Sacred Places Winter 2021 - Page 20

A Church Restoration as Intercultural and Interreligious Solidarity by Vanessa Avery

Executive Director , Sharing Sacred Spaces , Inc .

OOn the evening of November 13 , 2018 , a group of about 60 interfaith program participants gathered together at an 1874-vintage church of the Roman Catholic Dominican Order , St . Mary ’ s , located in the heart of New Haven , Connecticut . The purpose of the event was to bring together eight different religious congregations across Greater New Haven to explore Roman Catholic architecture under the gracious hospitality of St . Mary ’ s clergy and congregants .

As everyone arrived , the vestibule came alive with hugs and smiles as people greeted one another . When the doors opened , the element of surprise was tangible . Eyes were drawn upward to the deep blue vaulted ceiling . St . Mary ’ s nave ( from the Latin navis , meaning ship ) was , indeed , a microcosm of the Catholic worldview . We eventually took our seats in the pews , our metaphorical ship , sailing under the blue sky towards the apse where the crucified Christ revealed salvation and a promised future .
Modeled after ancient Roman basilicas , the aisles of the nave led straight to the apse . But here , in this sacred space , rather than focusing on an image of a Roman emperor , we saw Christ the King . The shape of the space was designed partly as a critique of its pagan ancestors but more importantly was a powerful and physical orientation to the Catholic worldview . The entire evening was to be marked by such beauty , and its ability to bridge reason and revelation .
The Church has long been understood as a body not of stone and mortar , but of believers . And yet the spaces believers inhabit for worship ,
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View of the apse at the church ’ s main altar following the recent restoration of St . Mary ’ s Church . Photo : Michael J . Crosbie , FAIA