Look up. Look waaaaay up.

Lately I seem to be taking a lot of pictures of churches, probably due to winter being a chilly time in Newfoundland and photographic opportunities that are indoors seem quite appealing.

John and I bumped into a friend of Katherine’s today at a bookstore and somehow managed to wind up childless for the afternoon, so we toodled off to walk, explore, drink coffee and talk. It’s not something we’ve had much time to do during the past week; John has been up to his ears with a couple of court cases and I’ve been scrambling to herd craftspeople (it’s much like herding cats, only the craftspeople seem a tad more appreciative of the results) for our Craft Council Studio & Demonstration Guide.

In any event, I had intended to spend the whole day on that again, but John and I took one look at each other and decided to take part of the day and get to know each other again. So we wandered and poked and wound up in the Roman Catholic Basilica of St. John the Baptist.

*Here’s a link to their on-line tour, which is chock-a-block full of wonderful information about the history, the architecture and the people of this marvellous church.

Long and tall

It was Saturday, so the doors were open. There was a nice little notice saying that we were free to take photographs, but that we should be respectful of the space. Both reasonable stipulations, we thought. While I was delighted to be able to shoot some pictures, I found that folks wandering up and down and to and fro and standing and kneeling became problematic. You see, I was desperately trying not to photograph any people. While I don’t intrinsically object to people in my photos, my thinking was that people who come to a church to pray or reflect are probably not going to take kindly to being shot at in any way shape or form.

Centre window in the north end of the transept.

So I took a few photos of stained glass windows, but let’s face it, it’s been done to death. Everyone takes pictures of the pretty glass (and who can blame them?) and doing something original or particularly nifty with windows that have been around since the dawn of photography is difficult.

Then I spotted the lamps, and took a few shots of those. They were picking up the reflections from the windows nicely and by shooting up at them, I was completely avoiding even appearing to photograph worshippers.

Side note: At first I was a little mystified as to why folks kept walking up and down the central aisle, stopping, staring at me and muttering. Then I realized that I was right in front of one of the Stations of the Cross (well, not obscuring it, but standing close by) and that they weren’t looking at or talking to me at all.

One of the hanging lamps, unlit.

Then finally I realised that by pointing the camera up and using my remote shutter, I could remain more or less inconspicuous. So I photographed the ceiling. It’s a magnificent plaster ceiling, painted and gilded with gold leaf. It’s incredibly intricate and was really interesting to shoot. The hardest part was working around the pot lights, which were on here and there throughout..

Central medallion, containing twelve "petals" decorated with designs symbolizing aspects of the life of Mary.

Ironically, when I was looking at the ceiling with the naked eye, it was quite dark. By doing long exposures, I was able to bring out the true colours of the work and to really capture the detail and richness of the detail. It’s one of those sets of conditions where the naked eye was inferior to the camera sensor.

Ceiling panelling in the nave.
Decorative detail
One of the panels, in detail.

I would have liked to have been able to wander up into the apse proper and to get up into the choir loft, but strolling up into the altar area or opening doors that were expressly closed seemed quite rude, particularly while there were church users about. So I settled for more ceiling shots and spent some time remarking on the unique features of the church.

This suspended piece is called "the Tester" and was "...installed in 1955 to fulfil the new Liturgical requirements inherent in the elevation of the Cathedral to the status of Basilica. The Tester measures eighteen feet by twelve feet and is richly gilt and polychromed. On the underside is depicted a dove, rays and stars, symbolising the Holy Spirit. At the front of the Tester is a hand-carved, polychromed replica of the Metropolitan Coat-of-Arms." - Taken from the website of the Basilica of St. John the Baptist.
This pendant drop is extremely ornate and supposedly measures 64ft across. Standing on the ground, it seems impossible that it would be so big, but maybe standing so far beneath it makes it appear deceptively small...

At one point there was no one around, so I hustled out to the centre of the main aisle and set my tripod up at the base of the stairs leading to the altar. I managed one shot of the ceiling looking back toward the doors before I had to move so as not to annoy anyone.

Taken from in front of the steps leading up to the altar.

It was one of those photo shoots that surprised me. The basilica is so immense and there are so many details to it that taking pictures there can easily get overwhelmingly frustrating. One of these days I want to head back with a wide-angle lens on a day when none of the lights are on and no one is around and see what I can do.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Wow! What else can I say? Except I want to visit St. John’s and see this basillica. Thanks for the fabulous photos.

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