do not capture their full majesty.
“When our mind, far straying from the flesh,
less tangled in the network of its thoughts,
becomes somehow prophetic in its dream.”
~ Canto IX; Purgatory