AT THE ENTRANCE OF OUR CHURCH:
The Ghiberti Bronzes: On the façade of the church are four square bronzes that are copies of those from the north doors of the baptistery in Florence, Italy, created by Lorenzo Ghiberti (1378-1455). The original doors in Florence had 28 such quatrefoils, and it took the artist almost as many years to complete his grand project. The four quatrefoils we have are copies of 1) the Adoration of the Magi, 2) the Temptation of Christ, 3) the Raising of Lazarus, and 4) Christ before Pilate. As in Florence, these beautiful bronzes make up part of the entrance of our little parish here in North Georgia, reminding us that a church door is not just a door, but is crossing a threshold into the eternal.
IN THE NARTHEX:
High up in the narthex we notice the handsome flags of our nation, of our state and of the Vatican. Many Catholic churches began displaying American flags during World War II, when they were put near small war chapels or near Books of Remembrance. The practice continues to this day, but the U.S. Bishops have recommended that national flags should probably not to be placed within the sanctuary, suggesting instead the vestibule as a more suitable place. Thus we have our beautiful banners soaring unfurled in the entrance of our church, where we transition from the secular to the sacred. Also in the narthex is the handsome Greeter’s Desk, which was custom-made for us by one of our parishioners, Mr. Bob Murphy, who also made the screen in our confessional, as well as our credence tables.
The Mosaic of the Lamb of God (reference Revelation chapter 5) in the narthex was installed in 2013, and hand made by a parishioner, Mr. John Roger. It is made up of over 16,000 pieces of marble called tesserae (these imported from China). How they got to our narthex is a bit of a story. John and Gursline Roger lived in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit and flooded the city. Before the storm this tesserae had been dedicated for a floor mosaic of the Sacred Heart at St. Mark’s parish in Chalmette, Louisiana, but with Katrina the parish was subsequently closed. Not only was St. Mark’s lost, but so was the Roger home (virtually everything was gone, save for these tesserae). When they relocated to North Georgia, John brought with him the salvaged tesserae which he turned into this beautiful image of Christ’s victory. Imagine losing everything you have but a pile of rocks, and then turning that pile of rocks into a gift to God! Dedicated to the memory of their son, Timmy, this symbol of our Lord reminds us all that it is by his blood that we are saved. The gold background represents the brilliance of heaven. The color white represents the purity of this sacrifice, and the red represents his redeeming blood. The Easter Banner (or vexillum) symbolizes his victory over Satan, death and sin.
IN THE CHURCH:
The Altar, Ambo, Stations of the Cross & Baptismal Font: These impressive pieces are hand carved of the highly prized narra wood in the Philippines (in the old colonial village of Betis, in the province of Pampanga). The Ambo has the Good Shepherd surrounded by the symbols of the four Gospels. Visible on the main Altar (if uncovered) is a scene of the Last Supper, commemorating the institution of our Christian worship, and on either side of the altar are two kneeling angels (look closely, but please don’t touch) with “real” eyelashes. The 14 Stations of the Cross represent stops along the walk of the Via Doloroso, or the way of sorrows, from the judgment of Pilate, to the entombment of the Christ. During the season of Lent, and especially on Fridays, the faithful will meditate upon the Passion of our Lord by reflecting upon each of these stations. The Baptismal Font has a bas relief of the Baptism of the Lord. Our Catholic life begins at this life-giving font. All of these were (all) acquired and installed (A.D. 2005-2006) during the pastorate of Father Frank Richardson, with the help of Mr. Martin Rapp. The same artists carved the Confessional Crucifix, marking that place of grace wherein our sins are forgiven (for it is by the wounds and blood of our Redeemer that we are healed).
The Relic in the Altar: There is a connection between martyrs and the altars evident even in the New Testament (see Rev. 6:9-11). Early on in the Church’s history, altars were often built over the tombs of martyrs. This idea of relating the altar of God with the relics of a saint continued throughout the centuries, and often small relics of saints (tiny shards of bones of the martyrs)are incorporated into the marble top of the altars (or the mensa of the altars) around the Catholic world. Unseen by anyone, but nevertheless just beneath the altar cloth, we have a relic of St. Juan de la Cruz, the 16th century mystic and doctor of the Church.
The Brass Altarware (the altar cross and the accompanying candles) are arranged in traditional Roman fashion, as we find in Roman basilicas where the altars face the people. The more festive the season, the more candles you’ll find on the altar. The altar cross (given in memorial of a parishioner, Barbara Krajek) is designed to be beautiful from both sides, custom made for this parish in Sudbury, Massachusetts, the IHS (seen by the people) is a Greek monogram of the Holy Name (Jesus). Our parish likes to burn unbleached 100% beeswax candles, for only the finest will do for the table of the Lord.
The Stained Glass Window behind the Tabernacle reflects our mountain setting. The large brass tabernacle itself holds within it the greatest treasure of our parish, which is the sacramental presence of our Lord in the consecrated Eucharist. The nearby red candle burns to remind us that we are in the House of the Lord, who is really present among us.
The Great Crucifix is almost life-sized crucifix, it is found in the handsome, rustic wooden reredos (built by parishioners) that rises on the wall behind the altar. Roods (or large crucifixes) have become a more or less standard features in Latin Rite Catholic churches since the time of Charlemagne.
The Statues of Our Lady and of St. Joseph: This St. Joseph statue was given in honor of Pablo and Mary Larach. Our Lady, under the title of the Immaculate Conception (the patroness of our nation) was given in honor of the May family. These statues were donated by a parishioner, Ms. Alma May, who was raised in Palestine, and whose family goes back to the original Christians of the Holy Land.
The Processional Cross is carried by the altar server before every solemn mass in the procession. This one is modeled on the ferula (or pastoral crosier or shepherd’s staff) that was used by Pope John Paul II, who was pontiff during the first quarter century of our history here at OLM (as first a mission and then later a parish). This modern Papal Cross was originally commissioned by Pope Paul VI, and created by an Italian artist, Lello Scorzelli (d. 1997).
The Shrine & Relic of the True Cross: The relic of the True Cross was given to Father Byrd by the rector of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston, South Carolina, who received the relic from the last abbot nullius of Belmont Abbey in North Carolina. Passed down through the centuries, these two tiny splinters are taken from the same wood of the cross discovered by St. Helen herself, and declared to be the actual cross upon which our Lord was crucified. Brought back to Rome in the 4th century, the relic plays a significant role in the Church’s liturgy on two holy days: 1) the Exaltation of the Cross on September 14th, and 2) Good Friday (when the faithful will venerate the relic). The reliquary itself is a beautiful piece of original art, hand carved in the Philippines to match our altar, and donated by a parishioner. The base of the reliquary is a separate piece, called a “Calvary” wherein the large crucifix is placed. On one side, it reads IN HOC SIGNO VINCES (in this sign, victory) and on the other side you find the motto CRUCE SPES MEA (my hope is the Cross). The Crucifix is removable, so that it might be carried in the liturgy for Good Friday, and brought down for veneration. The beautiful shrine (installed in 2011) wherein the reliquary is reserved is a unique work of art in its own right, hand made by a local artisan and master cabinet maker. Also in the same shrine is a relic of Blessed Francis Xavier Sellos brought back from New Orleans for OLM, and a relic of St. Kateri Tekakwitha, that was acquired in the year 2012.
The Icons: Icons are a traditional form of Christian art, each hand-painted and one of a kind treasures. The Icon of the Black Madonna is an image of Our Lady of Czestochowa (pronounced Ches-ta-HO-va) commissioned in 2010, and blessed on the parish feast day of The Holy Name of Mary on September 12th. Our feast is Spanish in origin, and commemorates the Great Mother of God, but broader establishment as a more universal feast is associated with the victory of the Christian forces over the Turks in the Battle of Vienna in 1683. Led by John III Sobieski, the Christian troops fought under the protection of the Black Madonna. After their miraculous victory, the Pope inserted the feast day into the general Roman calendar. The Icon of St. Nicholas: The patron saint of children watches over the baptismal font, and was commissioned in Pennsylvania in 2012. The Icon of St. Helen: This one is quite old, and came from the Middle Easter. The Icon of St. John the Baptist reminds us of the importance of protecting marriage. This was commissioned for the parish from an iconographer in Georgia (the country), The Icon of St. Athanasius, which honors our parish’s first deacon, Rev. Mr. Lloyd Sutter & his wife Jill. The Icon of St. Michael the Archangel was brought back to the parish from the Holy Land. On the back wall of the church we find The Madonna of Humility that depicts a peaceful moment of rest along the flight into Egypt. The originals (of which there are two) were rather small, and painted in oil by the Flemish painter, Gerard David in 1510. One of the originals is within the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington. This hand painted image of the Virgin and Child was commissioned of the then Atlanta artist Dorothy Thayne in 2004, and donated to the parish by Terry and Joyce Brennan. Our slightly adapted version was done with egg tempera and oil glazes painted upon a panel of birch wood. Ms. Thayne studied iconography under the master Vladislav Andrejev, a Russian immigrant and the founder of the Prospon School of Iconology. In December of 2013 two icons by Mr. David Clayton are to find a home in the chancel area of our parish church: one is dedicated to St. Gregory the Great (who is famous for chant) and the other is of St. Ambrose (who introduced hymnody into the western liturgy).
The Triumphant Triptych: Hand painted and carved by local artists, the Christ in Majesty image was chosen because it is a Western iconic image of the Christ. Inspired by ancient forms in frescoes and in illuminated manuscripts, it depicts the enthroned Lord, and placed where it is above the church door as we leave; it reminds us that we will all be judge by him. The large, central image of the imperial Christ is capped with two peacocks drinking from the chalice, as an early Christian symbol of the eternal life promised us. The figure of the Lord is surrounded by the symbols of the four gospels, which are also a reference to visions of the throne room of heaven, where the four living creatures (recorded in Ezekiel & in the Apocalypse) look upon the heavenly glory. This painted figure of the Christ compares to the corpus on the opposite crucifix — Christ in history (the crucifix), Christ present in the sacrament (present in the tabernacle and upon the altar), and Christ in the future (who will be our judge). The large icon is flanked by two lesser images, themselves no less important pieces of art, as they depict St. Peter and St. Paul, who are so closely associated with the Church in Rome at its conception. Both St. Peter (our first Pope) and St. Paul were martyred in Rome. These paintings were given by a local artist, and the hand carving on the frames was done by John Roger, a parishioner. This Christ in Majesty triptych was installed in 2010.
The Confessional Crucifix: The confessional screen was built by a local artisan, and the crucifix therein was hand carved in the Philippines, and given as a gift to the pastor, who in turn has given it to Our Lady of the Mountains parish. The confessional is a place of grace and healing, wherein our sins are forgiven. This crucifix reminds us that it is by the wounds and blood of our Redeemer that we are healed.
IN THE PARISH HALL:
In the parish hall (in the basement of our current church) you’ll find a Madonna and Child Painting: This painting was purchased in Atlanta, with moneys donated by parishioners, to honor Mr. Joe Murray, who (together with his wife) was one of our original founders. It was Joe who suggested the name of our mission (later parish), and so this beautiful image (hand pained in Mexico) is placed in the hall to remind us not only of the Lord, and of his graceful mother, but also to remind us of Joe Murray, who died in the 25th year of our history (2010).
Also in the parish hall we have part of a chasuble once owned and worn by Father O’Reilly: It was donated by Billy & Cynthia Ferguson. It is a 19th century embroidered cross that once adorned a chasuble worn by the famous Georgia priest of Civil War history, Father Thomas O’Reilly, who showed charity to both sides of that titanic conflict, and who interceded on behalf of the city of Atlanta to save a number of churches and the town hall from being torched by General Sherman. Local traditions suggest that Father O’Reilly may also have offered the mass in Pickens County during his lifetime as well. Also associated with Father O’Reilly, and also donated to the parish by the Fergusons, are a brass thurible (for incense) and a golden maniple (which our pastor has worn on occasion for the highest of holy feast days, like Christmas).
Also found in the parish hall is an old engraving of the Holy Family (with our Lady, Saint Joseph, our Lord, and his young cousin, Saint John the Baptist). It is over 250 years old. This print was part of a private collection of beautiful engravings on the life of the Virgin and of our Lord, and this was given to our parish by Andrew and Amy Schmalen, along with three other equally beautiful engravings that are now hanging in the office of our parish (Saint Ann and the Virgin, a Presentation of the Lord, and a Deposition of Christ). Mrs. Schmalen grew up here at OLM, and she and her husband wanted to donate these beautiful, antique prints to become a permanent part of our rich parish patrimony.
And also, finally in the basement, there is a small framed Fairy Cross: Donated by one of our parishioners of Cherokee descent, this rare and beautiful staurolite crystal is the state mineral of Georgia, found in and around this part of North Georgia. There is a story associated with the staurolite crystal, and it is thought by some to be the oldest story in the Cherokee tradition. The Fairy Cross is said to have been formed by the tears of a magical people (like Fairies) who lived a hidden life in the Appalachian Mountains, but who acted as prophetic angels to the indigenous people when they relayed the story of a great king from a faraway land who was rejected and killed by his own people. This is one of the earliest stories of the Christ known by our Native peoples, and these stones (that look like crosses) are part of that charming legend.
- The Agnus Dei Mosaic
- Icon of St. Gregory, the Great
- Icon of St. Ambrose
- The Tepeyac Panel
- Our Five Georgia Martyrs
- Holy Innocents Monument
- Icon of St. Mark
- Icon of Hildegard von Bingen
- Icon of Saint Cecelia
- St. Leander and the Creed
- Isidore and the Internet
- Our Spanish Altarware
- Carving the High Altar
- Catholic Feminism Personified