“If Mary was the aura preceding the Diving Sun, Joseph was the horizon illuminated by its splendors.”
— St. Leonard of Port Maurice, an 18th-century Franciscan priest
The protector of the Holy Family will radiate welcome and reassurance to people entering or passing by the renewed Cathedral of St. Joseph.
A nearly life-size bronze relief of the Cathedral’s patron saint, holding a staff and a ship, will adorn the triangle-shaped tympanum between the columns and the roof over the entrance.
“The ship is a symbol of Joseph’s role as protector of the Universal Church,” said Bill Heyer, architectural consultant for the renovation of the Cathedral.
The tympanum will be cast in Italy and shipped to Jefferson City with the new bronze doors that are being created there.
The 54-year-old Cathedral is being extensively renovated, expanded and renewed, replacing the building’s failing systems while enhancing its beauty, functionality, capacity for hospitality and conduciveness to uniquely Catholic worship.
Bishop W. Shawn McKnight has set May 5 for the building’s rededication.
Mr. Heyer worked on designs for the tympanum with Gwyneth Thompson-Briggs, who recently painted the murals for the Cathedral baptistery.
Bishop McKnight selected symbols for the tympanum to represent specific titles from the Litany of St. Joseph.
Surrounding the central figure will be medallions depicting a sword overpowering a snake, symbolizing Joseph as the terror of demons; a shield marked with an M, pointing to him as spouse of the Mother of God; a voyager carrying a staff, recalling his role as protector of exiles and migrants; and carpentry tools, designating him as a model for workers.
Lilies symbolize Joseph’s obedient chastity.
For the main image, Mr. Heyer and Mrs. Thompson-Briggs discussed how best to depict the saint’s posture and expression.
“We settled on St. Joseph as a patriarch — possessing that sort of noble bearing that you would expect from a great man of the Old Testament,” said Mrs. Thompson-Briggs.
That dignified stature points to that of the building.
“Being the Cathedral, it stands out in its role among other churches of the diocese,” Mrs. Thompson-Briggs stated, “so showing St. Joseph as a leader and protector seems especially appropriate.”
The ship he’s holding is modeled on a Roman merchant vessel of the first century A.D.
“It makes sense for the ship that’s representing the Barque of St. Peter to be a Roman ship,” she said, adding that a Roman cross adorns the sail.
Mrs. Thompson-Briggs chose a fellow artist to be the model for her drawing of St. Joseph.
“It was wonderful, because he has done a lot of drawing of his own,” she stated. “So when I said, ‘I need you to move slightly or hold the boat at a slightly different angle,’ he knew exactly what I was looking for.”
The designers and benefactors made several rounds of revisions and refinements before the final design was approved in February.
Artisans at the foundry in Italy will use the designs to create molds into which molten bronze will be poured, creating a three-dimensional relief.
“We’ve given them a design,” said Mrs. Thompson-Briggs. “I’m hoping the bronze will be even better.”
She visualizes the image of St. Joseph standing out prominently among the background symbols.
“My hope is for everything else to be done in a very low relief and not emerging much from the surface, with the figure of St. Joseph having a strong presence against that,” she said.
Having drawn and painted numerous images of St. Joseph, she’s convinced that there can never be enough representations of the man God chose to protect and help nurture his Son.
“Each image draws out a different aspect of him for meditation,” she said. “Those meditations can never be exhausted.”
Mrs. Thompson-Briggs believes it’s important for a church — more so a cathedral — to express on the outside the importance of what takes place inside.
“If the outside doesn’t match the inside, there’s a disconnect that goes against what is true,” she stated.
She spoke of a proper natural hierarchy of buildings within a community, in which the church is the most beautiful and dignified, followed by the buildings of state, followed by the homes of individuals.
“It just doesn’t feel right when that order is inverted or ignored,” she said.
The renovations are entirely funded by generous donors who have united in support of this project.
All are invited to join in praying for the safety of the many skilled builders and artisans who are renewing the mother church of the diocese.
The Cathedral of St. Joseph belongs to all Catholics in the diocese. All are strongly encouraged to visit the Cathedral when it reopens.
Visit diojeffcity.org/cathedral-renovation for information.
The opening quote is from the March 2023 edition of the Magnificat daily devotional.