The Incarnation Reredos & High Altar Assembly
Designed by Ralph Adams Cram & sculpted by Ernest G. Pellegrini, 1925
This high altar and reredos assembly, installed in 1925, was donated by the Rev’d Canon Miles Standish Hemenway of this Cathedral. When it was completed, art critics referred to the deeply carved wooden reredos as the most important piece of woodcarving in North America at that time. Indeed, it was considered so significant that it was accorded its own special exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston in the autumn of 1925.
While Cram based his design for the reredos and high altar on that of Winchester Cathedral in England, Pellegrini used another source of inspiration for his articulation of Cram’s plans: the Cathedral of Santa Maria de la Sede in Seville, Spain. Cram’s scheme emphasizes monumental statuary, but Pellegrini’s interpretation is principally narrative. It is made entirely of varnished oak and is comprised of seven principal panels.
Four are deeply incised basrelief tableaux, representing the Annunciation (upper right), the Visitation (upper left), the Nativity (middle left), and the Adoration of the Magi (middle right). Across the bottom of the Reredos are three more moderately incised panels representing, from left to right, St John, kneeling in worship and speaking the words “In the beginning was the WORD and the WORD was made flesh” (John 1:1 & 14), a quadripartite panel showing the animorphic symbols of the four evangelists, with St. Luke’s winged ox on the lower left, and our patron St.Luke himself, also prayerful and uttering the phrase, “she brought forth her first born son and laid him in a manger” (Luke 2:7).