For two thousand years the Catholic Church has used symbols and icons in sacred art to teach the faith and inspire the faithful to live up to its high ideals.  Early Church Fathers wrote that sacred art should uplift the mind and spirit so as to ponder the eternal.  The beauty and richness of the Grotto’s sacred art invokes that same awe.

The Grotto and the Chapel of Our Lady of Lourdes in the Vincentian Institute were built and decorated by the Ecclesiastical Department of the Gorham Company of New York City.  The Grotto within the Chapel is a replica of the Grotto of Lourdes, France.  From the Chapel’s vaulted mosaic ceiling and 14 Stations of the Cross, in a Venetian mosaic style, to its exquisite lighting fixtures and imported marble altar with Celtic details, the Chapel has plenty of distinctive embellishments.

Built of Indiana limestone with stones weighing up to several tons, the Grotto stone work is a structural unit that gives the appearance of a cave in solid rock. All the stones of the flat arch are suspended by iron rods from the iron floor beams and the naturalistic effect is enhanced by a rippling cascade as at Lourdes, whose gentle murmur sounds through the chapel.

Straightaway the eye beholds the marble statue of the Blessed Virgin and the marble and mosaic Altar. A pleasing contrast obtains in the pure white marble statuary of the Blessed Virgin and the natural color and formation of the roughly hewn Grotto proper. The credence to the right was made rustic so that too many features would not be introduced that might compete for prominence with the Altar.

The Altar is set apart from the informal stonework of the grotto by its highly embellished gold and colored mosaics which reflect the colorful treatment of the stained glass windows and echoes the colors in the ceiling mosaics. The Gothic tracery forms of the windows are embodied in the arches and cusps of the Trani marble Altar, which at the Bottom Altar details editends are supported by coupled dwarfed Numidia marble colonnettes. Set in a plain field of the Predella we have concentrated in the intersecting triangle and trefoil, one of the most important symbols of Christian Iconography, the Pelican. Its vermillion background as well as the use of the same color prevailing in the other features, Stations of the Cross, windows, et cetera, may be thought of as associated with the warmth and religious fervor of a true soul.

A simple Tabernacle is flanked by Siena marble retables with mosaic inserts. The Tabernacle curtain in two parts, of silk brocade, forms the background for the gold embroidered letters Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end of the Greek Alphabet, which, when drawn, exposes the bronze door which contains the Greek Chi Rho, set in a Vessica, or fish form. The Altar crucifix and candlesticks are made of bronze in Celtic style. The Monstrance, Benediction and Mass lights, Vases and Theca are of the same style.

Ceiling
In the vaulted ceiling bays the available symbols relating to Our Lord and the Blessed Virgin Many are set in a field of gold surrounded by a lily border with conventional roses at the corners. In the bay next to the Grotto, are Wheat and Grapes, and in the second bay are the Chalice and the Host, relate expressly to the Sacrament of the Altar. The three remaining symbols refer to the Blessed Virgin, the Lily, the Rose, and the Star.

Stations of the Cross
The fourteen Stations of the Cross, arranged in their usual order, are done in Venetian mosaic.  The mosaic panels are set directly into the wall, instead of being stuck on as an afterthought, and they also emulate a painting in their design.

Windows
The prevailing religious illumination by day is effected by four antique pot metal glass windows. The first window near the Grotto is the Nativity. The Agnus Dei in the shield below represents the Lamb of God. The next is the Holy Family, the Chalice and Host below symbolizing the Sacrament. The third is the Descent from the Cross, the IHS symbolizing Jesus. The window nearest the main entrance is the Assumption, the symbol MR, Maria Regina, is Mary Queen. The windows in the vestibule represent St. Margaret and St. James. The windows in the Sacristy are taken from scenes in the life of Saint Bernadette that the clergy in vesting may ever be mindful of the Grotto.

The artists, Mr. Harold Gross, Mr. Thomas W. Bladen and Mr. Edward B. Herrick were instrumental in preparing the full sized cartoons for the Stations of the Cross, and the designs and cartoons for the stained glass windows. Mr. Thomas Calvert, superintendent of the Gorham Company studios, supervised the actual construction and installation of the various mosaics and windows.

Lighting
The lighting arrangement is unique. The Grotto is illuminated by hidden lights set in a reflector embodied in stone work just back of the proscenium arch.

The Sanctuary Lamp in the form of a lantern gives greater moment to the informality of the Grotto. The six fire gilt bronze angel brackets on the piers and the four lamps hanging in the side aisles shed an indirect and diffused light throughout, revealing the symbols and ceiling detail. Each Station of the Cross is also illuminated by hidden lights set in reflectors below, manipulated by separate switches.

The exterior entrances of the Chapel are distinctively designated by imposing bronze lamps in the form of torches. The side entrance is marked by a lamp designed with the torches to enhance the simple dignified doorway and the classic grandeur of the entire edifice.

Mr. Anton Schweikart was the designer-in-chief who supervised and cooperated and lent his assistance to all of the men who worked on the various items of decoration and Mr. L. Riedinger of the Gorham Company was in direct charge of all the work and its beautiful appointments.  The perfect harmony which prevails is in a great measure due to his excellent judgment.

Altogether it is an incomparable gift to be able to admire a work, which from the very beginning was executed from special designs, from the beautiful windows, mosaics, et cetera, to the Cruets, Altar cards and censer. It conveys a greater sense of satisfaction to realize that the present Chapel is in entire accord with the original conception which the donor embraced, and his desire to make Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel a “gem.”

We cannot afford to neglect such exquisite art and allow time to take it’s toll.  Help us begin the restoration and preservation process so future generations can also experience this historical work of art.

We invite you to experience first hand the remarkable beauty and allure of this holy place.  Upon visiting, a more detailed description regarding the Grotto’s sacred art and Catholic Iconography will be made available upon request.

 

 

Walsh, John. Our Lady of Lourdes: Lourdes, its grotto, apparitions and cures. Troy, NY: St Peter’s Rectory, 1918. Print.

Pictures taken by Michael Joyce