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Tuesday, June 14, 2011
Ave Maria University
As well as visiting Denton I spent some time in Florida visiting friends. I stayed at Ave Maria University, and gave a paper there which was fun. 'AMU' is one of a group of recently founded Catholic universities which are trying to recapture the Catholic values which have apparently been lost in many if not all of the most famous Catholic institutions. These new foundations can be broadly characterised as 'neo-Conservative' in their approach; Fr Joseph Fessio, founder of Ignatius Press and one of the best-known spokesmen for this strand of opinion in the English-speaking world was the chaplain here for some years. The Oratory (as they call it) at AMU presents an interesting contrast to the (equally new) chapels at Denton and the Carmel of Jesus, Mary and Joseph at Valparaiso nearby.
The altar is placed so Mass can easily be said 'ad orientem'. [Corrected: see comments.] (The Traditional Mass is available every Sunday at 12.30pm.) The chapel is far, however, from traditional in its form; the best description might be a neoGothic rendered in steel girders. The altar has no reredos to speak of, but a series of gigantic statues stand on either side, and the interior of the church is dominated by a huge crucifix. Far bigger than life size, the nails pass through Our Lord's wrists and his body is characterised by oddly exagerated bones, muscles and veins. Here is someone else's close-up of it:
There are no side altars or shrines; there are places to light candles, but the do not correspond to any of the devotional images in the church. They sit under the first and last of the Stations of the Cross; I think the idea is that you are lighting your candle before the Tabernacle. There are, however, a large number of confessionals, and these line the church on each side.
While impressive the whole thing seems to me to lack the spirit of devotion and human scale. I think it is interesting that although the Oratory is daring in design and large in size the architect did not think of buying an existing altar for it. Old altars, some of great artistic merit and with accompanying reredos, baldachinos and all the rest are available in North America as in Europe, having been stripped out of demolished (or radically re-ordered) churches. What a joy it is to see some of these as the centre-pieces of new churches and chapels which are continuing the same religion, and the same artistic and devotional traditions, as the artists and donors who created these wonderful things many years ago. In Ave Maria it is certainly the same religion, but the artistic and devotional traditions have been ruptured.
The chapel of the Convent of Jesus Mary and Joseph near Denton, with an altar which had been in storage for many years before finding this new home.
The altar of the chapel of the Seminary of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Denton, originating in a church in Quebec. Yes, it can be done!
More photos of AMU here.