Art and Architecture: From Ulysses to Ark of Salvation

Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary architecture - Brooklyn NY
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Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church is one of those rare precious pearls of Catholic religious art in the United States.

When one enters, the first impression is of a harmonious, splendid beauty that transcends the normal intellectual capacity and reminds us of something that goes above and beyond. It brings us into the presence of a supernatural reality, a hidden meaning that we will try to penetrate even though it will be impossible to reach in its abyssal depth.

At first glance, a stupendous ceiling attracts us with a primary arch in a shape of a ship’s keel covered in massive centenary wood resplendent of its age. The impression one receives is that of navigating not in normal waters but in very deep celestial waters. Indeed, the Church is found in the very old port area of Brooklyn built by those who were experts of the sea, the Irish and the Italians, who followed Columbus’ lead and also went to discover America.

When they arrived here, they saw their freedom at the horizon of their problems, represented by the Statue of Liberty, the largest statue in the world. They stopped here to live on this promontory that because of its shape (land reaching out onto the water) and the red color of the soil was named “Red Hook.” Here the port, with its numerous activities, procured a living necessary to the lives of entire families that had been attracted by the dream of the county of opportunity. They had brought with them all that they held precious and above all, their experience of God. They had traveled through many difficult experiences yearning for a deep peace. They finally crossed another sea still unknown to the most experienced seaman as Ulysses, the sea of eternity.

An Italian poet of the same period, one of the greatest, Giacomo Leopardi, a few years before this keel was built, had spoken about this sea that carries us to eternal life: “It is sweet to me to be submerged in this sea.” Our friends thought of this church also in these terms. They envisioned it as a majestic passenger ship that would carry them to a profounder and purer azure sea than the real one, to the azure of heaven, where the journey would carry them to certain salvation.

If you wish to join us on this voyage, you are welcome to join us aboard Visitation, the ark that was built for salvation, in order not to drown in the dangerous and turbulent waters of sin and death.

From the upside down keel of the ship pointing toward the sky, our gaze moves to the bow of the Visitation ship. There, we observe the two side paintings. On the left, we have Noah’s ark with the Thanksgiving sacrifice for having been saved from the deluge. To the right, the sacrifice offered by the priest, Melchizedek, King of Salem, who celebrates Abraham’s victory on four kings by offering bread and wine (cfr. Gen. 14:13-20). The direction in which the ship is going, the bow is directed with certainty by two tracks, salvation and victory.

Those who come to Visitation need to be aware that these two tracks are the direction of the entire journey of those who are staying in this ark of Visitation. Noah and Melchizedek represent the fact that salvation and victory are offered to all; also to those who are not part of the elected people of Israel. At the center of the bow between the two tracks of salvation and victory, we find the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on Calvary that gives the whole direction of the story of salvation. It is, in fact, in the “boat” of His body that we find salvation, and He is the one who gives the victory of the Resurrection to all humanity’s story.