February 01, 2010

What a shame, St. Ignatius.

Neo-classical interior of St. Ignatius Church in San Francisco

This news is a little old; perhaps you've heard. St. Ignatius Church in San Francisco has opened an art gallery in the back side chapel. A chapel that used to house confessionals. And now it houses "contemporary art". Or more specifically: figurines representing other pagan religions:
Said the newsletter, “St. Ignatius Church, a Jesuit parish in San Francisco, celebrated the opening of its new Manresa Gallery on September 18. Formed by four interior alcoves, which previously housed confessional boxes, the gallery is a permanent testament to St. Ignatius of Loyola’s Composition of Place… In keeping with Ignatius’ understanding that his Constitutions or governing rules for Jesuits would include old principles and new ones, the gallery’s philosophy is to include both traditional religious works and contemporary art in a series of changing exhibitions. Commissioned pieces will enhance the dialogue that take places on a larger scale within the ritual space of the church. Manresa Gallery is open on Sundays from 2 to 5 p.m. and by appointment.” The article was written by James R. Blaettler, S.J., Associate Pastor of St. Ignatius.

A few weeks ago, I decided to go to St. Ignatius to take a look for myself. While the museum was closed, I was able to look through the windows to get a glimpse of what’s inside. It was a surprising experience to find an art gallery inside a Catholic Church. It became even stranger when the art displayed was not Christian, but pagan.

The current exhibition is “The Arts of Java and Bali: Objects of Belief, Ritual and Performance.” One of the pieces in the show is an hermaphroditic wooden figurine, with female breasts and a male erection. Another is a hairy demonic figure with a women’s face protruding from its mouth. Another is a brightly colored, scaled, demonic figure.
Besides the fact that they use St. Ignatius (who sent missionaries out into pagan cultures to baptize them!) to justify this monstrosity, I am so disappointed for them for simply aesthetic reasons.

St. Ignatius is by far the most beautiful church in the city. (Not my favorite, mind...just the most beautiful.) With a neo-Romanesque exterior, it fits perfectly into the California landscape. And the neo-classical interior is one of the grandest in the country.
Furthermore, it already has a rich collection of religious art, including a luminous copy of Carivaggio's The Descent from the Cross, and specially commissioned large oil paintings of the Stations of the Cross, by Italian painter and engraver Pietro Ridolfi. It has stained glass windows, beautiful carving and gilding, and so much more.

When I lived down the street, I used to run up to the building if I was feeling particularly distressed. I would sit inside, in the quiet, incense scented peace, and an overwhelming feeling of what Gerard Manly Hopkins, S.J. called the "grandeur of God" would come over me. This building is a physical manifestation of that grandeur, and it is a blasphemy and a shame to have that grandeur and grace spoilt by the avant garde, pagan, and profane.

St. Ignatius Church sits on the shoulder of Lone Mountain. Lit until midnight every night, it looks like a crown, and is visible from all over the city.


  1. I wonder why it was called the "Manresa Gallery". Manresa is the town in Catalonia, not far from Barcelona, where St. Ignatius began his ministry and his work on the "Spiritual Exercises" after his conversion experience at Montserrat. I'm sure he would be appalled by what you describe.

  2. I assumed it was a donor's name, but you're probably right. It is monstrous. I hope he interceeds on his Church's behalf, and knocks some sense into the parish administrators.

  3. The Jesuit Mother House in England is named Manresa House, actually, so I am assuming that the English Jezzies had founded the parish.

  4. It's sickening, really. Not at all surprising, though, given what I experienced firsthand during my four years there.

    It's funny that you mention retreating to SI during the day, though. I used to do that with Cristo Rey. (Sr.Mary even asked me at one point if I had considered a vocation. :)) I never felt at home at SI because it's so huge. When I did decide to seek refuge there, I would go to the side chapel to Our Lady of Guadalupe.