Saturday, March 18, 2006

More from Baltimore Basilica

The WashPost adds to the look-forward for November's reopening of US Catholicism's Mother Church.
[Basilica architect Benjamin] Latrobe, who also designed the U.S. Capitol, did not want a dark interior, research has shown. So the heavy stained-glass windows, installed in the 1940s, are gone, as is the paint known as "battleship gray." In their place are translucent windows and a seductive cream color on the walls.

The result is airy and alive, calling attention to the elegance and innovation of Latrobe's architecture.

"There are some that like the very dark worship experience, and that's what this was, and we certainly respect that," said Mark Potter, executive director of the Basilica of the Assumption Historic Trust. "But certainly this is the more attractive look for the building, from all accounts." ....

The basilica, which sits on a hill in the Mount Vernon neighborhood just north of downtown, is frequently overlooked by tourists beguiled by the charms of the Inner Harbor and Fells Point. It was the highest spot in the city when the land was acquired in 1803 by John Carroll, the nation's first Catholic bishop. The historic trust hopes the restoration will call attention to the building's historical and architectural significance.
Potter cites a comparison with one of the most amazing buildings ever erected in this country....
Latrobe began working on the Capitol under President Thomas Jefferson, the start of a lengthy collaboration between the two giants of early American architecture. The two were in frequent communication. Echoes of the basilica can be seen in Jefferson's masterpiece, the Rotunda at the University of Virginia, and vice versa, Brownell said.

"These two great domed buildings that both were conceived or perfected in the late 18-teens, one in Charlottesville and one in Baltimore -- I think of them as kind of a salt-and-pepper set," he said. "They have a special relationship to each other."

Jefferson's love for skylights influenced Latrobe, who gave the basilica a unique double-dome design, with a skylight beneath the outer dome that allows diffuse light to pool down into the nave, its source unseen. The skylight had been covered up and abandoned in the 1940s because of leaks and other problems.
Can't wait to see all this....
The restoration will emphasize the basilica's importance to U.S. Catholics. For the first time, people will be able to walk around the altar and descend new staircases leading to the crypt below it, which holds the remains of Carroll along with Cardinal James Gibbons, Archbishop Martin J. Spalding and Archbishop Michael J. Curley.

"This is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the most historic Catholic crypt in the United States," Potter said. "We're very happy to finally be able to give some access to this area."
But will there be galeros hanging from the ceiling? The world wants to know.....

AP/Don Wright