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St. Michael's Monastery Church (Hudson Korean Presbyterian Church)

Union City, NJ

Chapel of the Passion dome; three altarpieces

St. Paul of the Cross amid Angels; Blessed Gemma in a Domestic Scene; St. Paul of the Cross Preaching; Death of St. Gabriel, 1934

Commissioned by: Maginnis & WalshMedium: fresco (dome); oil on canvas (altarpieces)Executed by: Rambusch (dome); Hildreth Meiere (altarpieces)Nonextant

Study in gouache on tracing paper for chapel dome in style of Tiepolo

Study in gouache on tracing paper for chapel dome in style of Tiepolo

In 1934, Charles Maginnis commissioned Hildreth Meière to design a dome for the Chapel of the Passion, recently built to accommodate the overflow crowds at St. Michael’s Monastery Church dating to the mid-nineteenth century. He asked Meière to design the chapel dome in the style of Venetian artist Giovanni Battista Tiepolo in keeping with the style of the dome in the main sanctuary.1 The subject matter for the chapel dome was to be St. Paul of the Cross and others who had introduced the Passionists to the English-speaking world.

St. Paul of the Cross figure group in gouache on paper showing transfer grid

St. Paul of the Cross figure group in gouache on paper showing transfer grid

When Meière decorated a dome, she typically created to-scale studies, full-scale cartoons, and several to-scale models painted with her design. A scale model in painted plaster allowed Meière to check the perspective. It also showed her how her design would look when interrupted by windows or light fixtures already in place.

Meière superimposed grid lines on both a painted model and on her study in gouache for the Rambusch craftsmen to use when they enlarged and transferred her design to the dome of the Chapel of the Passion.

To-scale model of chapel dome in gouache on plaster showing transfer grid and window placement

To-scale model of chapel dome in gouache on plaster showing transfer grid and window placement

In addition to decorating the dome of the chapel, Meière designed an altarpiece to hang above a marble altar in each of three large niches beneath the dome. The scenes Meière depicted included Blessed Gemma in a Domestic Scene, St. Paul of the Cross Preaching, and the Death of St. Gabriel.

Chapel of the Passion dome showing circular windows enclosed by Meière’s design. Below is her altarpiece with Blessed Gemma in a Domestic Scene. Passionist Historical Archives Collection, McHugh Special Collections, The University of Scranton, Scranton, PA

Chapel of the Passion dome showing circular windows enclosed by Meière’s design. Below is her altarpiece with Blessed Gemma in a Domestic Scene. Passionist Historical Archives Collection, McHugh Special Collections, The University of Scranton, Scranton, PA

Altarpieces with Blessed Gemma (left) and St. Paul of the Cross Preaching (right)

Altarpieces with Blessed Gemma (left) and St. Paul of the Cross Preaching (right)

Altarpiece with St. Paul of the Cross Preaching in process of installation. Passionist Historical Archives Collection, McHugh Special Collections, The University of Scranton, Scranton, PA

Altarpiece with St. Paul of the Cross Preaching in process of installation. Passionist Historical Archives Collection, McHugh Special Collections, The University of Scranton, Scranton, PA

Installed altarpiece with the Death of St. Gabriel

Installed altarpiece with the Death of St. Gabriel

Installed altarpiece with Blessed Gemma in a Domestic Scene

Installed altarpiece with Blessed Gemma in a Domestic Scene

Meière’s to-scale studies for the three altarpieces in gouache on paper convey their once lively colors and suggest the richness of the original chapel decoration:

Blessed Gemma in a Domestic Scene, study in gouache on paper

Blessed Gemma in a Domestic Scene, study in gouache on paper

St. Paul of the Cross Preaching, study in gouache on paper

St. Paul of the Cross Preaching, study in gouache on paper

Death of St. Gabriel, study in gouache on paper

Death of St. Gabriel, study in gouache on paper

A few weeks after Rambusch craftsmen had installed Meière’s designs in the Chapel of the Passion, a fire broke out in the main sanctuary of St. Michael’s Monastery Church. A workman is thought to have left a blowtorch on in the main dome when he went to lunch. The resulting fire, so large that it could be seen from Manhattan, destroyed the interior of the main sanctuary.

St. Michael’s Monastery Church on fire May 31, 1934. Passionist Historical Archives Collection, McHugh Special Collections, The University of Scranton, Scranton, PA

St. Michael’s Monastery Church on fire May 31, 1934. Passionist Historical Archives Collection, McHugh Special Collections, The University of Scranton, Scranton, PA

Meière did not know for a day whether her work in the Chapel of the Passion had been also been destroyed. Incredibly, it survived the fire intact, only to succumb to neglect by 1970.2 The dome has since been painted over; the two side niches where Meière’s altarpieces once hung now contain windows; and the center niche has been covered with fabric.

Because of its architectural importance and its having served the community for over 100 years, in 2014 St. Michael’s (Hudson Korean Presbyterian) Church was added to the list of Preservation New Jersey’s “10 Most Endangered Historic Places in New Jersey.”

1

For a full discussion, see Catherine Coleman Brawer and Kathleen Murphy Skolnik, The Art Deco Murals of Hildreth Meière (New York: Andrea Monfried Editions, 2014): 197-99.

2

Donald G. Presa, “An Architectural Survey of St. Michael’s Monastery Church,” William Paterson College of New Jersey, November 21, 1970. Passionist Historical Archives Collection, McHugh Special Collections, The University of Scranton