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Many Tiles, One Message: Carthagena’s St. Charles Center holds historic Art Treasure

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by Matt Hess

Many passersby notice the blue-domed St. Charles Center on US 127, although few cave to their curiosity and enter to see its beautiful chapel. Now a private residence for seniors and priests, this former seminary has a mosaic in its Assumption Chapel that continues to preach Precious Blood spirituality to those who visit it.

The Missionaries of the Precious Blood founded St. Charles Seminary in Carthagena in 1861, and with the seminary’s expansion the chapel was built in 1906. The vaulted ceilings and graceful arches still draw one’s thoughts up to heaven – as does the music, which fills that vastness from the chapel’s commanding Holtkamp organ with its 1,600 pipes.

In this expanse of space, the eye is drawn to the focal point on the back wall of the chapel. This mosaic, in glittering gold and red tones, is a unique feature of the chapel which cannot be found anywhere else in the Land of the Cross- Tipped Churches.

The mosaic was the joint effort of Father Aloys Dirksen, C.PP.S., and a German artist as a way of bringing to life Precious Blood themes in the Letter to the Hebrews. Installed as part of the renovation of the chapel to celebrate the centennial of the seminary in 1961, this mosaic was crafted in Germany in sheets so that it could be shipped to America. Its cost less than $20,000 at the time, but even then it was a priceless piece of art to those who prayed before it. Workers applied fresh adhesive to the apse wall and applied the shimmering tiles sheet by sheet.

Father Paul Wohlwend, C.PP.S., a resident of St. Charles and tour guide for those visiting the chapel said, “The mosaic symbolizes God’s love for us in sending His only begotten Son who shed His Blood for all mankind.” The many figures depicted in the mosaic illustrate this theme.

In the center is Christ, supported by the powerful hand of the Father and in the presence of the Holy Spirit. His Precious Blood falls from His hands and side, representing the covenant sealed in the Blood of Jesus connecting heaven and earth; uniting all of us as God’s children. Around Christ are angel wings and trumpets, which symbolize angels praising God for gloriously reconciling Himself to humanity. The gold tiles, which sparkle throughout, are a vivid image of God’s glory and the beauty of the heavenly Jerusalem.

There are several images that remind the faithful of how God reached out to His people in the Old Testament. Mount Sinai is near the bottom of the mosaic surrounded by flames, which represent God’s presence in giving Moses the Ten Commandments. These commandments, represented by their numbers, are arranged in the mosaic with the three commandments that concern love of God on the left and the seven that concern love of others on the right. Father Wohlwend said, “This is a reminder that we must love God in return. ‘If you love me, keep my commandments.’”

The final images in the mosaic prefigure the sacrifice and priesthood of Jesus from two episodes in the Book of Genesis. On the left, the priest Melchisedech offers bread and wine as a sacrifice to God. Opposite is a depiction of an angel stopping Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac by directing him toward a ram instead of his son. Both of these sacrifices are superseded by Christ, who offers His own Blood and is thus the centerpiece of the mosaic.

For the seminarians of the past and for us now, this beautiful piece of historic art is both a call to reflect on the beauty of our faith, and a lesson in the saving power of Christ’s Blood. It is a reminder that we are called to love just as selflessly as He did. Reconciled with the Lord, we hope to experience the words from the Letter to the Hebrews quoted in the mosaic:

“You are come to Mount Sion To the city of the living God The heavenly Jerusalem And to the company of many thousands of Angels.”

This article appeared in the February 2021 edition of The Catholic Telegraph Magazine. For your complimentary subscription, click here.

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