Access to the nave is through the three doors along the west wall of the vestibule. The centre door being used only for special occasions. The nave is divided into three bays which are separated by wall pillars and arches. Each of the bays has a distinct religious theme for its windows and paintings. The images shown are disproportionate to the real panels for clarity.
The first bay of the nave is divided horizontally by the gallery so that part of its decor is only visible from upstairs. The theme of this bay is the sufferings and death of Christ. Since the teachings of St. Francis Loyola in the 16th century, meditation on Christ’s passion has been an important theme in the prayer life of Catholics. Here the windows are edged with yellow around pale brown panes. Circular glass medallions display symbols of the crucifixion. From the lower left they are: first, a ladder, a rope and spears; a ladder for raising the Victim on the cross, a rope to lead Him there and a spear to pierce His side. Beside this medallion is one showing the Crown of Thorns and the three nails with which Jesus was nailed to the cross. Above to the left is a maltese cross, symbol of Knights of the Holy Sepulchre, with the wand bearing a sponge with which Jesus was offered vinegar to drink and, beside it on the right are the cup and dice with which the Roman soldiers gambled for Jesus’ seamless garment. The third pair of medallions shows on the left, a spear and three arrows and on the right, the hammer and nails of the crucifixion with a pincers to remove the nails, emblematic of the death of Christ.
The decor around this window shows the basic plan of decoration for the church. The window is set in a painted arch that carries the curve of the window arch up to the real arch at the top of the wall. This arch is not square in cross-section; it slopes up towards the roof. This upward angle is repeated and exaggerated by the last and highest arch, which blends the wall arches below to the arch of the roof itself above. It is made of painted wood. The whole arch is painted with stylized ornament that breaks up the flat wall surfaces and gives an appearance of elaborate moldings.
Above the window on the arch nearest the ceiling is painted a Crown of Thorns, the pincers and the hammer of the Crucifixion along with the reed with which Jesus was struck by those mocking Him. Across the church, the opposite rearmost window is the companion of this first one. It repeats the themes of the suffering and death of Christ.
On the lowest left is a medallion showing the pillar at which Jesus was scourged, with its irons and rope, the reed sceptre and a palm frond. To the right is the Crown of Thorns, with the three nails on the right. On the left of the Crown is the scourge; behind the Crown are crossed the spear and the hyssop stick with its sponge. In the second row we see repeated on the left the instruments of Christ’s suffering; in the right medallion the bag of thirty pieces of silver for which He was betrayed. In the third row, the left medallion shows His garment, (here a priestly robe) and the dice that were cast for that garment. Beside, the last medallion shows the Cross and Crown of Thorns.
From the gallery, the top arch of the window can be seen to portray the veil of Veronica with the suffering face of Jesus crowned with thorns. Above the window, the painted motif is of the Cross supporting a Sacred Heart from which issue flames of Divine Love. The spear, here symbolizing human sin, pierces the heart.
Up in the vault at the top of the church ceiling, the symbolism relates to music since this vault is above the gallery where the choir sang. The painting shows musical instruments of the Old Testament; the harp, the flute, the cymbals, triangle and pipes, with a scroll of music.
The second bay is dedicated to Mary the Virgin Mother of God. The blue colour of the window panes is Mary’s colour. The circular medallions all portray various attributes of Mary, most drawn from the Loretto Litany. From the bottom left, there is a stylized AM for Ave Maria “Hail! Mary!” in Latin. On the right is Noah’s Ark, symbolic of the Virgin bearing the salvation of mankind. In the second pair of medallions are displayed first, the tower referring to Mary’s character as Tower of David and on its right, a lily springing from a crescent moon. The lily represents purity, the crescent moon, a new beginning. On the third level we see three lilies on a golden stem. These can be interpreted as Mary’s virtues of purity, devotion and love, but the more usual interpretation is that the lilies stand for Mary, her mother St. Anne and her cousin Elizabeth. The medallion on the right shows seven stars. The stars themselves are the five-pointed stars of the new dispensation, that is, the Age of Redemption by Jesus. The six little stars around the outside form a Star of David symbolic of the first dispensation, the Old Testament. They surround the bigger star, which represents Mary as Stella Maris, Star of the Sea.
There is a very elaborate emblem in the top arch glass; a white scroll bears the words AVE MARIA; above spreads a branch with seven golden berries, below hangs a string of seven gold beads leading to a cross. Two scapulars, one bearing a cross, hang from the branch. These symbols refer to the Virgin as Queen of the Rosary and as Inspiration of the scapular, two important expressions of piety a century ago.
The companion window to this one is across the church. Originally, both had very dark purple borders but Father Lavin had them changed to yellow since he thought the purple colour too dark. The lower left medallion of the south window shows the letters R.V for Regina Virginum, “Queen of Virgins”. Golden roses surround the letters emblematic of Mary’s attributes as Mystical Rose of the Faith. To the right is a Star of David, proof of her royal lineage. Above, the left image is a fountain, symbolizing Mary as Fountain of Consolation for sinners and sufferers. The emblem alongside shows the letters AM for Ave Maria and also for Alma Mater, “Our Mother”. The set of medallions above shows, on the left, a ship guided towards an island by a five-pointed star. This is Mary’s attribute as Stella Maris, “Star of the Sea”, guide of lost souls. Finally, on the top right, the two flowers of Mary entwine, the rose and the lily. In the top arch of the window, the Immaculate Heart of Mary emits flames of divine love. The heart is wrapped in roses, crowned with lilies and pierced by the dagger of sorrows.
The painting at the top of the south arch is of the veil of Veronica supported upon crossed spears and displaying the suffering face of Jesus.
Right up in the vault is the ancient Christian symbol of the pelican. In former times, it was believed that the pelican fed its young with blood obtained by piercing its own breast. This was taken as a symbol of Christ’s loving sacrifice for us. The picture of the pelican is surrounded by a blue band bearing the inscription AMO, “I Love”.
The third bay has as its theme the Redemption, the triumph of Christ over death. These windows return to the gold and purple colours of the first pair. On the north side window, the lowest medallion on the left bears the picture of the Lamb of God triumphant. The banner that He bears is the “labarum”, the flag of triumphant Christendom, from its first use by Constantine the Great (325 AD). On the right is the Mystical Rose indicating the origins of the Redeemer in Mary. On the second level, the letters IHS are the Greek letters for JES, meaning Jesus. On their right is a cross bearing the letters INRI meaning Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. Upon the cross hangs an anchor, symbol of faith. Above these emblems in the third tier is, on the left, a royal crown framed by branches of laurel. This symbolizes royalty and victory. Since Jesus was of David’s line, He was royal, and His Resurrection was our victory over death. The right hand image is of a bunch of grapes, symbol of the sacrament. In the top arch, hands elevate the Host and give a blessing above a chalice; the sacrament triumphs.
Above these windows are the following images: on the north side arch, a complex painting of a font above which is a crown; they represent Divinity and Kingship respectively. Four standards are arrayed around these; on the right, a Roman standard; on the left, the sign INRI; then, a pennant on each side. The blue left pennant bears the name “Dismas”; Dismas was the good thief who was crucified on Jesus’ right, repented and was taken with Jesus to paradise. On the right, is the pennant of the bad thief “Gesmas”, who mocked Jesus.
In the companion window on the south side of the church, the emphasis is placed on the sacraments that spring from our Redemption by Christ. In the lower left medallion of the third window, south side, we see a chalice filled with grapes standing on an ear of wheat lying on a closed book. This represents the bread and wine, the two elements of the Blessed Sacrament, whose institution fulfills the promise of the Old Testament. On the right, a chalice with a cover and two candles represents the sacrament as final consolation of the dying, for this is how the sacrament appears at the Last Rites. Above, on the second level, the left hand circle portrays a bunch of grapes, emblematic of the wine of the sacrament, while on the right, an elaborate arrangement features a chalice floating on the clouds. It stands on a closed book over which a priestly stole is draped; above it the Host, marked with a cross, radiates rays of light. This all symbolizes the divine nature of the sacrament as distributed by the priesthood, fulfilling the promises of scripture. The emblems in the third pair of medallions are simple; a chalice on the left; a sheaf of wheat on the right, balancing the bunch of grapes below. In the top arch, the Lamb of God, emanating rays of glory, lies on the Old Testament which is closed in symbol of fulfillment. The seven seals of the Revelation hang from the book.
The painting over the south window is much less elaborate. It shows the cross and three nails, the spear and hyssop branch.
Up in the vault, a blue band with the motto SPERO, “I hope”, surrounds an anchor, symbol of faith. Behind the anchor, a golden sun rises over the sea and the five-pointed star of Mary as Stella Maris shines across the waves.
© 1992 (text) Terence Currie – Used with permission