Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Ignem Veni Mittere, Ego Sum Lux Mundi

A journey to the Sacred Heart Seminary's Grotto Chapel begins at the former estate of noted 19th-century Genevan, Merritt Tuttle Cole. You may be pleased to note that his Italianate home, located at the intersection of Route 31 and 3rd Street in Geneva, was the first yellow house in the town and is now home to the Kane County Government Center.

As far as first impressions go, the nondescript brick administration building is shamed by a broad expanse of lawn unexpectedly punctuated by a large Veteran's Memorial- the latter most definitely worth a look. Behind the patriotic monument lies an overgrown path sprinkled with leaves. Remains of a flagstone walkway punctuate the trail once known as the "Way of the Cross," that twice-crosses and runs parallel to a stream whose current is nothing less than brawny.

A traipse through the woods, if one is so inclined, can present a somewhat kaleidoscopic perspective; the blessed transition to spring, evidence of parallel lives led by native nameless creatures and inevitably, the remains of beer-tinged teenage trysts.

It could, quite successfully, be argued that any hike, or any experience in life, for that matter, is shaped by one's expectations and/or mood held when beginning. Yet, this theory becomes entirely moot when one jumps well outside the somewhat limiting confines of the aforementioned imaginary box and encounters an honest-to-goodness Surprise. This bona fide astonishment drastically changes the experience and offers the rare opportunity to fly by the seat of one's pants.

A brief jaunt, no more than 10 minutes, leads to a slight hill where one is rewarded with a scene more expected in the likes of romanticized medieval England.

Behold, the shrine!

Built sometime after 1925 when the property was sold to the Jesuit  order the outdoor chapel is an imposing stone structure that makes one wish for the presence of mind to have brought coconuts to imitate the sound of hooves. Its presence is extraordinary- simply astonishing, not only for its detailed artistry, but for the fact it makes one question whether there was a glitch in the time-space continuum and a red barn now graces Roman baths.
A detailed mosaic of rocks spread over three arches depicts heaven and earth, a crucifix crossed by two swords (possibly Jesuits as soldiers of Christ), a Monstrance ( chalice that holds the body of Christ), and a lighthouse. The former is bordered with the phrase, "Ignem veni mittere," which translates to "I have come to bring fire." This reference is a tad unusual, as it is normally accompanied by "in Terram", a phrase attributed to none other than Jesus when referring to baptism in the Holy Spirit and fire (Luke 12:49).
The lighthouse, or flame of divine love, is underlined by, "ego sum lux mundi," or "I am the light of the world" (John 8:12). This sentiment may be further reflected by the central arch's ceiling depicting a blue sky pierced by rays of light. The grotto's upper corners are decorated with the Greek letters alpha and omega, referring to the New Testament in which Jesus uses said characters to describe himself; as in embodying both beginning and end. Additionally, a nod to the first three letters of Jesus in Greek, the altar is inscribed with the letters "IHS."

What the Grotto Chapel specifically signified to the Jesuits (outside of the aforementioned religious imagery) and why they chose such a remarkable design may never be conclusively determined but, what it may mean to you is to be determined.

Link (here)


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