Its been a while since I was able to get to write on this blog thing I started. I haven't had the opportunity in the past few months to get out and view some great glass I haven't already seen. But recently I did decide to go to a church that I had long admired but not photographed in before, St. Patrick's Catholic Church. There is not much history I could find on this church, although I haven't dug too deep. There was no pastor or historian around when I visited with my camera.
St. Patrick's is a stately red brick Gothic Revival piece of architecture, and when it was built back in the late 1800's it sat alone among smaller buildings. It was one of the tallest buildings around. It has since been dwarfed by the massive corporate skyscrapers that dominate the skyline around it.
Of particular interest at this point in San Francisco history is the near-completion of the San Francisco Contemporary Jewish Museum, located right behind St. Patrick's in downtown San Francisco's Yerba Buena cultural district on Mission Street between 3rd & 4th streets. The museum boasts an adaptive reuse of the classical skin of the landmark 1907 Jessie Street Power Substation with an extension clad in vibrant blue steel panels. The Daniel Libeskind designed, 63,000-square-foot building preserves the character-defining features of the substation and introduces bold contemporary spaces. His idea of the new addition is "based on the physical form of the Hebrew word and symbol for life, the chai. Emerging from behind the walls and roof of the former substation, the new chai addition transforms the industrial spaces of the early twentieth-century edifice into a new forum for the exchange of historical and contemporary ideas".
So, with also the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Zeum, Yerba Buena Cultural Center, Crown Point Press, the Museum of the African Diaspora, and the Museum of Craft and Folk Art, surrounding it, the three block radius around St. Patrick's is an active Art Institution district.
Perhaps because there is no real residences around, the church serves mainly an itinerant community, although there was a sizable group of Filipino nuns there when I visited.
With so many tourists zooming in and around such institutions, it is actually a shame that more folks don't go in and sit in this church. Not only does it provide a moments quiet and peace from the frantic pace of traffic outside, but if they sat for a minute they might partake of some of San Francisco's most splendid examples of painted glass in architecture.
The glazing scheme consists of four major groups. Along the side walls of the nave are sets of double lancets, each depicting a Doctor of the Church, or a significant Saint, typically robed and holding a book, crozier or some prop, and surrounded by a Gothic architectural canopy. The five single lancets over the altar depict the four Gospel writers with their books and quill pens, in rich colors and jewel like glass, a ornate halo over each. The center lancet depicts Saint Patrick. the rear windows depict three scenes, two from the life of Saint Patrick and the major window over the ornate balcony, partially hidden by the pipe organ depicts an ancient warrior on horseback leading an army into battle and lifting an ornate cross.
The Clerestory windows are perhaps my favorite, and although high up and difficult to see the narrative, the glass quality and choice is superb. The modulation of the painting and organization of masses of colors make these windows sing high above. The Lancet windows below them are detailed and highly painted, but are painted on a slightly pale golden glass, giving these windows a dull look. In contrast, the colors high in the clerestory windows are beautifully arranged, and seem almost liquid as light dissolves through them. It took my zoom lens and a computer screen for me to actually see and study the intricate painting and narrative in full. The windows seem to depict moments in the story of great Irish Saints and mythic Heroes, with long Gaelic names I can't pronounce.
However, the subject is a pleasant extra, for the real power of these high windows are the colors. They appear as abstract paintings from below, bright undulating pools of color and sparkle.
I have included shots of all the clerestory windows, all the rear windows and altar windows, and the better examples of the lancets. Clearly some of these lancet windows were re-created after a fire, and a few incorporate some of the old, surviving fire grazed glass in their compositions. These windows have a slightly later and heavier quality to the painting than most of the others.
Aside from this the glass is fine examples of good church art and some of the finest glass painting of the day. Certainly some of the finest to be found in San Francisco. It was one of the last major places I have taken my tripod and camera in this city, although I hope to find more. Please enjoy these works in the 'stained Glass in San Francisco " photo album...
*On a technical note: One might look at some of the clerestory window photos below and in the album and think "why do they look like they were shot straight on, when he said they were high up? was he on a scaffold?" That's a good question, and no, I wasn't on a scaffold. The shots of the colored clerestory windows were digitally manipulated by me in the program Adobe Photoshop. Each window as its normally viewed and photographed will be 'keystoned' with the bottom wider than the top. But all the visual information needed is there and visible, it just looks a bit distorted. I then used the 'transform/distort' feature of the program to 'undistort' the image and flatten it out, to great effect by the way. There is still loss in the detail of the window, unfortunately, owing to the 'halating' quality of light passing into a darkened interior, the distance at which I shot, and the humble power of my non-professional lens.***
(Check out this beard!!!) The clerestory windows below...