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Online Edition - Vol. VI, No. 2: April 2000

Arizona Gothic - St. Joan of Arc in Phoenix

Saint Joan of Arc's "modern Gothic" church combines contemporary construction with classic details

Parishioners at Saint Joan of Arc in Phoenix, Arizona describe the style of their new church as "modern Gothic". A lengthy "virtual tour guide" they've put together explains: "We interpret this to be gothic forms that incorporated contemporary techniques and technology".

The construction techniques used are contemporary, with no interior columns. Instead, the roof is supported by two main beams, weighing 15 tons each, running parallel with the center aisle.

"The interior flying arches", notes the "virtual tour" book, "suggest more traditional forms while avoiding the expense of the gothic support system." The Gothic touches in the structure include ceiling rosettes, a Gothic oak reredos (screen behind the altar), and solid oak gothic-style pews.

The east wing, which includes a family room, restrooms, usher room and vesting sacristy, features seven stained glass windows in the corridor, which had been used in the temporary church the new building replaces.

The vesting sacristy features a massive solid oak vesting cabinet, originally built for Cardinal Strich while he was Archbishop of Milwaukee, and rescued from a church that closed in 1994.

Rescued pieces

Many other of the rescued pieces and elements incorporated into the design of Saint Joan of Arc came from Milwaukee. The solid oak reredos, thirty feet high and sixty wide, was retrieved from Saint Thomas Aquinas Church in Milwaukee, as was the hand-carved back altar depicting two deer drinking from a fountain, a reference to Psalm 42:1 "As a heart longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for thee, O God". The backlit Belgian stained glass window in the center of the reredos, originally installed in Holy Angels Church in Milwaukee, had been in storage since the early 1970s.

One touch you would not have seen in a Gothic cathedral: on either side of the stained glass window, two large projection screens are mounted, hidden by motorized tapestries when not in use.

Drexel altar featured in chapel

Saint Joan of Arc has a unique distinction. Its Blessed Sacrament chapel (separated from the main church by a motorized sliding wall) features the personal altar of Blessed Katherine Drexel, at which she received her vocation while praying.

Upon her canonization on October 10, 2000, the altar, hand-carved of solid walnut and originally in the private chapel in her home, will become a second-class relic and place of pilgrimage.

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