Monday, June 11, 2012

Majestic Cathedrals

by Joan

I have a confession. I love churches and cathedrals.

Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis
Though it's not religion but the artistic and architectural elements that captivate me. I wrote The Lost Legacy of Gabriel Tucci because I had a vision of a nineteenth-century architect standing on scaffolding, hiding plans behind the stone wall of a church and another vision of a present-day conservator discovering those plans (among other treasures!). 

After researching several London churches, I came across St. Peter’s Italian Church in Clerkenwell and soon I knew my architect had immigrated from Trastevere, a suburb of Rome.

Much of my research was gathered online, but I culled from memory and journals detailing visits to cathedrals in D.C., New York, Austria, Athens, and yes, Trastevere. I love hearing tales about sculptures and stained glass, gargoyles and spires, and don’t get me started on bell towers. In Los Angeles, the brilliant conservationist Aleksei Tivetsky shared his insight--and an intriguing detail I borrowed for a mural above my fictional St. Giuseppe’s high altar. (His website is worth the click—right now I have its stunning classical soundtrack playing in the background.)

Weeping Angels at the Cathedral Basilica
Recently my family visited St. Louis for a wedding and Pamela mentioned the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis as a must-see. After several years of fundraising and tragedy (a tornado wiped out the Archdiocesan treasury), the church broke ground in 1907, had its first mass in 1916, and was consecrated in 1926, yet it would take a total 80 years to complete it.

I'll bet there are a few stories to be garnered from that history. Pamela was right--it was one of the most spectacular cathedrals I've ever seen. So enamored with the side chapels and galleries, we missed the mosaic museum by five minutes, but will catch it on our next visit.
Legendary red mosaic tiles at the Cathedral Basilica

The Byzantine and Romanesque architecture is a marvel and the docent who shared the church's history was a gem (despite his refusal to let me upstairs to the watching gallery!). Even though TLLOGT is complete, I managed to sneak in Gabriel Tucci's twist on the legend of the red mosaic tiles.

My mind is dancing around ideas for my next story. So far my settings have taken me from a fictional cemetery in Maryland, to the Bodleian Library in Oxford, to Highgate Cemetery and an Italian Church in Victorian London. My next story might be a wartime foray into my father’s letters from Burma or it might follow a train conductor in Italy. But wherever (and whenever) I place it, you can bet there will be majestic churches, generations of secrets and a headstone or two.


  1. So glad you finally got to tour it. It is a wonder to behold.

  2. Wonderful post, Joan. I love historical churches and cathedrals, too. Fell in love with many during the years Fred and I lived in Italy. I get chills of pleasure just thinking about the duomo in Siena. The Biblical images depicted in the rich marble floor alone are something to behold. It's a place I time and again experienced sensual overload. For me lighting has a profound effect on how I respond to a church or cathedral. The first time I entered the church of the 13th century abbey of San Galgano, I cried and joyfully captured images of light pouring through the openings of that marvelous roofless structure. There I did feel a spiritual awakening. Okay I could go on and on here. One day I'd love to exchange church and cathedral stories in person, plus share pictures. BTW, can't wait to read your book.

  3. Thanks for the tip, Pamela. I was surprised at how few people were there. It made for an even more special afternoon.

    Thanks Deb! I would love to trade cathedral stories with you--especially if you share some of your gorgeous photos.


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