In collaboration with renowned liturgical Architect Jim O’Brien, our team dismantled, restored, designed, fabricated, and installed highly-detailed and historically-sensitive liturgical furnishings for Saint Paul of the Cross. This Passionist Monastery stands on a hilltop overlooking the Southside of Pittsburgh, PA, and is named for the founder of the Passionists, Saint Paul of the Cross.
The cornerstone of this historic monastery was laid on August 7, 1853, and two years later, Father Gaudentius Rossi preached the first Passionist retreat in the New World. For this project, our team contributed liturgical artistry and expertise to restoring this historic church’s elaborate statuary and marble work.
The new marble furnishings were designed by Architect Jim O’Brien who did a wonderful job with scale and styling. The classic Roman Corinthian style complements the original interior styling of the church, with new furnishings designed to look original to the church, which was not an easy task.
The tabernacle surround wall is very unique, this wall rises 28 feet tall, and is 2 feet deep, and over 11 feet wide. This creates a very tall, slender element, all clad in monumental stone. The tabernacle’s elegant and slender vertical element required a tremendous amount of engineering and highly-detailed shop drawings to precisely define all the alignments and assemblies. This wall fits within a very confined space in relation to the ceiling and the adjacent existing columns, which meant our material handling, scaffold and rigging design had to be very well-planned. The fragile stone pieces being handled included hand carved column capitals and the monumental cornice ridge, with some pieces weighing over a ton.
The core is a steel reinforced CMU masonry, which we designed and installed to integrate seamlessly with the various veneer and solid elements of the marble cladding. This wall fits just under the barrel vault plaster ceiling, so the rigging systems and shoring scaffold required were very challenging to erect and dismantle in this small, confined space.
The work we performed on this unique tabernacle wall element also included its brass tabernacle box and extraordinary Corpus statue, a reproduction of a historic piece by the acclaimed 16th century Italian stone carver Pietro Tacca. In this extraordinary eccesiastical sculpture, the arms are not dowelled. To sculpt a figure with outreached arms from one solid piece of Statuario Michelangelo speaks to the level of craftsmanship and coordination our Italian master stone carver brings to the work. To carve, ship, and install this fine art piece without any damage was a major accomplishment.
The church’s new Altar of Sacrifice is richly detailed with miniature columns, capitals, Roman arches, mensa cornice dentils, and inlay of the Passionist priest emblem. The combination of Carrara C, Arabescato, and Rosso Francia marbles creates a wonderful assembly of subtle and bold colors with hand-carved detail.
The Ambo shares the same level of detail and color as the altar of sacrifice, with the addition of a beautiful bible rest with a burgundy leather inlay. It took a great deal of coordination to inlay micro cables and create an Ambo which was ergonomically comfortable for the celebrant priests.
We created new side shrines for the church’s St. Joseph and St. Mary figures, cleaning and relocating the statues to their new homes. Similar to the tabernacle, they have a core of reinforced CMU to hold the slender statue pedestal and upright statue backdrop in a safe vertical position. Rugo relocated the St. Mary and St. Joseph statues, originally positioned 20 feet off the floor on cantilevered wall mounted pedestals, and relocated them to the new side shrines. Rugo performed all the deep cleaning and patching of these antique statues prior to installing them on their new pedestals at each side Shrine. With the side shrines capped with a single solid piece of Bianco Carrara C, great skill in rigging and installation was required for all this work.
For a new center aisle decorative paving plan, we worked closely with the architect to help select a design and marble colors. This material compliments the new furnishings and the old Tennessee marble nave flooring from the 1850s. The floor was completely fabricated in our Virginia marble studio, and features a very precise starburst, with custom-made polished brass star points. Extensive field measuring and finished floor grade alignments were required to make this new aisle paving meet various existing floor conditions.
Of special interest to this renovation were the statues and shrines to two Italian Catholic saints, St. Gemma and St. Maria Goretti.
Sculpted in Italy, the statue of St. Maria Goretti, the youngest canonized saint in the Catholic church, was modeled on the one at her shrine in her hometown of Corinaldo, Italy. Our skilled team traveled to the chapel where a wood statue of her is displayed with a raised, outreached right arm. There we created a digital 3D scan of the wood sculpture, which was used to enlarge the statue for the St Paul of the Cross shrine niche. From that we created a clay model to capture the emotion in her face as she resisted her attacker. This masterful marble statue was then carved from a single block of stone and successfully installed in St Paul of the Cross. This is another example where our team was able to create complex, historically-accurate marble statuary.
The statue of St. Gemma offers consolation to the faithful who are worried and suffering. We were supplied limited old photos of St. Gemma, and from these photos our sculptor created a clay model at one-third scale, working closely with the architect to refine the final clay model design. We then used this model to carve the 5 foot marble statue in Statuario Michelangelo marble. The completed sculpture is a great example of fine marble statuary art, and Saint Paul of the Cross’s likeness will serve as a shrine of healing and forgiveness to future generations of churchgoers.
In the end, the Rector, Father Justin Kerber, and the project’s architect, Jim O’Brien, were pleased with the project. We were honored for the opportunity to help Saint Paul of the Cross continue to thrive as a vital force in the community.
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Owner: Saint Paul of the Cross Monastery
Architect: O’Brien & Keane Architects
Services: Engineering and restoring the tabernacle wall element, new sacrificial altar, ambo, side shrines and center aisle, patterned marble paving, and the restoration and relocation of statuary.