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Fordham University Church

Bronx, NY

Altarpiece

Our Lady Mediatrix of All Graces; Saints, 1942

Commissioned by: Maginnis & WalshMedium: oil and gold leaf on wood panelExecuted by: Hildreth MeièreAdditional fabricators: Louis Ross, gilding

Main altarpiece, Fordham University Church

Main altarpiece, Fordham University Church

Hildreth Meière customized the iconography of each of her altarpieces in order to accommodate the wishes of a donor or vestry of a particular church. The most specific iconography she painted was for the main altarpiece of the Fordham University Church during a restoration of the church in 1942. Every figure relates to a specific aspect of the university, beginning with Fordham’s motto Sapientia et Doctrina, for which Meière depicted “holy men and women from East and West who are role models for students in the pursuit of wisdom and learning.”1

Detail showing Our Lady Mediatrix of All Graces and Saints

Detail showing Our Lady Mediatrix of All Graces and Saints

On the nineteen-foot-high center panel, Meière painted Our Lady Mediatrix of All Graces [Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom], patroness of the University Church, enthroned. Surrounding Our Lady are (on the immediate left) St. Joseph, patron of the Universal Church; St. Francis of Assisi, patron of Cardinal Spellman [a 1911 alumnus]; St. Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits; and St. John the Baptist, patron of the University. On the right are St. Genevieve, patroness of benefactress Mrs. Genevieve Brady; St. Isaac Jogues, first saint of New York State; and St. Patrick, patron of the Archdiocese of New York.

The two side panels depict twelve saints associated with distinct areas of university studies:

Top row left: Bernard of Clairvaux (mystical theology), Peter Canisius (German universities), Augustine (systematic theology);

Bottom row left: Robert Bellamine (political philosophy), Basil the Great (literature), Thomas More (law);

Top row right: Gregory the Great (canon law), Columba (Irish scholarship), Thomas Aquinas (philosophy);

Bottom row right: Bede the Venerable (history), Edmund Campion (English universities), and John Chrysostom (rhetoric).

Meière painted full-scale color studies in gouache on paper for four of the six saints on both the the left and right side panels. In her study of four saints on the left side panel, Meière omitted Augustine from the top row right, and Thomas More from the right of the bottom row. In her study of four saints on the right side panel, Meière left out Edmund Campion, whom she later placed between the Venerable Bede and John Chrysostom in the final composition. She also omitted Gregory the Great, who appears on the left of the top row in the finished altarpiece.

Full-scale study for four saints on left side panel in gouache on paper

Full-scale study for four saints on left side panel in gouache on paper

Full-scale study for four saints on right side panel in gouache on paper

Full-scale study for four saints on right side panel in gouache on paper

Meière’s full-scale color studies for the right and left side panels of the main altarpiece, together with her full-scale cartoon for the Holy Family, one of two side altarpieces Meière also executed, are on view in the William D. Walsh Family Library.

Fordham’s main chapel was dedicated on December 19, 1942. At the rededication of the University Church in 2004, Joseph McShane, S.J., President of Fordham, described the importance of Meière’s altarpiece to Fordham’s church. When Cardinal Spellman renovated St. Patrick’s Cathedral in 1942, he gave the cathedral’s high altar to Fordham. “That historic altar, surmounted by the mural of Our Lady, Seat of Wisdom, has remained the focal point of the church since its installation,” explained McShane. Coincidentally, Meière designed the altar frontal for the Lady Chapel at St. Patrick’s Cathedral the same year.

1

All iconographic descriptions of the University Church at Fordham University are taken from The University Church (Bronx, New York: Fordham University, 2010), n p.

Additional Resources

Commission Location

Emblem

Fordham University
Rose Hill Campus
441 East Fordham Road
Bronx, NY 10458

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