With the inauguration of the Year of Faith promulgated by Pope BXVI in the fall of 2012, the Jesuit community of Jesuit High School in Tampa, FL, was inspired to undertake the renovation of their existing 1960’s community residence chapel. I was subsequently commissioned to create the designs for the renovation, which ultimately included just about everything in the space– all trimwork and millwork and stonework, the window grilles, pews, reredos, altar rail, lectern, altar, side altar, statue pedestals, etc– except the statuary and the metal pieces such as the altar cross, candlesticks, and holy water fonts.
The existing structure– an unequal octagonal edifice with board and batten siding, stone-clad piers, and copper sheathed clerestory– was entirely retained and provided the skeletal framework, and thus the limiting conditions, within which the interior was to be reconceived. The existing interior, also still dating from the original chapel construction, was comprised of a central octagonal worship space circumscribed by perimeter storage and sacristy rooms, woven cloth walls under a veneer of wood batten strips in the nave, terrazzo slab floors, and applied abstract stained glass treatment at the perimeter windows and clerestory. The new interior was conceived as a complete cosmetic renovation with an extensive and entirely custom-designed and fabricated millwork and furnishing package.
Functionally, it was imperative for the new interior to provide greater seating since the renovation was intended to augment the chapel’s usage, and this could only be achieved by the removal of the northern diagonal partition walls which separated the nave from the perimeter storage rooms. Liturgically, it was necessary to provide a true liturgical orientation within a centrally planned space, and furthermore create a sanctuary both physically and visually distinct from the nave. Aesthetically, the task was to create a beautiful interior which was artistically coherent—properly proportioned, scaled, detailed, and ornamented—despite the eccentricities of the existing geometries and structural conditions, which was no small task with the given parameters and budget. But principally, over and above all these considerations, it was essential to transform the chapel into, as Fr. Hermes would later say, a place of “epiphany”, a space that served to manifest God’s ever-greater Glory and facilitate our encounter with the same Living God; or, as Hans Urs von Balthasar would say, an example of theological aesthetics.
As a brief project narrative, I began the design process in December of 2011, with a design package produced in February 2012. This came to include custom design of all of the furnishings as well as the interior finishes with the exception of the applied metal piecees and statuary, whereas the original intent was to consider finding salvaged altars, reredos, pews, and various other furnishings from church salvage vendors. Inspiration and precedents conceptually ranged from Bernini’s San Andrea al’Quirinale, the oval-shaped one-time Jesuit chapel in Rome, Italy, to Michelangelo’s Medici Chapel and Laurentian Library in Florence, among others. Pricing for the initial design came in higher than acceptable, and so there followed several months of value-engineering and no small amount of divine intervention. Demolition during July revealed some unforeseen conditions, and so the drawings were amended again resulting in the designs that were executed and finally completed for the dedication on January 5, 2013, a little over a year since pencil was first put to paper.
Some of the notable features of the chapel include:
- An entirely custom designed and fabricated millwork package, inclusive of all details and furnishings. All of the millwork was hand-carved and fabricated in Spain and shipped over.
- Pews directly inspired by Michelangelo’s reading pews at the Laurentian Library, Florence.
- Reredos directly inspired by Michelangelo’s niches at the Medici Chapel, Florence.
- 19th century Flemish Stations of the Cross from Bruges, Belgium (currently being refurbished)
- 19th century Joseph statue from Belgium
- 19th century Mary statue from France
- 19th century Sacred Heart stained glass window reclaimed and repurposed.
See image gallery below: