St. Francis Xavier's.
St. Francis Xavier's College Church sits on the campus of St. Louis University (SLU to us natives) near the downtown area. I'd never been in it before, mostly because I'm not Jesuit and I did not attend SLU. But, suffice it to say, I loved it - I love cathedrals in general.
They were built during a time when the large majority of people in western Europe were part of the peasantry, and lived awful, miserable lives only elevated by the belief that their agonies would be rewarded in heaven. Cathedrals are massive, echoey, and some of them almost unnecessarily tall - but they were made so in order to reflect the infinitude of God and His mercy. When people went to mass in the cathedrals, they were in awe of God.
The architecture reflects one of the things we want most from God - order from chaos. The staggering symmetry of the interior designs pleases the human eye in ways almost nothing else can; the perfectly identical Corinthian columns suggest purpose and knowing. The craftsmanship of the stained glass windows and, high above opposite the altar, the Rose window, prove that skill and patient effort are beautiful things. And the intricate detail in the ornate ceilings, the painterly depictions of the life of Christ, the bronze-cast Pieta just off the rectory - all of it comes together in a dazzle of art, meaning, love, and endless worship that, I believe, are the perfect setting for escaping the world, escaping one's pains, and just being reminded that there is something bigger, and powerful, and masterful over it all.
In a way cathedrals mimic those parts of nature that have the same effect. To stand before Yosemite Falls, the Grand Tetons, the Grand Canyon, the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Pacific Ocean, Iguazu Falls, the Nile, Kilimanjaro - you get a sense of your place in the world. You are small, the world is big. But the bigness feels right. The awe it inspires means something. It feels right to feel small against the vastness. It's okay. It is the order of things.
St. Francis Xavier's was built in the 19th century in the Gothic style. I assume that the Gothic is responsible for the arches that seem to flow backward in waves. I do believe I like this style the best. In it, the beauty of symmetry is most apparent.
When I took photos inside the Cathedral Basilica (decorated entirely with mosaic tiles), I needed a tripod. While at St. Francis Xavier's, I did not have my tripod and was on a serious time crunch. Yet, quite mysteriously, I did not need my tripod. The light was a bit low as usual, and yet my photos suffered no camera shake and therefore no blur. I got the photos I wanted in one try. What's more, typically when you photograph stained glass windows, the light shining through is so intense that the camera can only expose for it, leaving the surrounding areas dark if not black. And yet, everything was fine.
Every cathedral's altar is different, and you can spend a lot of time studying all the elements one is composed of. I personally loved the blue color scheme dominating the cathedral's main space (the nave and crossing), and you'll notice the rich dark blue stained glass behind the grand sculpture in this next photo.
In music history in college, whilst learning about chant and thus some of the history of the Church and cathedrals, Dr. Koegel specifically pointed out the Rose window of cathedral architecture. Ever since then I have loved seeking it out specifically, as it seems so pointedly special. It can be difficult to get a good shot, since they are always high up and sometimes set back a ways so that you end up getting as much balcony ledge as window. But yesterday, it went well.
I especially love how the high blue windows colored the light coming in, as above; I specifically allowed the light into the picture because it created a sort of ethereal, holy effect.
And, once more with feeling -
It is not easy deciding on a landscape or portrait view of the nave because it is at once both gradly wide and tall. I'm sure someone out there has found a way to put a series of photos together to make one full view - but you're not going to see that kind of technique out of me any time soon. ;-)
One thing that really amazes me about the last photo of the nave is that not only was it my final shot inside and I was being hurried out the door (had a bus to catch), not only is it still sharp with absolutely no blur, but it honestly looks like an HDR rendering. It looks as though I took three or four shots at different exposure values and blended them. There's that softness that often comes with certain kinds of HDR, and a magical sort of coloring too.
How to explain it?
I leave that up to you.