Stunning New Apsidal Paintings at the Toronto Oratory

The Toronto Oratory has been called "a jewel in the crown of Canadian Catholicism" and that jewel just received a shiny new upgrade.  Many of you will be familiar with the work of Ken Woo, the New Jersey based artist whose works have graced the Church of Our Saviour in New York City, commissioned by then pastor, Fr. George William Rutler. Woo's work at that parish came to wider Catholic attention due to a controversy surrounding the removal of at least some of them following a pastoral change at that church. That is not our story today however, which is fortunately a much happier one. This same artist was commissioned by the Toronto Oratorians to execute a series of apsidal paintings at one of their downtown Toronto parishes.

By way of a bit of background, the Toronto Oratorians have two thriving, community-oriented and liturgically traditional parish churches in Toronto, Canada. Their principal church, Holy Family -- which is attached to their living quarters and seminary -- suffered a fire in 1997 and was completely destroyed. As sad as that was, God can write straight with crooked lines as the saying goes and that tragedy for the community beget an opportunity to build a beautiful new church of their own design. The new church was dedicated in February 2001.

As with all new church structures, the envisioned completed state is not typically something that occurs overnight -- something that is especially important for traditionally minded Catholics to remember. It takes time and resources to build a church and it takes further time and further resources to ornament it and decorate it -- at least properly. Often this task is the project of successive generations as they each work to contribute to the legacy of the parish.

This is precisely the step that has been taken at Holy Family as it now builds upon previous successes, including the beautiful wrought ironwork found in the sanctuary and the sculpted tabernacle doors (modelled after the doors of the Battistero di San Giovanni in Florence if memory doesn't fail).  Ken Woo's paintings now further add to this and are inspired by the late medieval and early Renaissance tradition of Fra Angelico.

Let's take a very quick look "before and after" before we focus on the specific details.

Before and After
The new work includes a beautiful central image of the Crucified Christ, replacing the former crucifix that was found in the same location. The former sanctuary crucifix now adorns the narthex of the church.

(Photo credit: The Toronto Oratory)
Detail from photo by Ken Woo
You can see from these images that gold leaf has been used for the background, putting to mind the works of Giotto. This will have a remarkable effect to the natural eye in particular and further sets the painted figures into a positive contrast. The end result is nothing short of striking.

On either side of the crucified Christ are found the figures of Our Lady and St. John, completing the traditional crucifixion iconography

(Photo credit: The Toronto Oratory)
Our Lady and St. John
(Photo credit: The Toronto Oratory)
(Photo credit; The Toronto Oratory)
As we move downward to the visual space occupied by the altar and tabernacle, we find two adoring angels and placed above them are various symbols of the Passion.

This placement of the angels sets them into an appropriate symbolic relationship with the tabernacle, altar and ultimately, the sacred liturgy itself.

This photo shows the sanctuary prior to the completion of the central crucifixion scene, but it gives you a good overall sense of the sanctuary at eye level. For anyone who is familiar with Holy Family, they will know just how impressive this development is visually. (Photo credit: The Toronto Oratory)
(Photo credit: Ken Woo)
(Photo Credit: The Toronto Oratory)
(Photo Credit: The Toronto Oratory)
(Photo Credit: The Toronto Oratory)
Symbols of the Passion.
(Photo credit: The Toronto Oratory)
We conclude our consideration with this final, wider view of the church, taken from just inside the narthex doors.  For those in the Toronto area, a solemn Mass in the usus antiquior will be celebrated on August 15th, the Feast of the Assumption, which would provide a perfect opportunity and context in which to see the new works in person.

(Photo Credit: The Toronto Oratory)
It only takes a little bit of detailing to go a very long way and the Toronto Oratory, which has always been noteworthy liturgically, is now all the more so artistically. This impressive new addition continues to cement the Oratory's much deserved reputation as a jewel, not only in the crown of Catholicism in Canada, but of Catholicism in general, confirming once again its role as a leader and "innovator" in the renewal of our Catholic patrimony. 

Seems like it is about time for another visit.

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