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Where heaven meets earth

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In 1871, the Virgin Mary appeared to several children in Pontmain, France, wearing a dark blue dress covered with gold stars. The apparition became known as Our Lady of Hope, and the church in Potomac Falls that bears her name pays homage with a ceiling similarly cloaked in stars. 

Father William P. Saunders, founding pastor, explains in his book, A Labor of Love, that, “during the Middle Ages, vaulted ceilings were often painted (with stars) ... meant to show that at Mass, Heaven touches earth, and that all of the members of the whole Church — in heaven, in purgatory and on earth — are united and worshipping as one.”

Every part of a well-designed church is deliberately planned to bring glory to God

Each deep blue circle within Our Lady of Hope contains a constellation chosen for its Biblical or theological significance, such as Virgo— reminiscent of the Virgin Mary, according to Father Saunders. 

Similarly, the apse at St. Raymond of Peñafort Church in Springfield is painted a powder blue in honor of Mary. According to a parish guidebook, the structural feature “originates in Greek architecture and implies infinity or eternity.”

Later, gold stars of different shapes and sizes as well as a dove descending from the sky were added to the apse. Denis R. McNamara explains in his book, How to Read Churches, that stars, such as the ones at St. Raymond, can appear “large and flower-like, (to reveal) their glorious condition at the end of time.”

He continues, “The word ‘ceiling’ shares it origins with the Latin word ‘caelum’ for heaven or sky, and traditional church buildings often make this relationship explicit. … Look for a ceiling to show stars above the heavenly City of Jerusalem and the beings who join them in glory.”

How does your parish utilize the ceiling, or incorporate heavenly bodies into the décor? Take a photo and let us know at feedback@catholicherald.com or on Twitter @acatholicherald. 

Maraist can be reached at zmaraist@catholicherald.com or on Twitter @zoeymaraist


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016