19 July 2007

The concluding post of St, Clare's Church

This is the last of my series on St Clare's Church, Toronto. For this post, we go to the front of the church. As always, please click for larger images.

St Clare's is a cruciform church with the main axis running from south to north. We will mimic here the rising and the setting of the sun, and begin in the east transept and move to the west.

We begin with a picture of one of the confessionals. There is another identical one in the west transept.

I believe in many churches it is now the custom to confess face to face with the priest, but I have always preferred this option. I also prefer never confessing to the same priest twice, or even to priests I know and who can recognize my voice, though I've stopped confessing in falsetto.

Next is one of the most dramatic and moving sculptures in the entire church.

This crucifix is one that really must be seen to be believed. It seems larger than life and it is truly a compelling representation of the sacrifice of our Lord. My father, who saw it at Elder's baptism, said it was the best crucifix he had ever seen. This was from a man who had served as an altar boy in a cathedral.

A friend of mine told me a story about a friend of his who saw this Crucifix (keeping track, this is a story of a friend of a friend, in short, we're closing in on urban legend, but he swore it to be true and I can swear to his swearing). His friend was a Jewish woman who for some reason had an affinity for churches. One day she stopped in a St. Clare's and was immediately struck by the sight of this crucifix and by the enormity of what is represented there. "Oh, my God!" she cried. "They really crucified him!" My friend told me she had started to consider entering the church. I have no idea if she did or not, but if she did, this crucifix had a hand in her conversion. Great art has that power.

Also, notice Our Lady of the Seven Sorrows at the foot of the Cross.

Here we have a statue of the Canadian Martyrs. Some people call them the 'North American Martyrs'. I don't.
Oddly, for a group of saints so important to this area, there are few statues of them around. Father is often getting requests from other priests who want to borrow this group. Now, priests are notoriously bad borrowers. Let me rephrase that- they are very good at borrowing. Returning, not so good. Father, in spite of the fact that he is a priest- or perhaps because of it- knows this fact very well, and tactfully refuses such requests. "Not unless you want to have another Canadian Martyr," he says. "Because my parishioners would kill me."

In front of the baptismal font is a picture of the baptism of our Lord.

I believe this contro posto painting was done by the some people who made the crucifix. I can't say for certain. I made the mistake of taking photos of the plaques giving the names of the creators of these works, and those photos (along with many other pictures I took of the front) were saved on a corrupted disc.

I now skip quickly to the middle, and the main altar. Most of the photos I took of it were unfortunately lost. The only one to turn out at all is the one seen below.

These three statues grace the top of the main altar. The statues have changed from time to time over the years. Currently there are, from left to right, St. Francis, St. Clare and, in keeping with the church's history, St. Patrick.

On either side of the main altar are side altars. The are designed like the main altar in miniature, so a picture of one will give you an idea of all three:

When I cam to St. Clare's in the 90's, the two side altars had been moved to the back, and were basically used as platforms for statues. When the current pastor arrived at the church he very quickly moved them back to the front, with the help of a dozen or so stout men and a healthy dose of sweat and elbow grease. The first Mass he had after moving the altars, he asked the congregation if they liked the altars where they now were. There was a general muttering of yes, they liked it. "Good ," father said. "Because there is no way we are ever moving those things again..." They are quite large, and made of oak. The men must have been stiff for a week.

The altar on the east side is dedicated to Joseph.

That on the west side is dedicated to Mary.

According to Father, one of the things he likes to do is poke around in the closets and drawers and attics of the church- an attitude I share. In one of his trolls around he found this banner, lovingly hand embroidered in silk from a bygone era. He could not leave it in its drawer, and brought it out for all to see. Every now and then he brings out another such thing. One Good Friday he celebrated wearing a black fiddleback chasuble embroidered with gold. If he ever wants help poking around, I'd gladly volunteer.

Here is a fairly typical representation of St Michael the Archangel. In iconography, his wings are supposed to be made of peacock feathers, but he is instantly recognizable here. He carries his spear and scales and the dragon cringes at his feet.

I must confess, in my imagination I always saw Michael as a little more hard bitten, tougher. most statues show him rather blase about casting out the Enemy. For some reason, he is usually portrayed in this quasi-roman armour, although a stained glass window at my old church portrays him in a full suit of armour. There was a time when representations of angels moved with the time- and in the Renaissance there were even pictures of angels with guns. Had that trend of clothing angels with the times had continued, Michael would here be pictured in army fatigues- camo, of course-complete with helmet and flak jacket, mowing Satan down with his M-16. Cool!

Here is the heart of the matter, our tabernacle, in the west transept, beneath the statue of the Sacred Heart. Most of my photos of this were on that corrupted disc, but I did fortunately get at least one. A few things to draw to your attention: Father's love of the older treasures of the parish comes through here as well. You can make out the sort of rail on either side of the altar on which the tabernacle sits- those are the gates from the old communion rail. And the candlesticks surrounding the tabernacle can be seen in old photographs from when the Tridentine Mass was celebrated at St. Clare's. But as with all such places, the true treasure, the one beyond all price, rests within the tabernacle. Even without all the beautiful things, still it would be precious beyond telling.

So, here ends our little sojourn through the parish church of St. Clare's. I hoped you enjoyed it. I have one last photo to show, and fittingly, it can only be seen in the church as you leave it: it the stained glass window over the main door:

It is Clare, receiving from Francis a blessing and a commission. It is a fitting symbol as we leave the sacred space and head out into the world beyond.

God Bless, and thanks for coming by.

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