The Annunciation on Capitol Hill

No, this is not a report on a political candidate announcing their intent to run for President. Rather, just a brief post this morning to share what a beautiful evening it was last night at Holy Comforter and St. Cyprian Parish on Capitol Hill. For those who have never visited, do make a point to drop in sometime, as it’s quite an interesting, vibrantly decorated building.

To commemorate THE Annunciation, i.e. when the Angel Gabriel was sent to that little village called Nazareth as described in the beginning of St. Luke’s Gospel, the parish celebrated Mass in the Extraordinary Form, featuring music by late 16th/early 17th century composer Hans Hassler.

Rather than do a play by play review, I thought I would share an audio file of the parish schola singing the “Sanctus”. Even without being at full strength last evening, they did a splendid job of bringing peace and a reflective mood to the celebration. Amazing that less than a year ago, they were singing Dan Schutte claptrap.

With a very good experience at Confession with Monsignor Pope beforehand, and dinner at a nearby tavern with some clergy friends afterward (thanks to the unknown individual who bought us dinner!) it was a wonderful Wednesday, and a good pause before heading into the intensity of Holy Week.

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Window at Holy Comforter and St. Cyprian, Capitol Hill

Seven Wonders: DC’s Beautiful Interior Spaces

In reading this excellent piece by my friend Justin Shubow yesterday in Forbes, which I urge you to bookmark and go read for yourself – after you finish reading this post of course – I was struck by a rather curious observation.  It seems the American Institute of Architects considers the West Building of the National Gallery here in Washington to be some sort of failure, aesthetically speaking. Given what the AIA considers to be a “successful” building, I suppose this is a bit like asking one of the Kardashians what it means to dress (or behave) like a lady, but there you are.

I decided to share with my readers some of the interior spaces here in Washington which I find to be beautiful and inspiring. Some of them are very grand; others simply have a line or curve to them that I find appealing.  Some will be familiar to you; others may not be familiar even to people who have lived in DC for a long time. So here they are, in no particular order.

Rotunda, The National Gallery of Art West Building

National Gallery

Despite the criticism of the AIA – they of bad taste and huckster values – this really is one of the most lovely spots in DC. It’s always been a terrific place to meet people, thanks to the large upholstered benches that surround the fountain, as well as the waiting areas off the Mall entrance, This is a refreshing and rejuvenating spot to come any time of year, whether in the blazing heat of summer or the frigid winds of winter, to just sit and enjoy the symmetry, the sound of water, and the interesting people. What’s more, it works so well as an architectural intersection, with staircases and hallways radiating off of it, that it never feels crowded, even though at any time there may be 100 people passing through it.

Main Staircase, The Army and Navy Club

Army Navy Club

There are grander staircases in DC, but something about the staircase at the Army and Navy Club on Farragut Square just appeals to me. It may be the combination of width and rise, or it may be the color scheme and the landings, but this feature of the club’s interior is something you will enjoy climbing, if you are ever fortunate enough to be invited there.

Music Room, Dumbarton Oaks

DOaks Music Room

Most of the decoration of this room, for which both Stravinsky and Shostakovitch composed chamber pieces, was taken from other places: the fireplace stripped from a château from France, the ceiling copied from a villa in Italy, etc. And yet the combination of antiques, low lighting, and north-facing windows gives a quiet, timeless quality to this room, which would feel just as much at home in a city like Madrid or Vienna. as it does in Washington.

Interior, Holy Rosary Church

Holy Rosary

Traveling to or from Union Station, you’ve probably passed Holy Rosary many times, perched precariously over the soon-to-be covered over stretch of North Capitol Street and 395.  What you probably did not know is that this last remnant of the old Italian immigrant neighborhood in downtown Washington is an absolute jewel of a building, beautifully proportioned and magnificently decorated in white and pastel shades of marble on the inside, like an Italian wedding cake.

Atrium, The National Building Museum

Building Museum

Because of height restrictions, as a general rule DC does scale best. This is an imperial city, not a fortified one. Architects over the years have found ways to impress by emphasizing the vastness of the spaces here, rather than emphasizing how tall a structure is (think Union Station, for example.) However this is one of those rare exceptions: a massive barn of a building, with the height to match. The central columns supporting the roof, which stand 75 feet tall and are 8 feet in diameter, would make a Byzantine Emperor proud.

Main Reading Room, Library of Congress (Jefferson Building)

Reading Room

If you’ve been here, no explanation is necessary. If you haven’t, no explanation is possible. This is the most beautiful library in the world.

Lobby, Omni Shoreham Hotel

wassho-omni-shoreham-hotel-lobby-1

There are grander, more luxurious hotels in DC, and more historic ones as well. Yet this one, which opened in 1930 and features an interesting mix of American Art Deco and Mediterranean Renaissance styles, has a lobby which has always appealed to me.  Perhaps because despite its vast spaces and broad arches, there is something human in scale about the place, which makes it feel very comfortable and civilized.  The cluster of seating areas in the lobby, the finishes, the bright but cheerful lighting, all make this a wonderful place to sit and people watch.

Obviously there are many other great spaces in the Capital and I have not attempted to name them all. What are some of your favorites? Share them with me and your fellow readers in the comments!

Three Quick Reminders

1. Today is the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Foster-Father of Jesus. Because it’s a Solemnity, if this was a Friday, my fellow Catholics would be allowed to eat meat. Moreover, if you gave up something for Lent, such as candy, then you’re allowed to have it today, because Solemnities – like Sundays – are not considered to be part of Lent. (We get another one next Wednesday, the Solemnity of the Annunciation.) Of course, most people are probably going to stick to their “give-ups” but there you are.

If I was in Barcelona, today would be a day for eating “canelons de festa” or “feast day cannelloni”.  However, since Catalan-style cannelloni has not really made it big over here yet, and I don’t have the inclination to make canelons myself, I’ll have to come up with something else. Knowing that it’s more likely for the majority of my readers to understand Spanish rather than Catalan, here’s a video in Spanish giving you a quick overview of how to make this superb pasta dish.

2. Today is also your chance to pop along to the Catholic Information Center, should you happen to find yourself in the Nation’s Capital, and hear Randy Boyagoda discussing his new book, “Richard John Neuhaus – A Life in the Public Square”, about the great conservative thinker, writer, and founder of “First Things”. The CIC is located on K Street between 15th and 16th, close to the White House as well as McPherson and Farragut Squares, so very easy to get to. Hope to see many of my DC readers there as, Catholic or not, Father Neuhaus was a hugely important influence on the public life of this country – among those who read and think about things, anyway – for many years.

3. As you make your weekend plans, don’t forget that Saturday night Passiontide with the Dominican Friars will take place at St. Dominic’s Church, located close to the L’Enfant Plaza Metro. I assure you that the magnificence of said church more than makes up for the horror that is starchitect I.M. Pei’s senseless destruction of the neighborhood around it. The evening should be absolutely beautiful, as will the Spring weather – mostly sunny and 63 degrees for the high on Saturday – so no excuses for sitting at home.

Canelons