Join Me For A Glorious Christmas Concert!

​On Wednesday, November 30th at 7:30 pm, the Choir of St. Stephen Martyr Catholic Church in Washington, DC will hold their first Christmas Concert under music Director and Organist Neil Weston. For more information, read the flyer below or check out the parish web site. I strongly urge you to attend if you can, and even if you cannot, please share this information with anyone whom you think may be interested because, quite frankly, our choir is amazing. Those Christmas CD’s they will be selling after the concert will go very quickly.

As regular readers know, St. Stephen’s is my parish here in the Nation’s Capital, and I have often praised the musical talents of our musicians on social media. In fact, everyone who has joined me for Mass at St. Stephen’s over the years has commented on how superb our music is, and that we are one of the best-kept secrets in Washington. Check out this recording I made of them singing Vivaldi at Mass one Sunday – I think you’ll agree that they sound more like something out of a cathedral rather than a parish church.

Part of this amazing sound has to do with the church itself, a building which will be of interest to those who like Midcentury Modern design. From the outside, St. Stephen’s doesn’t reveal its secrets, except in the magnificent bronze doors depicting scenes from the life of St. Stephen by the great contemporary sculptor Antony Visco of Philadelphia. Upon entering, you are enveloped in walls of French Modernist stained glass from Chartres, and the swooping lines of Mad Men and Connery-era Bond architecture. You can read about the history of the building, including why it was JFK and Jackie’s favorite parish when they were in the White House, by reading the Wikipedia entry.

However even with the great acoustics inside the building, in the end it is the people who make the music. Our musicians at St. Stephen’s are seriously impressive talents, capable of performing a very wide repertoire, from Medieval to Modern, highly popular to relatively unknown works. Director Neil Weston not only has exquisite musical taste, he is also a force to be reckoned with on the organ, as you can hear and see here.

I hope you’ll join me for this evening, and please do share this event with those you know who might be interested in attending. Be sure to come up and say hello, if you spot me at the performance. It is early enough in the season that it will not conflict with anything else on your calendar, and it will help all of us to start the Advent and Christmas season off right!

Classical Color: Take A Virtual Tour Of A 1st Century AD Roman Villa

We often think of the Classical world as a monochromatic place. This is partly because ruins and statues from the ancients have, in many cases, come down to us in shades of white and beige, utterly devoid of color. However the false idea of a neutral historical palette influenced centuries of architects and artists, who mistakenly believed that our ancestors lived in whitewashed surroundings, and reinforced this false impression on the public. This is clearly in evidence here in the Nation’s capital, which has two centuries’ worth of neutral-toned monuments, residences, and official buildings designed in a classically-inspired style.

In fact however, our ancestors loved bright colors, and used them on just about everything, including their own homes. If an Ancient Egyptian or Athenian were to turn on HGTV, and see a house flipper painting the interior and exterior walls of a house in whatever shade of gray Restoration Hardware is currently promoting, they would be appalled. In their day, the use of bold color in the home was an indicator of a person’s wealth and status.

With the passage of time, paint eventually fails, if surfaces are not maintained regularly or protected from the elements. Think of your own home, where in as little as a few years you may notice that the exterior paint color has started to fade. So in order to see just how colorful an ancient home would have been, we have to use a combination of research, technology, and imagination.

For the past 16 years, the Swedish Pompeii Project has been analyzing and recording as much data as possible to virtually recreate a single city block in the city of Pompeii, the Roman town that was buried by a massive eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.  Contained within this block were luxury homes, gardens, and several shops, including a bakery, a tavern, and a laundry. The juxtaposition of these structures may seem odd today, when we typically zone residential and commercial structures into different areas. However if you visit historic neighborhoods here in the U.S., you will often find luxurious, historic homes located in the same block as small businesses.

As part of the Project, researchers from the Swedish Institute in Rome in collaboration with technical wizards at Lund University have been using a combination of hand-held digital scanners, drone photography, and other resources to come up with a virtual recreation of what the buildings in this city block probably looked like at the time Vesuvius blew its top. If you’ve ever watched the HBO series “Rome”, then these buildings will look somewhat familiar to you. For many however, I suspect that the results will be rather surprising.

The first completed recreation that one can virtually visit is the home of a wealthy Pompeian banker by the name of Caecilius Iucundus, a man who was clearly not afraid of color. The walls of Caecilius’ home office, for example, are covered in mythological scenes set against a blood-red background, while his banqueting room (shown below) is painted a bold, mustard yellow. The central courtyard of his house contained a small reflecting pool, which caught the rainwater from the large opening in the timber-framed ceiling above, and the courtyard itself was surrounded by an inlaid floor, as well as walls covered in colorful frescoes of flowers and birds.

As luxurious as this home appears to be, keep in mind when looking around that Caecilius was not a member of the Roman aristocracy. He had to work for a living, and was possibly a self-made man. Thus, this home of a well-to-do banker, which to modern eyes appears to be rather grand, would have been nothing compared to the even more grandiose homes of the upper classes. Those who lived on inherited wealth and the income from their estates employed people like Caecilius to manage their wealth for them. One can only imagine how boldly colored their homes would have been.

More virtual reconstructions from the Swedish Pompeii project are to be forthcoming, including two other luxury homes located on the same block as Caecilius’ villa. Given what we have already seen, we can reasonably assume that these houses will turn out to be brightly colored and decorated as well. (Personally however, I’m more curious to see what a 1st Century AD laundromat would have looked like.)

The (Wearable) Gospel Of John

​I have a bit of shameless electronic nepotism for you today, gentle reader, which I hope you will choose to participate in.

If you watch “The Journey Home” on EWTN, you may have seen the recent episode featuring new media producer Seth Paine, or that featuring his wife, artist Michelle Paine. I first met Seth at the Catholic New Media Conference in Atlanta last year, and at first I was quite astounded by his very High Victorian mustache. I later came to appreciate his good humor in singing karaoke in what turned out to be a rather sketchy part of town, with some rather loud people whom he had never met before. (Well okay, the Barrons, Jennifer Willits, and I were rather loud – others were quieter.

As I’ve come to know Seth better, his humor, his love for his family (and for music), his creativity, and his faith have all impressed me a great deal. Seth understands, and is very good at, using new media as a tool for evangelization. So it’s not surprising that his site is called nuCatholic Media.

Unlike in secular media, I can tell you from first-hand experience that there is often very little in the way of financial support out there for creative Catholics in new media who come up with faith-based outreach projects. That being the case, it’s important to help out content producers like Seth with their efforts. To that end, I’m going to quote him here regarding a t-shirt campaign that he’s come up with, where he shares his inspiration from St. John’s Gospel in a wearable way:  

For his master’s thesis, Seth created the beginning of an interactive documentary called Food for the Journey which is focused on the beauty of the sacraments and their role in the Christian life.  As you know, film equipment isn’t cheap, and Seth’s working to not only finish the Food for the Journey project but also do more video shorts with the kind of production quality that reflects his love of the subject matter.

To raise money and do something creative at the same time, he’s designed the shirts you see featured on this page.  The theme of the design is the Gospel of John, with a word cloud of the terms that most commonly occur in that book of the Bible arranged in the shape of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  So when someone looks at your shirt and wonders why some words are bigger than others, that’s your handy explanation.  We think it looks pretty cool and makes for an awesome conversation starter.

The shirt is available for a limited time only, so be sure to grab one now!  John’s Gospel serves as the inspiration for Seth’s Food for the Journey project, as well as some of the other projects he’s planning to tackle if this campaign goes well.  We’d love your support, and your help getting the message of Christ’s love to a world flooded with counterfeit versions of love- please share this page with anyone you know who might be interested in either this shirt or Seth’s projects!

If you’re interested, head on over to the Gospel of John page on Teespring, where the limited edition Gospel of John shirt is available until October 13th. The shirt comes in several styles and colors, for both men and women. There are also a mug and tote bag featuring the same design, and as Christmas approaches, these would make unique gifts that you can’t just order on Amazon or pick up at Walmart.

Thanks in advance for your support, gentle reader, and please be sure to share this with anyone whom you think may be willing to lend a hand!