A few weeks back we spent the weekend on Cape Cod for a little get-away. One of our excursions was to the Church of the Transfiguration in Orleans, Massachusetts. The Community of Jesus is an ecumenical Benedictine community made up of brothers (friars), sisters (nuns), and laypeople. They began building this testament of faith in 1997, hiring architects, liturgical consultants, and artists from all over the world to complete the narrative of salvation the building tells.
The structure is in the basilican form, the long and narrow form of many churches in the early Byzantine church. The Christians borrowed this format from the Roman basilica, or meeting hall format. The Community of Jesus commissioned a mosaic artist from Ravenna, Italy, to fabricate the apse mosaic and the floor, in the tradition of the beautiful mosaics of the early Byzantine churches in Ravenna and elsewhere.
Along the walls of the nave are frescoes painted by an artist from Florence, Italy, trained in the traditional fresco media. The wall panels combine scenes from the life of Christ with processional scenes of people and wildlife from all the continents moving towards the living Christ at the front of the church.
This video shows the work in progress and demonstrates the fresco-painting process.
The baptismal font, in bronze and limestone, is surrounded by a mosaic floor representing the story of Noah, which the forms a River of Life leading to the altar in front.
This video shows the process of the creation of the mosaics in the church. I was so moved to see these ancient forms used to to re-tell the ancient story for a contemporary religious community. The woman who showed us around the church explained that planning the church and its decoration was a profound experience of learning and prayer for the community, and now people from all over come to see the beauty and learn more about the Christian faith. There are aspects of the visual telling of the story which can be so powerful. I pray that more churches will invest in this form of evangelism.
I love the bronze doors — in the tradition of Andrea Pisano 14th century doors and Lorenzo Ghiberti’s 15th century doors of the Florence Baptistery, these bronze doors are truly monumental, and speak to the origins of humanity and faith in their depiction of Adam and Eve in the Garden.
You can view a virtual tour of the Church of the Transfiguration here.