By Denise Trull
By Church tradition, the month of July is especially set aside for us to venerate the Precious Blood of Jesus.
In the heart of my city rises a magnificent Cathedral named after the most holy king of France, St Louis IX. In 1997, Pope John Paul II designated it a basilica (the Greek word for royal house), bestowing upon it the honor of being a place of worship of special distinction for its architectural and artistic worth. Two years later, in 1999, he was to see it with his own eyes on a special visit to our city. St. John Paul kept exclaiming that he felt like he was back in one of the magnificent cathedrals of Rome St. John Paul kept exclaiming that he felt like he was back in one of the magnificent cathedrals of Rome as he slowly went up and down its aisles taking in its arches and mosaics which covered the ceilings and walls. This royal house would, from then on, carry with it a special bond of communion with the Pope. The Catholics of St. Louis love it deeply.
It is said that there are 41 million glass mosaic tiles inlaid in the walls and ceilings, creating pictures that tell us the story of our salvation. The colors are jeweled -- blues, greens, deep reds, gold. Our Lady, St. Joseph, Moses, Abraham, David and the wonder of prophets are all there in the nooks and crannies shining high above. There are martyrs, virgins, doctors of the Church. Gorgeous, stately angels hover everywhere and the Evangelists have special places of honor arched above your head. You could spend days gazing up at these mosaics and still not see everything there is to see. It is a place where salvation history visibly surrounds you with its mysterious good news. It is indeed what it has been named -- a Royal House filled with the light of jewels. God permeates your soul here with an almost palpable presence as you walk through the dim, incensed air.
There are many fascinating stories associated with the building of the Basilica. One such story moved me to wonder in this month honoring the Precious Blood. As you make your way up the aisle on the right, your eye is taken by little glimmers of a unique, glowing red that can be found in no other part of the cathedral. It is laced inextricably among the other colors making up the walls of a small Eucharistic chapel. This fiery crimson seems to flow through, down, and around the altar and walls. It is a magnificent red which, in very truth, takes your breath away when you get your first glimpse of it in the half light.
As it turns out, the artist who created this color wanted this pause in your steps, for this red represents the blood of Christ spilled for us -- the blood which is still really present in that tabernacle. The color was mixed from a very specific pigment made especially for the minuscule mosaic tiles pieced together to form the backdrop of the altar. This glowing red flows down and around in graceful arches, surrounding anyone who comes to kneel and adore there. And here is the most wonderful thing. After he had laid each tile carefully in place, the artist destroyed the red pigment recipe he created, so it could never be copied anywhere else. He wanted all to know by this symbolic gesture that the blood of Christ is a new thing under the sun, never to be repeated again, yet given to us right here in this tabernacle, under this canopy of red mosaics. His blood still flows within our human souls and seeps into our world with its inextricable, salvific warmth.
The blood of Christ was shed. It flowed from His wounds, down from the cross, and was absorbed into the earth. When Jesus rose from the dead, He rose with a glorified body; but when He died, He left much of his human blood behind. It is our way of knowing that indeed He was here. His blood, His very DNA is soaked inextricably into our physical world. And when we adore Him, or receive Him into our souls at communion, we each are colored through with His blood; this unique pigment of divinity touching our humanity -- making each of us a new creation.
I always stand under that arch of red whenever I visit our Cathedral Basilica and I thank Jesus for leaving His saving blood here with us. In this month of July, may we let His graces flow down and around and into us.