Thursday, January 23, 2014

Book Review: Messages of Glory

Messages of Glory: The Narrative Art of Roman Catholicism
Photographs by Robert A. Flischel, Joe Simon, and Jay Yocis
Text by Monsignor William Cleves and Margo Warminski
Cincinnati, OH: David-Flischel Enterprises, LLC, 2012

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, photographer Robert Flischel was busy photographing weddings and religious services in Ohio and Northern Kentucky. As he did so, he felt an increased desire to examine the beautiful spaces and share that beauty with others “with a goal of telling a clear and meaningful story.” The result of that goal is the breathtaking coffee table book, Messages of Glory: The Narrative Art of Roman Catholicism.
The striking images of stained glass, sculpture, paintings, and mosaics take center stage, with the text serving to augment the story rather than dominate it. The Ohio/Kentucky area is a microcosm of America and the immigrant wave that took place between 1840 and 1950. As Anne Husted Burleigh shares in the preface, these images are “a testament to the devotion of generations of Catholics who established these memorials, and as a repository of a priceless and irreplaceable collection of sacred art that reflects the richness of our Catholic culture.”
The images are divided into categories, beginning with angels, then moving to saints, beatitudes, sacraments, symbols and icons, the stations of the cross, the life of Mary, mysteries of the rosary, the holy family, and the life of Christ. All serve to teach and inspire. All could be a source for meditative prayer.
From an artistic perspective, the craftsmanship of these pieces is amazing, and something we often take for granted. We walk into a Church and expect to see beautiful windows and statues and give little thought to the artists and craftspeople who put so much of their heart and time into creating them so that they might give glory to God.
One story worth sharing in this text concerns the Angels of Cincinnatti. They are two European sculptures brought to Cincinnatti in the 1840s for St. Peter in Chains Cathedral. In the 1850s, they were moved to St. Teresa of Avila Church. In the 1960s, it was decided that they no longer fit the style of the church and were relegated to life behind a curtain in the parish bingo hall. In the 1990s they were rediscovered when the diocese requested an art inventory. They are now on loan to the Cincinnati Art Museum and getting the attention such fine pieces of sculpture deserve.  
“Messages of Glory” is inspiring. It would be wonderful if other photographers took on the challenge of preserving the art of other dioceses. Much of this liturgical art is at risk due to parish closings and the simple passage of time. It is worth recording from a historic, artistic, and spiritual perspective in order that future generations may also benefit from it.  

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