Cathedral exhibit brings to life 250 years of LA’s Catholic history
Standing outside the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels on an overcast morning, Sister M. Anncarla Costello and Father Parker Sandoval were asked who had the idea of having them co-organize the new and sprawling exhibition of the cathedral “250 years of mission”?
Glancing at each other, they replied, a little sheepish: “Ours.”
Once inside, it’s easy to see why. The “Mission” of the exhibition is obvious and noble, aiming, as Father Sandoval explained, to give visitors not only an intimate look at the root churches of Los Angeles, but also a road map with clues which will strengthen it in the future.
Using everything from art and artifacts reminiscent of the very founding of the missions to tapestry, painting and color photography, the exhibit tells a story that Sister Anncarla called “a continuing expression of faith and devotion. “.
For Sister Anncarla and Father Parker, Chancellor and Vice-Chancellor (respectively) of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the main challenge in telling this story came from the first two words of the exhibit, the “250 Years” section.
Fortunately, the duo had a lot to choose from, between the archdiocese’s voluminous archives, the artwork of the Mission San Gabriel Arcángel – the jubilee celebrating its 250th anniversary being a motivation for the exhibition – as well as the digital library of USC.
“There were so many wonderful pieces, so many wonderful things. We were just, ‘What is this? And that ? Do we want this? OK, and then let’s take that too, ”Sister Anncarla said of the treasure available to them.
Of course, the thing with treasure is that sometimes it’s hard to find a place for it all. And although its location is the largest Catholic cathedral in the United States, and although “250 Years of Mission” was offered four comfortable galleries, there were still many difficult choices to be made.
These choices not only took into account spirituality and history – the history of Catholicism in Los Angeles is the history of Los Angeles itself – but something more practical.
“We wanted visually compelling pieces because the audience for whom we did this was not art critics or historians, but for the typical visitor to the cathedral, Catholic or not,” said Father Sandoval. “We wanted to attract them visually and tell the story of the church over the past 250 years.”
This is evident in the first gallery, dominated by a large tapestry of Saint Junípero Serra, founder of the missions. The tapestry, which was present during the canonization of Saint Junípero by Pope Francis in 2015, was created by artist John Nava and is in the same style as the most recognizable element of the cathedral, also created by Nava : the tapestries of saints adorning each side of its nave.
In addition to the Nava tapestry, the gallery displays works of art and artefacts – baskets, bricks, an iron – dating from the founding and early years of the missions. Perhaps the most valuable piece in the exhibit is included, a depiction of the 13th Station of the Cross, painted by one or more members of the Tongva tribe – the name (s) of its creator have been lost in history – it is one of the few extant examples of native Christian art.
There is also a large oil painting by the artist Aurelio GD Mendoza, depicting Saint Junípero, the Franciscan friars and the indigenous peoples who helped to build, maintain and develop the missions, something that Father Sandoval found “Wonderful because it shows [St. Junípero] alongside the locals in this common project.
Lucy Mendoza, Aurelio’s granddaughter, who made the painting available to the exhibition, said her grandfather often spoke of his own indigenous roots and therefore it was important for him to ” paint with so much beauty and grace ”.
Lucy herself was part of this process. In the mid-1970s, at the age of 12, she was used by her grandfather as a model for one of the characters in the painting – the young girl in the left corner looking directly at the observer.
“I loved sitting down for him, just being able to talk to him and listen to his stories,” said Lucy, who loaned this and another of her grandfather’s works – a portrait of Saint Junípero – to the exhibition. in the hope that “Californians can learn more about the history of the missions, and perhaps this might spark an interest in learning more about the roots of our faith in the Americas and therefore more about Our- Lady of Guadalupe.
The exhibit offers observers a glimpse of what the Archdiocese grew from. There is a spectacular and enormous gold monstrance designed for the founding of the Archdiocese (formerly a Diocese) and the installation of Archbishop John J. Cantwell, its first Archbishop, as well as historical clothing, customs and traditions. photographs from the very popular “Mary’s Hour” devotional event which, at one point, drew 100,000 worshipers at the Los Angeles Coliseum.
A gallery is dedicated to the richness of the present of the Archdiocese, that which regularly sees Mass celebrated in 42 different languages. The photos highlighting the diversity of Catholic religious traditions are meant to show us “what the church is now in Los Angeles and, really, what its future is,” Sister Anncarla said.
The exhibition will run until the end of the jubilee year next September, offering the co-curators the luxury of being able to complete and adjust the presentations over time. There are many choices.
“Art comes with a message, because they are not just great works of art, they teach us that we are all united in Christ. It is all part of the communion of saints. This is what we wanted to communicate with our choices, ”said Father Sandoval.
“We intentionally wanted to refer to our past, building a legacy of faith. But, in the future, we wanted to show this as an ongoing story, today and tomorrow. Yes, art is beautiful, but it is beauty that calls us to something greater.