Friday, April 23, 2010

Capilla and Catedral

I’ve been doing some research into things that existed in the modern Cathedral of St Augustine before the fire in 1887 and the remodeling of 1965.
chapel003 I've been trying to identify various features of the main altar and the side altars and I happened to notice something interesting today on a trip to visit the Fort, the Castillo de San Marcos. If you look at the photo above (from the Florida Memory Project), you will see that there is a sort of painted backdrop that served as an altar piece behind the main altar of the Cathedral. This photo was probably taken shortly after the Civil War. We know that it was taken before the fire in 1887, at least, and there are some other photographs that seem to show some odd 19th century additions probably made in the years just before the fire, so I think this is the earliest.
I suspect that this is the original 18th-century painted backdrop for the altar or at any rate is very close to the original. As we know, the Cathedral was built as the main parish church in 1797. It was designed mostly by a military engineer named Mariano de la Roque, who had been brought to St. Augustine to work on the fort, the Castillo de San Marcos.
chapel002 Notice the painted columns and urns at the top of the "altarpiece." Now take a look at the doorway to the chapel at the Castillo. This was also designed by Mariano de la Roque. 
It looks to me as if he or a later architect responsible for artistic design at the parish church (now the Cathedral) based the design of the altarpiece on the design of the doorway by Mariano de la Roque.  We know that he left St Augustine before the building was finished, so it is possible that this was done by his successor; or it is possible that it was part of his original design and was simply executed later, when the Cathedral was built. While it was formally dedicated in 1797, reports at the time indicate that it was not entirely complete, although I am not sure what was lacking.
In any case, I thought this would be an interesting view of Spanish New World neoclassical architecture and design.  Needless to say, the modern altarpiece looks nothing like this.