7 February 2013

St Michael's, revisited.

Sooner or later, I end up back at St Mike's.

The renovations are continuing and ongoing, so it still does not look its best, but it is beginning to look better.  The scaffolding is down from the tower, and you may now see some of the repaired copper roof, along with the statues that are placed in niches near the top. 

Sadly, I can't make out the figures.  If anyone can chime in, please do. They also look considerably whiter than the rest of the tower, and I am wondering if they are perhaps new.

Speaking of new statues: I took one of the tours that are offered at the Cathedral following the noon Mass on Sundays.  It didn't tell me much that I didn't already know, but among the things that were new to me is that the cathedral will be getting four new statues for the exterior niches.  At first I thought: "Great!"  Then I thought "Wait! What kind of statues?"  The first, the statues of St Michael himself, was blessed and raised to its niche on Tuesday.

When I first saw that statue, my reaction was: "Ummmmm.... St Mike's a girl?"  I've reconsidered a little.  It may be that the artist was trying to give the statue medieval flavour, to go with the neo Gothic style of the cathedral.   I believe the sword is supposed to be a sword of fire (note to artist: flames go up, not down) but it comes off like we have a statue of Captain Feathersword. It seems to me that Michael should look a little... tougher.  I suppose my imagination has been formed in part by my reading of comic books back in the day, so I tend to see Michael, rightly or wrongly, (mostly wrongly) as a superhero.  This is closer to my idea of St Michael than the new statue:

So, with reservations, the statue is not that bad.  I am not going to say I think the statue is great, but, all things considered, I have seen far, far worse statues than the new one. Take for example, the statue of "Michael" near St Michael's college on the University of Toronto grounds.

Put in that perspective, I must say that while the new statue isn't in my preferred style, I can live with it, and in time grow to like it.

The removal of the scaffolding allows us to begin to see the exterior once more.  Every time I go to St Michael's, I see something I haven't noticed before.  The other day, I saw this decoration around a window over the north door.

On the left is a snake, and on the right is... an ugly face.  They are meant to tell a story, but which one I am not sure.  As I mentioned before, a long time ago, our iconography is often used as a mnemonic aid to remind the viewer of a story.  So there is a story here.  I just don't know which one.

The interior is pretty much as it has been for the last year or so.  The narthex has yet to be replastered. They have not yet begun to replace the choir loft or the organ, and the back looks rough with the empty spaces.  I was told something interesting about the organ during the tour I mentioned earlier:  I had been told we would be getting a Casavant from a church that closed in Quebec.  At the Cathedral, they told me they would be getting a phoenix organ to replace the old Warren.  Phoenix makes mainly electronic organs, and some electronic pipe hybrids, which seems to be what may be planned at this time.   From the Phoenix website:

The Phoenix console, located in the chancel, will also eventually switch to play the planned new pipe organ to be located in the balcony. Phoenix Organs will be collaborating with the pipe organ company to be named at a later date.  
I wonder how current that information is.  We could be getting a Frankenorgan (electronic pipe hybrid).  Also, I had heard they were going to rebuild the choir loft.  If so, why keep the organ console near the sanctuary, away from the choir and the pipes themselves?  Confusing.

My camera does not work well indoors, (and I've mentioned before that I am a rotten photographer) but I managed a so so picture of the tabernacle.

The spire over the tabernacle is a fragment of the original high altar.

Sadly, almost everything in the above photograph has been dismantled and lost.  The ornate pulpit is long gone.  The bishop's chair has vanished to no one knows where. Other pieces, such as the spire, were taken down and preserved.  There are a few picture frames at the back of the church made from fragments of the high altar.  The niche around the statue of Mary over the Marian Altar is similarly another fragment of the high altar.  The spire was the first part of the original high altar to be removed, taken down because it blocked the view of the magnificent stained glass window long before the wrecking balls of the 70's and 80's came into play.  In that era, the remainder of the high altar was dismantled, and a new altar, made of poured concrete, was put in place.  Thankfully, the concrete block was removed and a more suitable altar was installed, but St. Michael's still has no high altar, and the tabernacle is shunted off to one side.

St Michael's Cathedral has been a site of renewed interest in the last few days, because of it's position in the new pastoral plan for the diocese.  The fifth and final point of the plan is the renewal of the Cathedral itself.  I'll quote it at some length.  The rest of it is to be found here.

IV – 5. The Cathedral as Sign of Our Mission "Built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit." – Ephesians 2:20-22
The four previous core directions - parish life, vocations, Catholic outreach and evangelization - come to a focal point and find visible expression in our fifth and final core direction: St. Michael’s Cathedral as Sign of Our Mission.

The Cathedral, the seat of the archbishop and mother church of the Archdiocese of Toronto, connects every Catholic in the archdiocese, and gathers every pastoral and apostolic work under the heavenly patronage of the great defender of the faithful in the struggles of life, the archangel Michael. We need his intercession more than ever.

The Cathedral and its surroundings, the "Cathedral Block", are a visible symbol of pastoral communion within the archdiocese and apostolic evangelization in our secular society. The Cathedral should more fully become a beautiful icon, a gathering place where those living in and visiting the archdiocese are welcomed to enter and to be touched by the sacred, echoing the meaning of the name St. Michael: "Who is like God". Through an ongoing commitment to good stewardship, the physical restoration of the Cathedral will become the foundation for its spiritual revitalization. Building on its presence at the heart of the diocese, we can transform it into a place of pilgrimage, a centre for the liturgical life of the archdiocese and a place for the witness of the Catholic faith – a vibrant presence in a vibrant city.

We have identified four desired outcomes/goals for this core direction of the Pastoral Plan.
(i) Restore and Enhance the Architectural Beauty of St. Michael’s Cathedral

(ii) Develop the Cathedral & "Cathedral Block" into a Place of Gathering, Worship and Outreach

(iii) Collaborate with the Catholic School Board & St. Michael’s Choir School

(iv) Revitalize the Cathedral & Cathedral Block as a "Centre of Evangelization"

 What this will mean in practical terms remains to be seen.  But, one way or another, St Michael's will be with us for some time to come.

UPDATE:  In a case of blatantly Schtealing my Schtick, the Archdiocese of Toronto Blogsite has a post up- posted after mine, I might add- wherein, among other things, they detail the work being done on the Cathedral. Should I be insulted, flattered, or should I ust sigh and admit it is unlikely they know I exist?


Anonymous said...

Is Mary holding a scale? If so, what is she weighing? If not a scale, what is it?

Anonymous said...

"Schtealing your Schtick". They call it one-upmanship. Be flattered in that you are the original. Anyone can copy. The right thing to do is for them to contact you and thank you for a good idea. I'll give you some observations from time to time, just so they can eat your dust. What is their blog? I'll keep an eye on it. And you do too.

Bear said...

The statue holding a scale is not Mary, it is St Michael. He is alwasy pictured carrying the scales of God's justice.

Bear said...

The blog in question was the official blog of the archdiocese, so my comment was quite tongue in cheek.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the clarifications. She looks more like a Mary than a Michael. Maybe it was intentional -to appeal to everybody. He looks to have a smirk on his face. Not a very war-like grimace if that was the artist's intention. Again, being all things to all people doesn't work. At first I thought it was a smile. In my book a man should clearly be depicted as a man. It's the Church's "all inclusive" approach I guess. More like Joan of Arc. Weird. They probably call it artistic licence. The fierce Michael will not appreciate the 'smile' (or whatever it is). I've never seen it up close, 'in the flesh'. Yes, it would have been better to see him brandish the sword above him, to show flames as flames. Poor artistry. If you're going to have a sword as a weapon, make it look like a weapon.

Anonymous said...

The Archdiocese owes you one for showing the way. Their version comes too close in timing to yours to be just a coincidence (which they would probably claim). Not very Christian of them, was it? "Thou shalt not schteal". We'll call it idea plagiarism. How long had your blog been going before their version came out?

Anonymous said...

Next thing you know, they will depict Christ without a beard! The androgynous look(leaning to the effeminate)is the in thing.
Money is no object in this project. However, 90% of the money will come from the Cathedral's business investments; and still they will appeal strenuously for the congregation's $ in the basket. And what a business it is!Check out their financial reports and investments online. $28 million and climbing. There never was an estimate that came in as predicted. Stay tuned for the final cost. I guess double the estimate. Ventin architects have struck a goldmine. The mother of all gravy trains.

Anonymous said...

And St. Michael is turning in his grave.

Mike said...

Statues: My binoculars were unable to discern 1. St. Michael's features. I wish I had seen it before being hoisted up. Anyone looking up (if they ever would) would see no details.
2. St. Peter is holding the keys.
3. St. Luke? is holding an open book.
4. St. Patrick? is holding a crook.
No details can be seen on any of them, even with binoculars. Everyone will be blissfully unaware of who they are looking at (if they ever look)- unless they are told online.
St. Michael is particularly puzzling. His head covering is typical Mary and people will be easily fooled. The close up of him on St. Mike's website definitely shows a smirk, meant to be a 'determined' look. Terrible artistry. The only people happy with the representations are Cathedral upper clergy, Ventin and the expensive sculpting company. Parishioners generally will be 'diplomatically' silent. And who will care what they think anyway? They will rarely be looked at. St. Michael may 'grow' on you with time, but not me.