Our Lady of Guadalupe has played an important role in Catholic history and the Catholic faith since 1531, the year she appeared to Juan Diego, a poor Indian from Tepeyac, located near what today is Mexico City. Since then, a number of extraordinary miracles have been attributed to the first disciple.
Our Lady of Guadalupe has also had a significant role in Catholic art; the vast majority of churches display an image of her in a prominent place. And since she is the Diocese of Orange’s patroness – as well as the Patroness of the Americas – it’s no surprise that she will be honored in striking fashion when Christ Cathedral is dedicated July 17, 2019. Her image will remain in the Cathedral for many decades, perhaps centuries into the future.
The artwork, in the form of a grand, brilliantly colored mosaic, will be located on the Cathedral’s south interior wall. “Viewed from behind the altar, it will be located on the far back wall,” says Diocese parishioner Bill Close, who, with his wife, Helen, funded the work.
To describe Bill and Helen Close as generous would be an understatement. Among other projects, they’ve funded some 35 mosaics depicting Our Lady of Guadalupe for “the poorest of the poor parishes” in the Los Angeles Archdiocese, says Bill Close. In addition, the Closes funded two additional mosaics that will be among the many works of sacred art to adorn Christ Cathedral.
“Two floor mosaics will be located in the Narthex [the Cathedral’s entry area],” says Tony Jennison, the Orange Catholic Foundation’s vice president of Philanthropy and a member of the Diocese’s Sacred Arts Commission as well as the Cathedral Construction Advisory Committee. “They’ll depict two coats of arms: one for Pope Francis and one for Bishop Vann.”
When it’s completed, Christ Cathedral’s Our Lady of Guadalupe mosaic will measure 10 feet by 7 feet, Close says. “It’s very large, a lot larger than most. Those [that we funded] for L.A. parishes measure five-and-a-half feet by three-and-three-quarter feet. The Diocese’s mosaic will be roughly the same height as the Cathedral’s south wall.”
Depicting a traditional image of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the mosaic will be composed of more than 55,000 tiles of gold and a vibrant assortment of smalti tile, opaque glass first used in works created during the time of the Byzantine Empire.
“It will be far more colorful than most,” Close says. “With the right lighting or direct sunlight, it will be extraordinary. The gold rays [emanating from Our Lady] will really light up.”
In order to be ready for Christ Cathedral’s July dedication, more than one artisan – from Atelier Lenarduzzi Mosaici, located in Pordenone, Italy – is currently working on the piece. To illustrate the artwork’s meticulous detail, its gold frame alone will take three to four months to finish.
Two candlesticks currently on display in the “Becoming Christ Cathedral” exhibit will be placed on each side of the mosaic, Jennison says. A 22-by-20-inch crown, made of gold leaf rather than mosaic, will adorn Our Lady’s head. “It will be placed on a temporary basis for devotional purposes and for feast days,” Close says. “It’s a very unusual feature.”
The Diocese will be forever grateful for the Close’s generosity.
“Early on in our For Christ Forever campaign, the Closes stepped up and gave a very significant gift for … Our Lady of Guadalupe,” Jennison says. “The Orange Catholic Foundation has worked with Bill since the beginning of the campaign and Cathedral project, and he’s been involved with our Sacred Art Commission.”