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A Sunday Evening Mass at Salt Lake Citys

Cathedral of the Madeleine, 16 November 2003

By Dustin Tyler Joyce
ARCH 1610 | 18 NOVEMBER 2003

VER SINCE I FIRST CAME to Salt Lake City in January 2001,
there have been two religious structures in this city that I have grown
increasingly fond of. The first, of course, is the Salt Lake Temple of
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Obviously, I grew up
surrounded by images of the templein books, on magazines, throughout
our home, and at church. Though I had previously never seen or been to
the temple in person, it was thenand to this day continues to bea
center of my faith.
The other lies three blocks to the east of the temple, at 331 East
South Temple Street. It is the Cathedral of the Madeleine, the seat of the
bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake, and though it is the central
place of worship in Utah for a religion other than my own, every time I
pass by or go into it, I cant help but sense a feeling of reverence and peace.
The architecture, the stone, the spires, the stained glass, the murals and the paintingsas well as the time,
energy, effort, and love that have gone into their creation and upkeepall speak of things higher, brighter,
eternal. It truly seems to be a place dedicated to God.
I have always loved the great medieval cathedrals of Europe. Even as a young child, I
would check out books about cathedrals from the school or public library. My favorite was
Cathedral by David Macaulay. I would study those books, their words and their images,
intensely, in awe at the magnificence of those structures and the skill and craftsmanship
necessary to put them together. I have since had the privilege of visiting a few of those great
The exterior of the Cathedral.
A gargoyle.

cathedrals in person, and my wonder yet increases.
The cathedrals of Europe are certainly larger and older and more famous than that of Salt Lake, but
Salt Lakes is very much in the same vein as its cousins across the globe. Its design is the familiar, traditional
form of the cross, though its main portals face south rather than west, and its architecture is an interesting
blend of both Romanesque and Gothic details. I had the opportunity to attend a Mass at the Cathedral the
evening of Sunday, 16 November 2003. It was really a beautiful experience, one that I will remember for a
long time.
The site on which the cathedral was built is itself very interesting. It is a rather small lot situated on
the steep slope of the north side of South Temple Street. It surely presented a challenge to the builders, but
they suited the cathedral to the lot very well. The main entrance, as I said, is from the
south, facing the street. The doors are about fifteen to twenty feet higher than the
sidewalk, so the builders constructed a beautiful double stairway linking the sidewalk and
the door. Not only is this staircase an efficient and economical use of the space, it seems
to me to be wonderfully symbolic: as I ascended the stairway, I rose above the street and
the world to focus on higher, sacred things. It is a most appropriate entry into such a
sacred structure and almost seems to be an extension of the sacred interior of the church
into the outside world.
At the top of the stairway I passed through portals meticulously decorated with the images of saints
and into the narthex. Here the loud voices of the outside became more hushed and subdued, and I took the
final preparatory steps before entering into the nave. The narthex, though beautiful itself, is simple and void of
most decoration. It is an in between place; though out of the world, worship does not take place here. From
the narthex my attention was drawn yet deeper into the cathedral, into the nave, where preparations for the
worship service and celebration of the Eucharist were well under way.
Upon entering the nave I knew I was completely apart from the outside
world. Unnecessary speech ceased, and only a barely audible whisper
communicated what few things were said. Coming forth from the magnificent
organ above us over the entrance to the nave were the beautiful strains of Johann
Sebastian Bachs Wenn wir in hchsten Nten sein, BWV 641. I was impressed by
the reverence present in the room, not only from the physical structure itself but
most especially from those who had gathered themselves together in it to worship.
There was no socializing of any kind; rather, many people were kneeling in prayer,
while those who were not were silently waiting for the ceremony to begin. I, too,
took my seat on the west side of the nave and sat silently.
With two chimes of a bell, the Mass began. The congregation sang a
hymn while the presiding priest and other ministers entered the nave through its
southern doors and then proceeded down the center aisle toward the altar. Each
person in the processional was dressed in robes that set him or her apart from the
congregation, and while the priests robe was very ornate, the robes worn by the
others were quite simple. I was so impressed with the music; each hymn
throughout the Mass, whether it was sung by the congregation or simply played
on the organ, witnessed of a rich musical tradition and heritage.
During the Mass, my gaze was naturally drawn toward the incredible decoration covering every
square inch of the walls, the ceiling, and the columns. In particular I noted an aspect of Catholic theology with
which I was already somewhat familiar: the Stations of the Cross. The fourteen paintings depicting the
Stations were evenly spaced along all the walls of the building, so that in order to symbolically follow Christs
path from Gethsemane to the tomb of Joseph of Arimatha, one must make a complete circuit of the interior
of the structure. They are placed slightly above eye level so that in order to view them one must look slightly
upward. I was interested to learn that the current paintings depicting the Stations of the Cross were painted as
recently as 1992 and 1993 by Roger Sam Wilson, a professor at the University of Utah. A pamphlet
explaining the symbolism of the Stations explains well the style of the paintings: The stations combine
The organ.
The nave.
The tympanum.
elements of traditions [sic] iconography, Renaissance painting, cubism and American
Southwestern colorization within a postmodern style. This pamphlet goes on to
explain that one who is viewing and following this path is invited to approach the
stations meditatively and to find personal significance in the events they portray.
Covering the remainder of the wall space are verses of scripture, depictions of the
saintsoften very symbolic, too, to help explain which saints were being depicted
without having anything like captions below the paintingsand a depiction of angels
and the Catholic concept of the Trinity. Whatever wall space wasnt filled with these
things was painted in a richly colorful southwestern style or, at the level of the
parishioner, covered in beautiful wood paneling and carvings.
Writing about it right now, I realize how didactic
the Mass was: engaging the sense of sight was the
structure itself, interior as well as exterior, as well as certain features of the service
such as the processional, the candles, and the robes of the priest and other
ministers. Audibly was the beautiful music as well as the spoken word both from
those conducting the mass as well as those things said in response by the
worshipers. Appealing to the sense of taste was the celebration of the Eucharist,
while all were engaged physically through standing, sitting, kneeling, and walking
to partake of the emblems of the communion.
The Masss didactic nature leads it to be very participatory; it is not a
place where a worshiper comes simply to sit. Rather, each person in attendance is
expected to know what is happening throughout the service and to take part in it. (The program, of course,
listed the events of the ceremony in order, but there was no person conducting the service who explained to
those present what the outline of the meeting would be, something, of course, in stark contrast with what I
am accustomed to.)
The remainder of the Mass was very beautiful, a mlange of singing, scripture reading,
announcements, prayers, and sermons, the climax being the celebration of the Eucharist. And with the end of
the worship service I left, impressed and reverenced by what I saw, heard, and felt, and having a positive
memory of my experience.
I realize better now the important role the Cathedral of the Madeleine plays not only in the lives of
Roman Catholics in Utah but in the community as a whole, both spiritually and culturally. As I said before, it
is, after all, the religious center in Utah for the states second-largest religious group. It is one of the most
architecturally significant buildings in the statemuch more significant than even most of the large office
towers that loom over the Cathedral just a couple of blocks to the east and south. It truly is a place of
reverence, beauty, and grandeur.

Photographs courtesy of the Web site of the Cathedral of the Madeleine,
Detail of vintage postcard courtesy of
Station of the Cross VII:
Jesus Carries His Cross.
The rose window at the
south end of the Cathedral.