History & Architecture

The Wright Memorial Rose Window array:

The Ascension, attributed to the Whitefriars Glass Co., installed 1898

Augustus Ryker Wright  (1843-1900) is remembered in Portland principally as the founder of the A.R. Wright Company, which was familiar in Cumberland County a century ago as a supplier of coal, coke, and stovewood for domestic, commercial, and industrial customers. Coal was, however, just a sideline for Wright. He was, in reality, one of the foremost American marine excavation engineers in the latter 19th century, designing and conducting dredging operations for harbors from the Chesapeake Bay to Quebec City. A native of Geneva, NY, at the northwest end of Seneca Lake, he trained as a mining engineer in Colorado. Afterward, he located his base for dredging operations in Portland, approximately but conveniently halfway between most of his job locations on the northeast coast of the United States and Canada. He died suddenly in 1900, aged 55, and is buried in the family plot in Geneva.

Manufacture of this stupendous rose window array has been attributed to the renowned Whitefriars Glass Company of London, England. The original designs for the cathedral provided for a window of this exact layout, with a heavy stone frame that was then perhaps thought to be more consistent with an archaic early gothic aesthetic. In doing so, however, the weight of the array was vastly multiplied, and this contributes tot he present day problems with the eastern wall.

None of this detracts from the overall effect of the array, especially the vivid Pre-Raphaelite inspired central design, however. The central, Pre-Rahaelite inspired figure is particularly striking. Yet if one closely examines this set of thirty-seven windows (twenty-four  “pin-holes” several inches across, twelve cruciform rosettes, and the central window) with binoculars, one detects the hands of three, perhaps even four, distinct artists involved in the modeling of all the figures. The lower twelve pinhole windows contain the names of the eleven disciples attendant at the Ascension, while the upper twelve contain white stars set in a red field. The lower seven rosettes, likewise, display those same disciples, in pairs and singly. The top five rosettes show angels, three with a crown of Heaven, an orbus cruciger, and a cruciform scepter of omnipotence, while two more hold scrolls with an abbreviated version of Acts 1:11: “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? / This same Jesus shall so come again in like manner”. The central figure is a splendid visual triple-entendre, showing Christ as much as that described in the book of the [Revelation 1:7] and the Transfiguration [Luke 9:29], as of the Ascension in Galilee… the transcendent and glowing yet incarnate King of Heaven, “with clouds descending”. [Charles Wesley, 1758]

The “Cenotaph of Bishop Neely of Maine”

Sculpted by Bela Lyon Pratt, 1905

In May of 1903, the Rt. Rev’d Robert Codman (1859- 1915), third bishop of Maine, personally engaged Bela Lyon Pratt (1867-1917) at his studio in Boston to create a magnificent marble cenotaph for his predecessor, Dr. Henry Adams Neely, DD, 1830-1899. (A cenotaph is described by the Oxford English Dictionary as “an empty tomb; a sepulchral monument erected in honour [sic] of a deceased person whose body is elsewhere”.) Neely, who cultivated a reputation for gravity of character and dedication to mission all his life, had overseen the erection and consecration of St. Luke’s Cathedral, 1866-1877, and acted as its generally respected and well-loved rector until his death. His remains repose under granite in Portland’s Evergreen Cemetary.

Pratt was already, by the turn of the 20th century, one of the most celebrated American sculptors of his time. His seminal works, the Geniuses of Navigation and Discovery, had been introduced at the extravagant and now legendary 1893 Chicago World’s “Columbia Exposition”. Pratt’s extensive oeuvre of public art includes the well-known monumental bronze representations of Science and Art (1911) in front of the Boston Public Library. Perhaps his most famous creation is the statue of Captain Nathan Hale (1913), which was reproduced so often during his lifetime and shortly thereafter that the US Postal Service created a stamp commemorating it. He also designed coinage for the US mint, including the famous “Indian Head Half-Eagle” gold coin (1908), and a great deal of decorative statuary for private homes. The Library of Congress in Washington D.C. is graced with many of his masterpieces. He dies too soon, however at the age of 49.

Neely’s memorial, like the Emmanuel Chapel at the rear of the cathedral, was created at Codman’s own expense. The effigy cost $4150.00 in 1904 or about $94,500.00 in 2012 US dollars. Robert could afford it. The Codmans were a venerable and wealthy Boston “Brahmin” merchant family, and his own father had been a prominent attorney. Codman followed the creation of Neely’s memorial closely, visiting Boston often to examine its progress and even supplying Pratt with some of the second bishop’s old robes so that the statue’s drapery could be realistically and intricately modeled. Bishop Neely of Maine is one of Pratt’s least know but most serene and elegant works.

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).

Amid all the intricate filigree and ornaments there are also sixteen figures of historical saints, doctors, and bishops of the church, including, just above the high altar, four remarkably faithful and sensitive portraits of the first four bishops of Maine: from left, George Burgess, Henry Adams Neely, Robert Codman and Benjamin Brewster.

Presiding over all, however, is the central, stunning, near -life size representation of Mary, the Mother of Christ, known as Our Lady of Portland. This is a very Anglican and contemporary representation of Mary, meant to compliment John LaFarge’s American Madonna (in the Emmanuel Chapel, below) at the opposite end of the approximately 170 foot (51.866 meter) axis which runs down the center aisle of the cathedral. Pellegrini’s image of her shows us a very young woman. in private, with her head uncovered and bowed, overwhelmed in the contemplation of the role she has chosen to accept. her face conveys a degree of careworn stress that someone so young should not yet have experienced- a thoroughly contemporary yet compassionate image of global womanhood.

Notes composed by Charles P.M. Outwin, PhD, Cathedral Historian. MMXIII

The Emmanuel Chapel

Designed by Stephen Russell Hurd Codman, 1904, manufactured by William F. Ross & Company and embellished with art works by John LeFarge, Edmund Charles Tarbell, Philip Leslie Hale, and Johannes Kirchmayer.

As it presently exists, the Codman Memorial, popularly known as the Emmanuel Chapel, could function as an independent church, complete with its own built-in organ and sacristy. Its deceptively compact, elegant design is in fact completely unique in the annals of church architecture, distinguished not so much by its fundamental basis on early French Gothic models, but because of its expense and the number of world-class artists who participated in its creation.

The chapel is dedicated principally to the memory of the Reverend Archibald Codman. It was commissioned by his brother, the Rt. Rev’d Robert Codman, 3rd Bishop of Maine. Its design was provided by a well-known Boston architect, Stephen Russell Hurd Codman (1867-1944) who was another brother. The Codman family, wealthy Boston Brahmins, were notable art patrons, and the artists who worked on this chapel were all intimates of the family, and members of the “Boston Bohemian” set at the turn of the 20th century. The chapel dome is made of heavily carved and gilded mahogany, teak, and oak.

The chapel design and decoration reflects the ethos of the British Arts and Crafts movements, as well as emergent Edwardian Art Nouveau and Impressionist tastes. American Madonna, by John LeFarge, dominates the entire space from behind the altar. This Mary is more experienced than Pellegrini’s at the other end of the cathedral; she is here seen guiding and protecting her Son’s brave early foray in blessing.

As senior artist on the project, LeFarge’s work sets the tone for the other contributions. Six Impressionistic paintings of herald angels, by Philip Leslie Hale, flank the altar. Their glowing colors, and those of the carved angels that frame them are created by ground gemstones, a revived Renaissance practice. The wooden angels were designed by Edmund Charles Tarbell, and carved by Johannes Kirchmayer, who supervised all the woodwork seen here. Kirchmayer was lead sculptor for William F. Ross & Co. of East Cambridge, MA, who prefabricated the whole chapel. Ross’ products are found worldwide.