Friday, October 24, 2008

Profound Simplicity

St. Gabriel's Catholic Church : Grant Circle : Petworth : Washington, DC

Last Thursday, I chose to take my morning walk over in the Petworth neighborhood. Grant Circle--where New Hampshire and Illinois Avenues and 5th and Varnum Streets meet--is graced by a lovely Catholic Church called St. Gabriel's. I took a few pictures of the outside, but being inappropriately attired* and noting that the doors to the church were locked even if I had wanted to go in, I decided I'd have to make an appointment to see the inside. When I got home, I called the church rectory and arranged with the parish priest to come back the next day.

Left: The Baptistry, located on the south side of the church and separate from the main sanctuary.
Right: Detail of the font and stain glass in the Baptistry.
Click images to enlarge.

On Friday, I drove over to St. Gabriel's and met the Rev. Fr. Agustin Mateo, who graciously let me into the church. Turns out, I visited at the right time because Fr. Mateo was on the tail-end of a months-long restoration effort and the labor of love he and others have put into the sanctuary really shone through. He shared with me a few stories about the condition of the church and efforts that were underway to clean up and beautify the building. After some brief conversation, he then went about his business and left me to photograph the church God and the archbishop had assigned him to serve. Before he left, though, I told him about my blog and asked him what message I could convey to my readers about his parish. He said, "Tell them, this is a church and a people of profound simplicity."

From the Baptistry, this is the first entrance you
encounter into the main sanctuary.

I've visited a few Catholic churches in my lifetime--from St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, Austria, to the National Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception here in Washington. St. Stephen's and the Basilica are grand, ornate structures that overwhelm and awe on a massive scale. St. Gabriel's embodies precisely what Fr. Mateo intoned: simplicity. Designed in the Tudor style and crafted by English craftsmen, the church was founded in 1919 and includes a rectory, convent, and school. The altar and chapels, the woodwork and ornamentation, the stained glass reflect a clean, modest, unassuming air, and yet the skill and sacrifice is evident in every detail.

St. Gabriel's from Grant Circle. The rectory on the left and in between
the Rectory and the church, you can glimpse the school.

To see more pictures of the detail in the interior, visit Standing Room Only. And come back tomorrow to see a series of photos featuring the church's altar.

* Workout clothes are hardly appropriate. Some habits never die and appropriate dress for visiting a church is one of them for me.

Photo copyright: D.C. Confidential, 10/08


Lara said...

superb pictures, with great angles!

Virginia said...

Lovely captures today and fine text as always. Number 4 is my favorite. Can't wait to see the altar photos tomorrow.

Professor said...

What a beautiful building. Just beautiful glass and nice angles. I do love to visit churches and hear the stories. Such a pretty place.

Wayne said...

Well done JM. I concur with Virginia (it's the only safe thing to do) the Baptistry shot is great.

D.C. Confidential said...

Lara: Thanks! Photographing churches is always a fun challenge.

VJ: Once again, I had the same problem I often have: which pictures to choose. Glad you liked these. I think you'll like the altar pictures tomorrow.

Prof: I was quite surprised by its simplicity, but really enjoyed the light through the glass and the quiet spaces. It was lovely.

Wayne: Pssst. (I think the picture VJ liked is the one of the aisle from the entrance into the main sanctuary. Just sayin', so you're on the same page! Although, I like the baptistry shot, too, but we'll just keep that between us.) ;-)

Maya said...

What a great line! The world would be a better place if everyone tried to live their lives this way (simply).

I, too, have been in the very ornate Catholic churches in Europe. They are quite awe inspiring, but a church like this is so beautiful in it's simple elegance.

These photos are great! I especially like that entrance shot.

D.C. Confidential said...

Maya: Isn't it, though? And I agree: if we could learn to be happy living within our means, the world would likely be a kinder, richer place for everyone. But, alas.

The entrance is quite lovely. If you didn't catch all the detail, click on the image to enlarge and take a closer look. It's quite elegant, but again, simple.