Fortified Faith in the Circle City
In time for the Oct. 23 feast of St. John of Capistrano — when, God willing, the swallows will once again fly south for the winter — a visit to southern California’s Mission San Juan Capistrano. By Joseph Albino.
When I first spied Ss. Peter & PaulCathedral on a recent visit to Indiana’s capital city — nicknamed the “Circle City” for its original layout — I did a quick double-take. The Italian Renaissance-styled structure looked more like a stately bank than a Catholic church.
Four massive, fluted columns guard its façade; three enormous bronze doors stand in their shadows. There is no rose window in sight, although a small, white cross tops the structure.
If I was surprised by the cathedral’s exterior, its interior stopped me in my tracks.
While the requisite finely crafted altar, beautiful apse and immense organ are all there, the wooden pews, rows of eye-catching stained-glass windows and intricately-wrought chandeliers are not. Instead, the cathedral sports a sea of teal-cushioned chairs with kneelers, high-set stained-glass windows that I almost overlooked and rather odd-looking art deco chandeliers.
The bishop’s cathedra (chair) is crafted from plain white oak and covered with oatmeal-colored wool, upon which Archbishop Daniel Buechlein’s coat-of-arms is presently embroidered. A long, narrow Oriental rug projects out from its feet. I found this juxtaposition of traditional and contemporary furnishings and decorating styles totally unexpected — yet quite intriguing.
I quickly decided the upper apse is my favorite feature. Its illuminated quarter dome is covered in a brilliantly colored, Byzantine-styled glass mosaic depicting an enthroned Christ beckoning all who embrace him. Christ is supported by St. Peter, bearing the keys of the Kingdom of heaven, and St. Paul, holding the sword of divinely inspired truth.
The patrons of this cathedral, by the way, would be a good pair to start with in invoking the intercession of All Saints on Nov. 1, a holy day of obligation.
30 Years in the Making
In the nave is a carved-mahogany crucifix. It hints of African origins. After admiring this for a time, I noticed signs mentioning a Blessed Sacrament Chapel. At first I had trouble finding the spot, but a gentleman steered me toward a partially-hidden doorway in the north ambulatory.
Stepping inside, I found a miniature version of the cathedral I came here expecting to see. The cream-colored marble chapel (the original Ss. Peter & Paul, actually) is accented with pale blue hues. It exudes a soothing, elegant feel. Ornately carved oak pews make you instinctively sink to one knee, then slide in, whereupon your gaze is caught by the ceiling, painted in vibrant hues of blue and yellow.
Eleven canvas paintings of Fra Angelico angels, crafted to look like mosaics, grace the top half of the walls, rendering the space reverently enchanting.
Father Patrick Beidelman, pastor and rector at Ss. Peter & Paul, explained for me the story behind the cathedral’s rather unusual appearance. Dedicated a century ago, in 1906, the church was unspectacular, as there weren’t sufficient funds to complete the structure or its façade. Indeed, critics of the day described it as “that cracker box on Meridian Street,” because of its plain, boxy exterior.
It took 30 years to complete the building, but when it was finished, its grand façade — patterned after the Basilica of St. John Lateran, Rome’s mother church — was a cracker box no more. And inside, everything suddenly glowed as the finishing touches (which included the then-popular art deco chandeliers) added brightness, color and light.
The cathedral’s interior remained much the same until 1985, when a renovation was completed to stop the building’s deterioration and update the interior. The renovations also aimed at making the space more adaptable for archdiocesan-wide events. Pews and side altars were removed, and a new altar, bishop’s chair, baptismal pool and ambry were added.
“The 1986 renovations were controversial,” says Father Beidelman. “A lot of folks still think the cathedral doesn’t match their expectations. But I have to say, the current space is extremely flexible and useful because you can shift things around easily for various ceremonies. For example, during Lent we had Stations of the Cross every Friday, and we could widen the side aisles so the entire group of people could walk to each station.”
In 1992, neighboring parish St. Bridget closed and merged with Ss. Peter & Paul. The predominantly black parishioners of St. Bridget brought with them a favorite African-style crucifix that had hung in St. Bridget’s sanctuary above the altar — the crucifix I’d spied in the nave.
Today the cathedral family numbers 240 households, of whom about 40% are African-American. Although that number is down significantly from the parish’s peak of nearly 5,000 members around 1950, Father Beidelman says a nascent regentrification movement taking root in the neighborhood should soon nudge those numbers upward.
Already, change is in the air.
“Our regular parishioners come from 45 different zip codes because our liturgy and worship are among the finest in the archdiocese,” he says. “We also have a significant outreach to the poor. Right now we’re just trying to catch the wave of where God is leading us to next as a parish.”
Sts. Peter and Paul, and All Saints and All Souls, please pray for the good people of Indy.
Melanie McManus is based in
Sun Prairie, Wisconsin.
Ss. Peter & Paul Cathedral
1347 N. Meridian St.
Indianapolis, IN 46202
Planning Your Visit
Ss. Peter & Paul Cathedral is just north of downtown Indianapolis and about 25 minutes from the Indianapolis Airport. The archdiocesan Laudis Cantores (praise singers) also sing varying styles of liturgical music twice a month from September through early June at the cathedral’s 10:30 a.m. liturgy. For Mass times and other information, go to ssppc.org.
- October 28 - November 3, 2007