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New York Daily Photo: Chiuso and Costruzione
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Friday, 29 February 2008

Chiuso and Costruzione

On my first trip to Italy, I learned two very important words as a visitor: chiuso and costruzione and (closed and construction). In fact, it started to become a private joke - everywhere we went, we encountered some variation on the theme of closed and/or under construction. Admittedly, with such a density of ancient architecture and sculpture, the repair and maintenance of places like Florence, Venice, Rome, etc. will, of necessity, be a perpetual enterprise.
In America, as a much newer country, this is a novel concept and repairs taking place repeatedly or over long periods of time are usually viewed as tragic or a sign of incompetence.
With the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, we have our own shrine to chiuso and costruzione. A tour around the 11.5 acre property reveals metal sheds, barbed wire fences and until 2007, scaffolding. See more photos of the interior and exterior here.
In some rather unfortuitous twists and turns, the construction of this cathedral has been proceeding in fits and starts since its inception in 1892 and in fact is still not completed. Bad luck, World War, running out of endowment money, long periods of stagnation. And to add insult to injury, a fire in 2001. An early change in architects resulted in the mixture of architectural styles we see today - Romanesque and Gothic. This is a long and complex tale - read about it here.
But there are other things of a more positive nature - this cathedral is enormous - 601 feet long with and interior height of 124 feet - it is one of the largest cathedrals in the world. The Statue of Liberty could fit inside. There is magnificent pipe organ. The place inspires awe.
Although most churches are involved in community and charitable work, St John has gone much further than most with a wide range of performing and visual arts programs, concerts, workshops, educational work and a plethora of outreach programs.
Memorial services, celebrations and speakers by and for people of all walks and faiths have been seen here - St. John's really stands out in this eclectic, nondenominational way. Philippe Petit has performed there and was an artist in residence. Many notables, such as the Dalai Lama, Desmond TuTu, have spoken at Saint John. There is even a triptych by Keith Haring (The Life of Christ).
A fervent mission is now at hand to finally complete the work - the Eastern portion, where these photos were taken, has been finished. I was told that full completion of the interior will be done by November 2008 (with celebration and fanfare I am sure), so I would pencil this in on your calendar ...


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