The Altar Area
The oblique vaults are painted in Iberian colors of terra cotta, yellow ocher, and blue and highlighted by gold leaf rosettes. The warm red reflects the Spanish Rojo Alicante marble of the apse wall. Since earliest times, a dome has symbolized the overarching sky, and here, at its apex, a gold-and-silver-leafed sunburst represents the all-encompassing providence of God.
The apse is a dramatic visual culmination of an interior unified by color and tone. Upon entering the west doors opposite the altar and looking along the 130-foot nave, on is enveloped in a sense both glorious and serene. The sight lines compel one's whole attention to the high altar in white Carrara marble with its bronze crucifix, just as Christ's life led inexorably to the events of his Passion. Christ, head raised, is portrayed at the moment of heroic intercession: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
The story is told of Albin Polasek that one day as he was carving the "Christus" inspiration failed when he was working on the face. He was unable to produce the intelligence, the tenderness, and the triumph he wanted to portray. So he prayed for inspiration! Later that same day a stranger, from Polasek's native Bohemia, called upon him, seeking work as a carpenter. The carpenter was invited in; and, as they talked, Polasek became fascinated by the stranger's face. So fascinated in fact, he began to carve on the Christ head as they visited.
As Polasek worked feverishly, he described to the carpenter some shelving he needed to have built, and arranged for the carpenter to return the next day to do the work. The visit and the stranger have always remained a mystery, for the carpenter did not return the next day, and Polasek never again set eyes upon the man. But the "Christus" was finished.
The sculpture in the sanctuary is an aesthetic representation of Church liturgy and tradition. To the left of the altar is the episcopal throne incorporated with a canopy of carved oakwood. The cathedral of a diocese is so-called because it houses the bishop's chair, or Cathedra. Like the altar, the throne and sanctuary-encircling wainscoting were designed by Kimball. A close look at the wood reveals intricate carving and many whimsical heads half-concealed in the foliated designs of the stiles. Enshrined in niches along the curving apse wall are statues of eleven apostles designed by Polasek. He carved the figures of John, Andrew, Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew, but a stroke left him unable to complete the fraternity. The remaining statues--James the Greater, James the Lesser, Philip, Matthias, Jude, and Simon--were carved by sculptor William Hoppe.
On the right in the sanctuary is the ambo where the Word of God is proclaimed. Surrounding the ambo, which was designed by Kimball, are the statues of six great doctors of the church. All the figures were designed and carved in South American mahogany by Polasek. Left to right: Saint Peter, holding the keys of the kingdom and a fisherman's net; Saint Paul, with letters, as a warrior of the Lord; Saint Jerome, with pen and book, who translated the Bible into Latin; Saint Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, with staff and whip, who was a great orator, teacher, and theologian; Saint Pope Gregory the Great, with dove symbolizing the Holy Spirit, who introduced the Gregorian chant; Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, with staff and book, who formalized many doctrines of the church.
~The Beauty of Thy House, 2005