Inside painting of the Church of the Holy Cross at St. Leo Abbey, Florida, USA, is nearly finished.
Materials originally used to build the Church of the Holy Cross came from near and far. Some materials remind me of Jesus as the chief cornerstone or of the great antiquity of Celtic monks. The recent remodeling project reminds me of what can be accomplished with one small paint brush.
This last of three blogs on the recent interior remodeling of the church describes where the church got some of its stone material to build the church (1936 to 1948). This blog begins with comments on the 2009 remodeling project’s most noticeable feature — painting of the inside.
The paint color is gold/yellow with highlights painted by one man using a 3" brush. I think the painting work has taken him about four months. During that time he has virtually painted the complete interior with that small little brush.
The textured/aged feel of the painting is one of the most striking effects of the several remodeling changes to the Church (see Part 1 and Part 2 of this series).
I think I will always remember the painter’s patience and attention to detail as I sit in the Church with its soft golden color. His work brings all of the Church’s beauty near to everyone who visits St. Leo Abbey.
Although the abbey was founded in 1889, construction of the Church of the Holy Cross began in 1936 and was completed in 1948. The builders were patient too through 12 long years and the second world war.
While most of the original construction materials came from Florida, St. Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana supplied Saint Leo Abbey with sandstone from St. Meinrad's quarry.
Saint Meinrad's sandstone began making the 850 mile one-way trip to Florida by truck in 1939.
St. Meinrad's quarried sandstone can be seen today as part of the Saint Leo Abbey Church's entrance archway, window settings, side altars and exterior stone trim. It’s a pretty golden/yellow color.
St. Meinrad also supplied Saint Leo with carved oak furnishings for the church interior as well.
In return for St. Meinrad's deep yellow sandstone and oak-wood furnishings, Saint Leo Abbey for many years trucked back to St. Meinrad loads of yellow oranges and sweet grapefruits picked from St. Leo Abbey's large groves of citrus trees.
My wife and I are among the abbey visitors who still take home bags of oranges and grapefruit and drop our bills in the honor-system box where the bags are set out unattended.
Although St. Leo trucked its "Abbey Brand" oranges and grapefruit to St. Meinrad as whole fruit, because of the unique barter arrangement between the two distant abbeys, stone for fruit, it is often said that the Church of the Holy Cross is the "church that orange juice built."
The cross referred to in the Church’s name is the massive crucifix with the carved image of Jesus (the face is the same as the face on the Shroud of Turin). But before I enter the church another smaller cross always catches my attention. When I arrive at the abbey I like to see the Celtic cross that greets visitors. It is on the top of the church. A picture of that Celtic cross is shown below.
A Celtic cross is one with a circle, loop, or disk at the cross arms. While it is common to hear many explanations for the symbolism of the Celtic cross, no one knows for sure what the circle/disk symbol means and any one explanation is perhaps no better than the others. If this is the "church that orange juice built" maybe it represents a golden Florida orange (I am kidding, of course).
Some people say the circle of a Celtic cross represents eternity, others say it is the sun which was incorporated from pagan times and whose meaning was transformed by Christianity, and some have said the circle was borrowed from the Egyptian crux ansata (Ankh).1
Regardless of any special meaning of the first Celtic Cross, I am pleased that the builders of the Church of Holy Cross wanted to show all passing visitors a symbol that might bring to mind those ancient Celtic monks who had such a profound impact on the spread of Christianity to a chaotic and pagan Europe.
The tradition of keeping the flame of Christianity amidst collapsing civilization and then bringing the good news of Jesus to a pagan society is a long tradition of the stable, resourceful, and spiritual-minded Benedictines.
The Benedictine monks of St. Leo Abbey preserve one of the most ancient spiritual practices — living by the Rule of St. Benedict and praying the divine office several times a day. They also welcome guests who are invited to join them in the divine office. Hospitality and welcoming guests has always been a major element of Benedictines. That’s what the Celtic cross at the church means to me.
If you have any interest in spiritual matters whether you are Protestant (like my wife and I were when we first visited the abbey in 2006), or follow other traditions, you may enjoy a visit to see the newly remodeled Church of the Holy Cross. You will be welcomed as Christ. Monasteries are "places of spiritual power."2
Most of my visits to the church involve some time sitting alone in the church. I watch the face of Jesus on the crucifix, the stained glass windows of sixteen saints, or the movement of light. I listen for the voice of God on the interior of my heart. “Listen” is the first word in the Rule of St. Benedict. A church is a good place for me to listen, not because of what happens quickly, but because of what happens slowly over time. Each visit to the Church of the Holy Cross changes me, little by little, much like that small brush applied with such patience.
Picture is Paint Brush by sandralise. Thank you.
1. History of the Celtic Cross. Reference to the Egyptian crux ansata (the Ankh) as a possible source for the Celtic cross is near the end of this Catholic New Advent article.
2. Pope Benedict in 2007 at HEILIGENKREUZ ABBEY
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