“I am the vine; you are the branches.”

The sanctuary fresco, photo by Noah Vaughan from www.johnamallin.com

In today’s Gospel, Jesus urges us to remain “in him,” united to him like branches to a vine. The vibrant fresco in the sanctuary reminds us of this teaching: five vine-like trees grow up the walls, curving and intertwining, bearing leaves, flowers, and the motto, “God with us.” A glowing gold background makes the colors seem to float away from the wall. You can lose yourself in the decoration, allowing the gaze to follow the curves and to rest on the symbols. The building contains other vine-like decorations as well, such as on the walls that flank the sanctuary and in the stained glass.

This art, along with the arch fresco and the Gospel writers, is most likely the work of John A. Mallin, who decorated hundreds of buildings in the Chicago area in the mid-20th century. The style imitates art found in illuminated manuscripts of the late Middle Ages, such as this one from the 1400’s: a curving vine grows up the margin of the page, partially crossing the gold background of a capital letter. A “Google image” search on “illuminated manuscripts” will turn up many more examples.

Leaf from a Gradual: Initial P with the Nativity; 1495; ink, tempera and gold on vellum; each leaf: 59.8 x 4.1 cm; Cleveland Museum of Art. The page bears verses from one of the “messianic prophecies” in Isaiah: “a child (puer, with the large capital P) has been born for us, a son has been given to us.”

As Father Mens reminded us in his homily, remaining one with Jesus and his teachings in all we do is the heart of the Christian life, as we pass through daily decisions and struggles. Contemplating this fresco, each time we come to worship, can help us to remember.

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