The Tabernacle Shrine
The Tabernacle Shrine for the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
18th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Dates of Construction
January 07, 2007 to February 27, 2007
Summary Description of Project
Our Firm was commissioned by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, under the direction of Cardinal Justin Rigali, to design, fabricate and build the Blessed Sacrament Shrine and Blessed Sacrament Tabernacle under the existing Baldachino in the main high altar area in the Cathedral sanctuary. The intention of this project was to re-locate the new tabernacle and Blessed Sacrament from a side existing altar to a new location centered in the main Cathedral Basilica.
The design intention is to show the end result (the new tabernacle) as if it was always intended and designed for the new location. When designing and building we had to use materials that would match existing, as well as matching architecturally design within a building that was over 140 years old. The result is something that was more than expected–matching both materials and designs of a beautiful Romanesque structure that was first built in 1864.
In designing such a piece, we understood that we had to create something that was intended to always be there. The design was something that needed to fit architecturally and yet historically preserve what was built over 140 years ago.
The challenges of designing such a piece when you have other architectural elements like stained glass windows, marble columns, bronze and mosaic Baldachino, is that you have to choose materials and sizes so as to complement the other pieces that exist. The first phase of design called for something that was 18 feet larger than the existing item. Concern for heights existed and a full sized, adjustable model, done out of wood, was created so as to show to the client various heights and dimensions. This particular wood model was constructed on site and adjusted so the client could get a feel for the different heights of the backdrop and its relation to the other elements and architectural artwork that existed. The result was to reduce three feet shorter distance, but the exercise was one that was very important and very needed. It gave the actual height of what you see today and provided the view of the beautiful stained glass window in the ambulatory area.
The second challenge was to match marble from quarries that was fabricated over fifty years ago. The Baldachino and ambulatory were added to the existing Cathedral back in 1953. These marbles were quarried over fifty years and were fabricated to the existing site as shown. Our firm not only matched these marbles, but fabricated the exact type of shapes, including pilasters, mosaic panels and the graining and coloration for some marbles which are no longer quarried.
The last and most difficult challenge was to construct all of these particular elements with total weight of over eight ton and fabricate this over stairs that lead to the crypt in which the former Cardinals and Bishops are buried (See Photo E). As per the pictures, this step area had to maintain certain height for future burial processions into the crypt (See Photo F). Constructing such a heavy piece over stairs required exceptional engineering and structural support, while at the same time, maintaining and not losing anything architecturally and keeping the designs with the same intent of “always being there” (See Photo G).
Another minor challenge to this particular project was the candlesticks that adorn the new tabernacle. The client had one pair (two pieces) of candlesticks that he wanted to use for the overall design, and yet the client wanted a total of six pieces to be displayed and used for
adoration. By using the lost wax process, our firm made a mold of one of the two existing candlesticks. From this mold, two other pair (four total) were casted so as to match all of the candlesticks accordingly. The result was six beautifully constructed, brand new candlesticks made out of bronze with gold finish (See Photo H). A second minor challenge was to adorn the existing ivory crucifix which is suspended in the white gold mosaic niche. The challenge was to create a material behind this crucifix that did it justice but provided a
material that did not deflect or diminish the beauty of the crucifix or the new tabernacle. Our firm designed a white gold Venetian mosaic in a satin finish that enabled the luminosity of light and the beauty of mosaic but did not reflect any bright light. The end result complemented and augmented the beauty and uniqueness of the shrine. The materials of Botticino marble, the combination of white and yellow gold mosaic, the bronze gold-finished candlesticks, and the gold finished tabernacle were elements difficult to combine and yet, our firm used them accordingly and properly.