Thursday, January 15, 2015

Treasures Secured

Memories, like fleeting birds, depart.  The task: to retrieve quickly and hold in the heart-hand.

Surely in 1901 the NDA community considered their new chapel built behind  the school building to be a great treasure.  New, beautiful in its décor—the white wooden altars, lovely statues, large stations in deep relief,  the stained glass windows,
and quite notably, a front wall above the altars, filled with murals painted, the story goes, by Sr. Maria Casimira and her team of Sister artists.  Sister’s work appeared on the ceiling also—four Evangelists done in oil on canvas, 36” in diameter, and, as far as blogger can determine, located at the four corners of the ceiling.  While some of the murals were lost in subsequent renovations, the murals directly above the side altars and the Evangelists on the ceiling were mercifully preserved.   Above the side altars: the Sacred Heart statue was on the left altar (not usual, as you may be aware) so the mural above it depicted Jesus, kneeling in prayer in the garden of Gethsemane; the right altar with its statue of Mary was below a depiction of the Annunciation.  It is not known if these murals as well as the ones removed earlier in the sanctuary apse were frescoes (water color paintings on wet plaster) or simple paintings.

Since the Evangelists were on canvas roundels (circles), they had been glued to the ceiling.  Upon being removed, they were stored and subsequently brought to Hilton Dr. in 1963.  They remained in general storage until the archives was organized.  Currently the paintings are among the most treasured of the holdings in the archives.  The archivist took them to the Cincinnati Art Museum a few years ago to see if the preservationist there thought they were worthy of restoring—they are.

One can determine which of the Evangelists is which by the symbol appearing next to each: Matthew, a winged man—the Gospel begins with a genealogy of Jesus; Mark, a lion—the Gospel begins with John the Baptist, a lion roaring in the desert; Luke, an ox—the Gospel begins with Zachary offering sacrifice in the temple; John, an eagle—flying so high it can look at the sun (this Gospel is very lofty).  There are many interpretations of the symbols (Wikipedia), but these may be the most common.

Efforts to find out any more about the supposed creator, Sr. Maria Casimira have proven fruitless.  We do know that she came from Germany in 1877 during the Kulturkampf (the SNDs left Germany rather than give up wearing the religious garb as required by law).  According to her obituary she was a very humble person who did not mention anything about her artistic endeavors in her short autobiography.  Oh Sister, how could you leave us in the dark about what must have been an arduous but satisfying accomplishment? The NDA archivist wants to have a few words with you when she meets you in eternity.