Before and After: The Episcopal Throne of St. Ambrose Cathedral in Des Moines, Iowa

Sometimes very simple changes that can make a difference. A recent example that came to light by way of Ecclesiastical Studio and Sons was a project they pursued in relation to the cathedra (i.e. episcopal throne) of St. Ambrose Cathedral in Des Moines, Iowa. There were, in fact, other elements that were altered as part of this renovation but it is this specific element which I wished to highlight. 

Those who are familiar with the trends of the church in the Latin rite these past 60 years will of course recognize that our starting point in the "before" is itself not particularly historical. What was installed here was a cathedral, set before a rather drab, wooden rectangular backdrop. The problems here are numerous.

For one thing this did not mesh well with the historical, neo-Romanesque architecture of the cathedral overall. What's more, it likewise did not mesh well with the cathedra itself. Like so much that took place in this period of church history, there was a rather forced and awkward attempt to impose the one upon the other and net result was not good. 


Looking at this arrangement, one was left with a feeling of something fleeting and temporary -- not something fixed and solid.  By contrast the new cathedra arrangement has sought to restore a sense of harmony between these various components. 


Gone, here, is the rectangular, wooden backdrop, replaced by an integrated, architectural backdrop that not only better meshes with the overall architecture of the cathedral but which also better accentuates the episcopal throne itself. What's more, a purposeful effort has been made to also create a harmony between the colours and designs found on the cathedra and this arrangement, not to mention the broader sanctuary itself. 

An important point that I would like to emphasize here is this: if one looks at the above elements, a profound artistic and liturgical impact has been made, and yet it is accomplished with only a very few elements.  This, as much as anything, can be an important point for parishes that are considering beautification projects to remember. Do not allow yourselves to be discouraged by thinking that each and every renovation must be complex and expensive. Sometimes a lot can be accomplished with only a little. 

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