Online Pilgrimages Abound: Tour Beautiful Churches Virtually
Visit magnificent edifices while staying at home.
Were you planning to visit a beautiful church or cathedral as a mini pilgrimage or while on vacation but now are unable to do so because of coronavirus travel limitations?
Take a virtual tour.
Some tours can be done through videos that automatically “walk you through” the church. Others let you “walk” through and then “stop” at your own pace, with their virtual setup. You can even travel from Madison, Wisconsin, to New Orleans — 1,033 miles — in mere seconds.
A good place to start is in downtown Madison, at Holy Redeemer Church. It’s one of three churches that merged in the 21st century to make up today’s Cathedral Parish. Founded in 1857 to serve the German-speaking people of Madison, Holy Redeemer is distinguished as one of the two oldest churches in the city. It is also home to one of the two perpetual adoration chapels in the Madison Diocese. Thanks to Msgr. Kevin Holmes, the pastor, who commissioned a video tour of the church, you can visit (https://bit.ly/3ekaR3a) from your own home. Parishioner Chris Reitz explains the history and high points that have been beautifully photographed by Tom Reitz and Karly Schafer. The interior is “little changed since the early 20th century.”
The sanctuary has a magnificent high altar that dates to 1901, complete with triple-domed shrines above the tabernacle. The central one presents Jesus Crucified with Mary and St. John standing to either side.
The smaller domed shrines to either side enshrine statues of St. Joseph holding the Child Jesus and St. Anne with the child Mary.
At the ends of the altar itself, depictions of kneeling angels hold candles as they bow and adore Jesus in the tabernacle. Pause the video and stop for a time of prayer, contemplating the Crucifixion and also the young years of the Holy Family.Angels also appear high in the apse, shown adoring Jesus in a scene from Revelation. The front of the altar itself includes a wondrous bas relief showing Jesus giving Communion to the apostles. There are other bas reliefs as the tour moves along, showing the death of Joseph with Jesus and Mary by his side. Those on the unique baptismal font cover highlight the seven sacraments as well as Jesus being baptized by St. John.
Beautiful statues of the Immaculate Heart and the Sacred Heart lead eyes to shrines at either end; the shrines’ domed architecture mirrors the main altar reredos. One honors Our Lady of Perpetual Help. The bas relief on its altar recalls the Annunciation, depicting Mary’s humility.
Along the way, learn why every parishioner who served in World War II returned home safely.
There is so much to this tour, from the unique stained-glass windows from Germany that honor Christ and Our Lady, plus some picturing particular saints, to the lovely ceiling medallions painted with scenes from Jesus’ life.
Pause the screen along the way to contemplate and offer a prayer at various “stops,” such as at the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Shrine, and admire the liturgical beauty that has inspired countless faithful over many decades.
Next, head to New Orleans for a tour of St. Mary’s Assumption Church of St. Alphonsus Ligouri parish. (The church’s long title reflects a parish merger.) St. Mary’s Assumption, built and dedicated in 1860, was the first church for German Catholics in Louisiana, while, nearby, St. Alphonsus was built for the Irish. German Baroque architecture decorates both the exterior and the interior.
St. Mary’s Assumption has been named a National Historic Landmark. Redemptorist Father Allan Weinert, the pastor, said that architecture students from two nearby universities visit to view the unique architecture.
The video tour by Father Charles Vijay Kumar (https://stalphonsusno.com/our-parish/church-video/) begins outside, showcasing a view from above, going around the church to give a look at the outside walls built with bricks carried by hand from the nearby seaport. It includes beautiful close-up views of the bell tower’s green-patina dome decorated with gold stars and topped by a huge golden cross. Inside, the high altar presents Mary’s assumption in heaven with, Father Weinert emphasizes, the Trinity at the top of that hierarchy. Not only is this scene elaborate, with large images of angels surrounding Mary, but there are statues of Sts. Peter and Paul to the side and below, plus a half-dozen other saint statues in arched shrines in the reredos. Large statues of the Evangelists appear around the sanctuary, too. Many of these statues are life-size. The entire assembly of this heavenly court is very colorful; all the statues here and throughout the church are vividly polychromed.
Father Weinert pointed out there are 54 statues in all. Along with the high altar, they were hand-carved in Germany. Prominent among them is the depiction of St. Alphonsus Ligouri, since he founded the Redemptorists. In fact, the Redemptorists have been in charge of St. Mary’s Assumption since the church was founded. Because of the order’s strong devotion to Our Mother of Perpetual Help, this title of Mary also is depicted. The stained-glass windows from Munich are also the work of German artists. Most present scenes from the life of Christ, such as the Nativity, Presentation and Resurrection. The most famous Redemptorist to serve here, and who died here, was Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos. Because his mortal remains have been laid to rest here, pilgrims come to pray for his intercession at his national shrine (see https://seelos.org/about/) in the chapel behind the main altar, where his relics as well as a museum with memorabilia is located.
Next, head north to St. Louis to view the monumental St. Francis de Sales Oratory, which is (tied for) the sixth-tallest church, with spire, in the United States. This is the parish’s second edifice, built in Gothic Revival style in 1908 by German immigrants. It’s often called the “Cathedral of South St. Louis.” The magnificent design, not to mention the colossal size, continues inside. Even in a virtual tour (an exceptionally detailed 360-degree, interactive tour, with astounding details: TraditionforTomorrow.com/a-tour; plus a short video: https://bit.ly/3brExK5), viewers will marvel at the size of the epic main altar and reredos that soars 52-feet high and yet has plenty of room, thanks to the even higher apse and the 70-foot nave. The remarkably delicate, intricate, lace-like carvings, scrolls and wedding-cake spires that stretch heavenward are all the work of a German immigrant from La Crosse, Wisconsin. Each side shrine altar to the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph mirrors the intricate appearance for their own reredos and also in stained-glass-window depictions.
The sanctuary and nave’s height gives plenty of room for the stained-glass windows, the artistry of Emil Frei Sr., who immigrated from Bavaria. Frei’s artistry is known for its exceptional details and lifelike features. (As a side note, he and his wife felt so at home that they resettled in St. Louis, where he opened a company. His windows became world famous. Today, the company run by the fifth generation of the family is doing conservation work on some of these windows.)
Showcasing celestial colors, Germans saints like Boniface appear in some windows, while others include Louis, Francis de Sales, Thomas Aquinas, John the Baptist, Michael and Raphael, Elizabeth of Hungary, John and Matthew. Then there are depictions of Our Lady of Sorrows, the Good Shepherd, Notre Dame de Lourdes, and more, surrounded by ornate florals and designs. Viewers will also be amazed by several up-close views, and other details, shown at TraditionforTomorrow.com.
To think that all this extraordinary liturgical beauty, including the original paintings in the sanctuary, was set to be demolished. But Cardinal Raymond Burke (then archbishop of St. Louis) went about preserving it; in 2005, he invited the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest to safeguard the church as an apostolate, naming it St. Francis de Sales Oratory. “The church survived intact. They never took apart the original altar and the Communion rails,” noted the rector, Canon Benjamin Coggeshall. Everything remained ready for the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, which is celebrated here exclusively to serve the diocese. In this tour, see this church in close detail in 360 degrees and marvel at the Communion rails carved with liturgical symbols, the huge pulpit carved with reliefs of Jesus and the Evangelists, the soaring spired canopy above it, the walls’ delicate scrollwork and designs, and so much more.
Even virtually, you’ll be moved by such heavenly beauty.
Joseph Pronechen is a Register staff writer.