Saint Paul the Apostle Church
Saint Paul the Apostle church is a beautiful Roman Catholic church near Lincoln Center in Manhattan filled with great paintings, statues, and decorations from noted American artists.
According to the church website the church was the fulfillment of the ideals and hopes of Father Isaac Thomas Hecker, “…who dreamed of building a noble basilica that would combine the artistic ideals of the past, with the American genius of his day. After visiting and studying noted European churches, he communicated his ideas to the architect Jeremiah O'Rourke who drew up the plans for the present building. Father George Deshon, one of the original Paulists, and a West Point engineer, later took over as architect-in-charge and brought the church to completion in January 1885. Inspired by the 4th & 5th century early Christian basilicas in Ravenna, Italy, the church is 284 feet long, 121 feet wide, and 114 feet to the highest point of the towers, which are 38 feet square. The grand exterior of the church reflects 13th century Old Gothic. “
Father Hecker called the church “an experiment in democracy in American art.” He engaged eminent American artists such as John LaFarge, students of Augustus Saint-Gaudens such as Bela Pratt, Frederick MacMonnies, Philip Martiny and Charles Keck (contrary to several sources, there is no artwork from Saint-Gaudens in the church), Stanford White, and later, William Laurel Harris to decorate the church with many beautiful stained glass windows, murals, and sculptures.
White, LaFarge, and Harris were instrumental in designing and decorating the church.
Stanford White (1853-1906) designed interior elements of the church between 1887-1890. White was an American architect who designed many houses for the rich, public, institutional, and religious buildings. His design principles embodied the “American Renaissance” according to Wikipédia. His most prominent design is the Washington Square Arch at Washington Square in Manhattan; other Manhattan designs include Madison Square Presbyterian Church, the second Madison Square Garden (demolished in 1925), Judson Memorial Church, and the Century, Metropolitan, Players, Lambs, Colony, and Harmony clubs. He designed Fifth Avenue mansions for Astor, Vanderbilt and other high society families. Designs outside of Manhattan include the old Cabell Hall at the University of Virginia, First Methodist Episcopal Church in Baltimore, and the Cosmopolitan Building in Irvington New York. White was murdered in 1906 during a theatrical show at Madison Square Garden. He was killed by a millionaire with a history of severe mental instability. The murder trial was dubbed the “Trial of the Century” and was played up by the newspapers of William Randolph Hearst.
John LaFarge (1835-1910) was an American painter, muralist, and stained glass window maker. He was born in New York City. Initially intending to study law, he changed his mind after visiting Paris in 1856. He studied with Thomas Couture. Another of Couture’s students was Edouard Manet. See Couture’s frescoes of the Virgin Mary in my gallery on Saint-Eustache. According to to Wikipedia, LaFarge's earliest drawings and landscapes in Newport, Rhode Island (where he studied with painter William Morris Hunt) show originality, especially in the handling of color values.
His first work in mural painting was in the Trinity Church in Boston in 1873. Aside from Saint Paul the Apostle, his other church works include the large altarpiece at the Church of the Ascension and Saint Paul’s Chapel at Columbia University. He created four great lunettes (a half-moon shaped space) representing the history of law at the Minnesota State Capital and a similar series based on the theme of Justice for the State Supreme Court building in Baltimore, Maryland.
He was a pioneer in the study of Japanese art. “LaFarge made extensive travels in Asia and the South Pacific, which inspired his painting. He visited Japan in 1886, and the South Seas in 1890 and 1891, in particular spending time and absorbing the culture of Tahiti. Henry Adams accompanied him on these trips as a travel companion. He visited Hawaii in September of 1890, where he painted scenic spots on Oahu and traveled to the Island of Hawaii to paint an active volcano. He learned several languages (ancient and modern), and was erudite in literature and art; by his cultured personality and reflective conversation, he influenced many other people. Though naturally a questioner, he venerated the traditions of religious art, and preserved his Catholic faith,” according to Wikipedia. Also from Wikipedia, “LaFarge experimented with color problems, especially in the medium of stained glass. He rivaled the beauty of medieval windows and added new resources by inventing opalescent glass and by his original methods of superimposing and welding his materials.”
LaFarge received the Cross of the Legion of Honor from the French Government.
At Saint Paul, William Laurel Harris (1870-1924) painted murals and designed decorative elements, continuing the work of LaFarge. He was born in Brooklyn. As a boy, he was befriended by Thomas Wilmer Dewing and Augustus and Augusta Saint-Gaudens. He studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Academie Julian in Paris. He started working at Saint Paul in the 1880s taking over from LaFarge. He worked the project from 1898 until 1913 when he was fired by the Paulists, possibly resulting from a personal dispute.
Today, the church is active in working with artists, sponsoring art exhibits at the church, providing networking opportunities, and fostering dialog in the artistic community. Openings NY, a project of the Paulist Fathers for artists, has regular exhibits (generally at the church) exploring broad spiritual themes. A recent exhibit explored the elusive mystery of spirit, body, and soul through a variety of visual media, including photography, painting, drawing, mixed media, and sculpture while another featured the work of Iraqi refugees. Frank Sabatté is the director of Openings NY. Frank is an artist and Paulist father and his work is presented on his website. Frank kindly provided me with detailed information on the church that I have used in this gallery.