Friday, February 27, 2009

The Baptistry

The octagonal-shaped baptistry is one of the two apsidal units designed by Cram & Ferguson (the other is the St. Martin Chapel). It was a gift of the descendants of Peter Stuyvesant (1592 - 1682), the last governor of the former New Netherlands. Upon passing through the bronze screen visitors will notice the inscription "Behold the Lamb which taketh away the sins of the world" (John 1:29). Less prominent and nearly invisible at the lower left is additionally inscribed "We bless Thy Holy Name for Thy servant Catherine E. S. Stuyvesant, departed this life in faith and fear, 1924". Crowning the screen is the Agnus Dei or Lamb of God a.k.a Paschal Lamb with a banner held in its right leg.
Flanking the entrance to this unit are (left) Saint Catherine of Alexandria with her saintly attribute, a bladed wheel, shown in relief below. Opposite St. Catherine is (right) St. Nicholas shown with three purses of gold, also in relief below. This alludes to the three purses of gold the saint threw through the open windows to an impoverished nobleman man to prevent his daughters from being sold into prostitution. All of the statuary in this archway is the work of W. F. Ross and Co. To the west (left) is Louise de Coligny the fourth wife of William of Orange a.k.a William the Silent with a bust of the donor's mother as a child, Harriet LeRoy Stuyvesant, beneath. On the east (right) is a statue of Judith Bayard, wife of Peter Stuyvesant underneath is the bust of the donor's father August Van Horne Stuyvesant depicted as a boy (an allusion to baptism).
Above the entrance of this entry foyer to the baptistry carved in relief is the coat of arms of the Netherlands.
Inside one is struck instantly by the vibrant colors and the upward thrust of this unit. The room is thirty-one feet in diameter and fifty-seven feet at the highest point. The dominating octagonal form is the traditional shape of Baptisteries. God saved eight people from the Great Flood in Noah's Ark, there are eight days between Christ's entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to his Resurrection, and the number eight (8) when turned onto its side is the symbol of infinity a reminder that whoever is "sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism [is] marked as Christ's own for ever (BCP, p. 308).
The baptistry honors the Dutch settlers. On the eight walls is a frieze with a sculpture of six famous Netherlanders and two Brits. Facing forward from the entry foyer one sees (clockwise) Henry Hudson (British, d. 1611), Peter Stuyvesant (1592- 1682), Henry Compton (British, 1632-1713), Saint Willibrord (648-739), Thomas à Kempis (1379-1471), Erasmus (1467-1536), Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), and William of Orange a.k.a. William the Silent (1533-1584). It is interesting to note that Stuyvesant, an amputee, is seen here with a wooden peg leg. His statue is above the red and gold Stuyvesant family coat of arms with text on a royal blue field carved in relief crediting the baptismal gift to the descendants of Peter Stuyvesant.
Flanking each statue is a shield representing one of the Twelve Apostles plus the Four Evangelists. Above each shield is an open book. Each book contains a portion of the Apostles Creed translated into the original Latin text that is divided into twelve sections for catechesis, instruction for new converts or children. The remaining four books have verses from Acts, Mark, and Luke. The represented saint, attribute and portion of the creed are as follows, beginning with Saint Peter (gold keys) above the east (right) portal that leads into the Chapel of St. Ansgar:
Peter, keys: I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth,

John, eagle: And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord,

James, shell: Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary,

Andrew, "X": Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried; He descended into hell.

Philip, loaves: The third day he rose again from the dead;

Thomas, spear heads: He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

Bartholomew, flaying knife: From there he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

Matthew, winged man: I believe in the Holy Spirit,

James the less, fuller's club: I believe in the holy catholic church, the communion of saints,

Simon, lance: The forgiveness of sins,

Jude, ship: The resurrection of the body,

Matthias, axe: And the life everlasting. Amen


Paul, sword: Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision (Acts 26:19)

Barnabas, : For he was a good man, and full of the Holy Ghost and of faith: and much people was added unto the Lord. (Acts 11:24)

Mark, winged lion: The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God (Mark 1:1)
Luke, winged ox: And heal the sick that are therein, and say unto them, The kingdom of God is come nigh unto you. (Luke 10:9)
The text running along the frieze beneath the statues is a text from the Gospel according to Saint Matthew that reads, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen." (Matthew 28:19-20)
The medallions at the intersecting points of the vaulting represent both scenes from the life of Christ as well as seven gifts of the Holy Spirit as quoted in Isaiah:
Holy Fear
Ghostly Strength

At the highest point in this chapel, the medallion in the apex of the cupola shows the Trinity, God the Father, Christ Jesus the Son and the Holy Spirit represented by a dove.
In the center of the room is an octagonal baptismal font rising fifteen feet high carved from Champville marble by Albert H. Atkins (1899-1951).
Around the perimeter lip of the font is inscribed, "One Lord, one Faith, one baptism. To the glory of God and in loving memory of Agustus van Horne Stuyvesant and Harriet LeRoy Stuyvesant. This font is erected by their children."
At the base of the font are eight scenes from the life of John the Baptist alternating with angelic figures each holding a representational or foreshadowing the scene it precedes:
The Angel of Annunciation holding a lily
The Angel Gabriel announcing St. John's birth to Zacharias
The Angel of Sorrow holding a cross foretelling of the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist and Christ
The Visitation of Mary to Elisabeth
The Angel of Record holding a pen
The naming of St. John the Baptist
An Angel praying
The calling of St. John the Baptising the wilderness
The Angel of Sacrifice with a palm branch
St. John the Baptist preaching
Angel of Baptism with a shell
St. John the Baptist baptizing Jesus in the Jordan River
The Angel of Testimony with a scroll
Jesus testifying to John the Baptist's mission
The Angel of Death in a hooded cloak.
The Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist.

The next level up shows the coat of arms of the Stuyvesant family, the City of New York, the Diocese of New York, and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
Above are the Four Evangelists.
Further up are eight figures each holding a symbol representing the Joyful and Sorrowful Mysteries:
The Annunciation (lily)
The Nativity (star)
The Baptism (shell)
The Last Supper (chalice)
The Mocking (crown of thorns)
The Crucifixion (nails)
The Resurrection (I.H.S.)
The Ascension (dove)
Atop, surmounting the finial is the figure of Christ as a youth.
On the wall in relief above the portal into the Chapel of St. Ansgar is the Paschal Lamb upon the book secured with seven seals.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Erik; found your blog entries while searching for info after a St. John tour... I suspect the answer is no, at this late stage, but is there a chance you'll post blog entries on the 7 chapels? Great info!