Friday, January 16, 2015

Holy Rollin': Our Lady of the Bright Mount, Pope John Paul II Was Here

From the Acropolis of ancient Greece to Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral, man's desire to connect with the Divine might be most beautifully expressed through architecture.  The act of creating a building in which to perform holy rites, a building in which to display religious relics, a building in which parishioners and nonbelievers alike can find beauty, really gets us feeling all "holy-rolly" from our heads down to our heels.

Our Lady of the Bright Mountain Parish - Los Angeles, CA

The simplicity of Our Lady of the Bright Mount's boxy, mid-Century exterior belies an interesting history.  Built in the front yard of what was once Fatty Arbuckle's West Adams estate, the church and its Edwardian-era grounds are now the home of the Los Angeles Polish Festival.   Every year, Southern California's Polish population flocks to get a taste of the homeland and an audience with His Holiness.

As Our Lady of the Bright Mount is a Polish parish, it is small wonder that Pope John Paul II is considered quite the celebrity.  His lifelike statue lovingly greets all visitors to the forecourt of the church.  His lofty positioning only meant that Cynthia had to give me a boost so I could kiss his ring.

Aside from the gaudy chandeliers and colorful iconography, the airy, light-filled sanctuary, with its angled
roof and beamed ceiling, could pass for the modernist stylings of many working architects of the 1950s-60s.
A fan of Eastern-European religious art (and gaudy chandeliers), I was in Holy-rollin' heaven!

The ceilings, the structure, the materials are all textbook Mid-Century Modern architecture.  It is the windows, however, that distinguish Our Lady of the Bright Mount as a wacky tacky landmark.  Echoing Eyvind Earle's art direction in Sleeping Beauty (1959), the stained glass artwork of this church masterfully straddles the aesthetic line between Medieval and mid-Century. 

 Like a large-scale illuminated manuscript, the expansive windows of Our Lady of Bright Mount
make up three of the church's four walls.  From indoors or out, the windows truly illuminate  heroes
of both The Bible and of Poland (see the Polish Coat of Arms below).

It was exciting to find the artist's signature in a pane of the window.
Ludwik Wiechecki, do you think he might be Polish???

A search returned very little about the artist except that he was part of the poster art
movement in Poland that existed during and survived both the Nazi occupation and
communism.  It appears he moved to America and accepted stained glass commissions
for the Paul L. Phillips Studio of Pasadena, CA before he died in 1988.

While she was clearly inspired by the images in the stained glass,
 I nevertheless asked Cynthia why she was praying.  After her "amen"
she simply told me, "Man, 'We got to pray just to make it today!'"

I was praying that I could take "Mother Mary of the Stony Grotto" home with me.
Raised outside of the Catholic tradition (rest assured, some of my best friends are Catholic),
I was surprised to fall so completely in love with the statue; it is the glorious, starry halo back-
lighting the bougainvillea that I really wanted.  Her ever-watchful eyes would have made
stealing her that much more difficult!

"Pray" - MC Hammer

Holman Methodist Church wacky tacky
The bonus of attending the Los Angeles Polish Festival at Our Lady of the Bright Mount Parish is that the church is immediate neighbors with the striking, stony, brutalist facade of Holman United Methodist Church - which makes it terribly convenient when one has to run next door to borrow a cup of holy water (for an exorcism or whatnot).  As if tmy hunchback wasn't enough incentive, that double-boomerang bell tower alone has Mr. Tiny ready to become a modernist Quasimodo!

I suppose it is impossible for me to convert to Polish, but maybe if I convert to Catholicism I'll be a little bit closer.  Does Our Lady of the Bright Mount Parish (not to mention its next door neighbor) have you seeking sanctuary?  Do you have any cool churches in your neighborhood?  Do you attend an architecturally-significant church (for more than just the free communion)?  

Our Lady of the Bright Mount Parish
3424 W Adams Blvd
Los Angeles, CA


Mr. Tiny

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