Saturday, 12 December 2009

St. Michael's Cathedral, Toronto circa 1930

This is a magnificent photo of St. Michael's Cathedral from some time in the 1920's or early 1930's. This can be verified by the painting on the ceiling over the sanctuary as they are simple murals. The current scenes from the Life of Christ restored just a few years ago were originally painted in the late 1930's. The original cathedral ceiling was painted blue with gold stars and was uniform from front to back without the change in profile over the sanctuary and the clerestory windows were not part of the original design. If you click on the picture it will enlarge substantially. Take particular note of the rather unique almost spider like light fixtures.

Of course the most over-whelming feature is the original High Altar with its Gothic reredos and cappa magna which would have obscured the glorious east window made in France in the 1850's under the generosity of Toronto's Bishop Armond-Francois-Marie de Charbonnel. The reredos with its Gothic spires was removed some time in the 1950's with a lower profile so that the window was no longer obscured. The cappa magna was then used at the cathedra which was changed from what you see in this photo and now is intact over the tabernacle on the south side of the sanctuary, the tabernacle today being still the one in this photograph. Some of the other Gothic elements were used in Our Lady's Chapel in the centre of the most unsuitable mural there by Vaclav Vaca from the 1980's, an "amazing artist of visionary fantasies." He may be, but it is totally out of character with the Gothic beauty of St. Michael's.

A former Rector, Monsignor Kenneth Robitaille did much to improve the situation after the disaster of the 1960's. The brutalist concrete slab altar and baptismal font of the 1960's were replaced with the current marble altar, pulpit, baptistery, Blessed Sacrament Altar of Repose and Sanctuary Lamp were all done under his watch as well as a clean up and restoration of the side walls and ceilings.

Since then, the paintings over the sanctuary have been restored to their 1930's beauty and vibrancy. Other most necessary funds have been used to restore the roof and downspouts but most importantly to underpin the foundation and correct the drainage problems. You will also note today the steel rods spanning the nave which provide structural stability.

Much remains to be done and you can find out more by visiting here and clicking on "restoration news" though there has been no update in over two years. The organ dating from the 1880's is not usable and the choir loft cannot be accessed by the boys-choir due to building code restrictions. There is only one access and it is a circular steel staircase. The heating system is decrepit and is over 80 years old, two windows have been restored at over $100,000 each and all need doing, over a million there alone. The floor is plain carpet in the aisles and old asbestos composite tile under the pews. Perhaps a serious attempt will be made to restore the sanctuary and to put the LORD back where he belongs with his Bishops off to the side and restore a communion rail of the same quality marble as used for other sacred furnishings.

One thinks of the many churches built in the post-war period for new neighbourhoods sitting empty and the large auditorium style churches in the suburbs. Money was always found for them and many should probably now be closed due to declining numbers. Yet, the amount of maintenance and restoration work done in the mother Church has been shamefully inadequate for decades which will now cost millions to rectify.

Do God, Bishops Power and de Charbonnel and the Irish of 1848 deserve any less?


OYTIΣ said...

Hi Vox,

You may be interested to peruse this new blog about St. Michael's Cathedral, its architecture, art, and people:

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