Cathedral of St Vibiana

First up today, have a look at this scene from the movie ‘A Christmas Holiday‘ from 1944.

It shows various parts of a Solemn High Mass (the first incensation of the altar and Introit, the ‘Domine non sum dignus’).  The scene was filmed in the former Cathedral of St Vibiana (a 3rd century Roman martyr).

Completed in 1876, this Cathedral Church remained the Cathedral of Los Angeles for well over 100 years.  The interior was remodelled with onyx and marble before 1900, and in the 1920s the exterior was also remodelled.

At some point (perhaps the 1980s, I haven’t been able to find out) the archdiocese began to look for a bigger complex for its Cathedral and administrative area.  Not long after that, in 1994, St Vibiana’s was significantly damaged in an earthquake.

In 1996, deciding that the church was too expensive to preserve, and without permits, the archdiocese began to demolish the church.  ‘Preservationists’ immediately secured a temporary restraining order and the battle began to save the old cathedral.

Eventually the archdiocese agreed to a grant of land from the City of Los Angeles in return for St Vibiana’s.  This gifted land went into the new archdiocesan ‘Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels’, opened in 2005.

So (after all that preliminary back story), the church is now simply called Vibiana and serves as an ‘event space’.

How do we feel about this?  I am unsure.  In one sense, the iconoclasts haven’t destroyed a beautiful Catholic edifice (you know the type – clerics posing in front of bulldozers), but on the other hand, a beautiful Catholic edifice is turned over to secular purposes.  Which is worse, or are both results equally bad?

Here are some links to give you a visual idea of things:

The exterior of the former Cathedral of St Vibiana

Vibiana – Los Angeles ‘event space’ website – this has many interesting pictures

Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels – looks to me like the Sandcrawler from the first Star Wars movie

I mean come on – what should be done with former Catholic churches?  These are buildings in which the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass has been offered after all!

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    Comments: 8

    1. Opthomistic July 25, 2012 at 11:54 am

      I think if it wasn’t for the possibility that in the future the Archdiocese might buy Vibiana back, the two outcomes would be almost equally bad. That said, there has to be some value to the building as a building, look at the Hagia Sophia…

    2. banter July 26, 2012 at 4:56 pm

      I have to say there is something really disturbing about viewing those shots of the former cathedral being turned into an event centre via the website link you’ve posted Marty. Whilst I acknowledge the skill of those involved with the amazing lighting, seating and structural alterations I can’t help but see the remains of the high altar at the same time – unless on certain occasions they’ve covered it over. Why do I find it so disturbing? And the question has to be if I find it disturbing why did the people who frequented mass there and were responsible for the building not have a problem?
      I don’t have a thorough appreciation of architecture so a rickety old building being transformed into something stunning doesn’t bother me. So I guess it’s because at one time the mass was celebrated over and over in what was considered a holy place. If it was a holy place how can it become unholy. What has happened?
      No this doesn’t sit easy with me.

    3. Teresina July 27, 2012 at 12:53 am

      That such lengthy parts of the Latin Mass should be shown in a movie really evidences in what high esteem the Latin Mass was held before the Council, even by the movie makers, because of its mystery and its beauty. I remember family members talking of how people would literally walk in off the street and be converted through the Mass, such was its power. Growing up I remember the spirituality of the Catholic faith, epitomised in the Latin Mass. It was so different from the protestants I knew who, while good people, seemed to enjoy more of a Sunday get together rather than the day-to-day spirituality with which the Church was imbued. Now all that has gone and we see things like Marty has pointed out – the former Cathedral of Vibiana, which is really the abomination of desolation. It would have been better for the building to have been torn down rather than to be as it is now, more of a mockery than anything else when you see what the High Altar has been turned into.

    4. Marty Rethul July 27, 2012 at 8:35 am

      Hi banter and Teresina,

      thanks for your comments.

      I think all right-thinking Catholics ought to be uncomfortable with the profane use of a place where once was offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

      I will, however, offer the following observations:

      If one looks at the youtube video to which I linked, you’ll see at about the 20 second mark the height to which the clergy’s heads comeat the level of the reredos behind them.

      At the Vibiana ‘gallery’ site:

      …click on “wedding and Social’, and go to the 5th picture. From what I can tell, the High Altar has in fact been removed, new stairs have been put in, and only the gradine and reredos are retained.

      It’s better than it could be, but it still isn’t great. Picture 39, for example, shows a side altar that almost looks as if it hasn’t been deconsecrated.


    5. Marty Rethul July 27, 2012 at 8:49 am

      A (not entirely) similar situation subsists in Wellington, at the former Erskine College.

      The beautiful chapel there has been deconsecrated, the site sold, so any type of wedding ceremony may be held there (and I mean any type).

      Sadly, it is one of the few chapels/churches in New Zealand to retain both its High Altar and altar rails:

    6. banter July 27, 2012 at 5:48 pm

      I have just been googling Erskine college and chapel. The chapel is very beautiful indeed…
      However its interesting to note that the complex has recently been red stickered due to concerns over its safety in the event of an earthquake. There is a hot debate raging right now over the future of the buildings. I don’t know whether you were aware of this Marty. There is also a Facebook campaign to save Erskine. The outcome of the red-sticker is that no weddings of any kind are allowed to take place in the chapel any more…Google erskine and demolition and have a read.

    7. Teresina July 31, 2012 at 1:08 pm

      From other photos I’ve looked at Marty is right that the high altar has been removed with steps added and it is the reredos that remains. (Now referred to as “the grand stage” in this link which shows the unadorned “altar” area). However, we must not forget that the reredos contained the tabernacle and the way it has been “mocked” up with candles and various paraphenalia in some photos it does resemble an altar complete with tabernacle. The big mistake was to leave the reredos at all. If you look at Verbina in images there are whiskey adverts played on the wall above the reredos and all sorts of bizarre things placed around, not to mention near naked models and women lounging on the steps in front of what appears to be an altar bedecked with candles. A sign of the times we live in, no doubt, where nothing is held sacred anymore. If a church is to be deconsecrated then nothing of the altar and reredos should remain that could be used in the manner it has been in Vibiana.

      Added to that I was at St Mary of the Angels in Wellington over the weekend and peeked into the tearoom under the presbytery. On the bench, over which the cups of tea and scones are handed out, there is now what appears to be the wooden frontispiece of an old altar complete with IHS on the front. On the wall adjacent to that is a large black crucifix. I personally don’t like the connotations of that. If I was a suspicious person I could think this an areas where the ladies may have practice runs for the real thing! But then I’m not a suspicious person and this would never be allowed to happen under Bishop John Dew, would it?

    8. Marty Rethul July 31, 2012 at 3:04 pm

      Thanks for that post and links Teresina. St Mary of the Angels is one of the few good ones left.

      Banter…what a shame about Erskine. If it does have to be closed, I hope the Archdiocese has the presence of mind to attempt to ‘repatriate’ – for want of a better term – the High Altar and other Catholic items (reredos, altar rails, statues, stations of the cross, stained glass) from the chapel.

      Although it’d need to be put into something worthwhile (so nothing built since the 1970s at least).

      Might be time to set up a parish for the FSSP in Wellington I’d say.