1. Ground floor
Upon entering the Pro-Cathedral, the attention of the visitor is immediately drawn to the impressive view of the main altar, illuminated by the beams of light coming from the stained-glass window that is located directly behind the altar. The window, with its illumination colors and distinctive artistic layout, portrays Christ in His Resurrection.
The flooring in the Pro-Cathedral and the steps to the altars are constructed of white diamond-shaped marble from Livano (Italy), and the black material between the marble slabs are inserts of bituminous limestone from the desert of Judea, commonly know as Dead Sea stone.
Station 1: Memorials
These are memorials honoring benefactors whose generous contributions made it possible for Patriarch Valerga to realize his vision and ambition to build a Pro-Cathedral dedicated to the greater glory of God. Two memorial plaques, located on each side of the main entrance, have been placed in their recognition.
Station 2: Confessionals
There are three ornate, handcrafted confessionals inside the church. Two are on the left of the main entrance, while the third one is located on the opposite side of the entrance. Many of the ornate wood items in the church were handcrafted and imported from Italy. Originally, there was a fourth confessional, but in 1964 it was removed to provide space for a memorial (station 14).
Station 3: Memorial
A memorial that shows the coat of arms of an early benefactor. The plaque is the work of Henricus Richardus.
Station 4: Memorial
A memorial in honor of Mgr Barlassina, who served as Patriarch for twenty-seven years - the longest tenure of any Patriarch since the restoration of the position.
Station 5: Immaculate Heart of Mary Altar
This altar is made of rich marble presented as a gift from Baron Haussmann, the spiritual son of Mgr Valerga. The painting of the Virgin Mary mounted over the altar is from the renowned Italian school of art In Murillo, and effectively captures Mary's serene beauty. Framing the altar are line wood statues honoring Saints Cyril and Methodius. Marble relief images of David, St. John, Elijah and Isaiah are on the lower portion of the altar.
Station 6: Statue of St. Peter
St. Peter, majestically seated on his throne, is shown holding the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, and is an exact replica of the antique statue in the Roman Basilica. Prayers offered here receive the same indulgences as those offered at St. Peter's in Rome.
Station 7: Memorials
Memorial plaques honoring Patriarch Piavi (1889-1905) and Patriarch Gori (1949-1970). Both were members of the Franciscan Order.
Station 8: Altar of St. Joseph
This altar is placed in the north nave and styled in classic gothic design. It is made of rich marble with leafed gilded bronze. The painting mounted above it portrays St. Joseph caring for the Child Jesus. In this location are buried Patriarchs Valerga and Bracco; the artistic bust on the left honors Mgr Valerga, while the full statue on the right honors Mgr Bracco. The Italian artist's name is S. Tadolini.
Station 9: Main altar
The main altar is of gilded gold, crafted by Poussielgue of Paris. After visiting the Patriarchate in November 1869, Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph provided a grant of 20,000 gold francs to finance the altar. Its neo-gothic style was designed by pupils of Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, a famous French architect. Located on the bottom section of the altar are three reliefs illustrating the Annunciation, the Wedding of Mary and Joseph and the Visitation of the Virgin. They are flanked by the Emperor's coat of arms with two eagles. The center section of the altar features the twelve apostles and the tabernacle is highlighted by a gilded image of the Mythical Lamb. At the ambo, located on the right of the altar, the words of sacred scripture are proclaimed, and God's Spirit speaks to "those who have ears to ear".
The four statues framing the altar are the works of Parisian sculptor Desire Froc-Robert, and honor St. Louis, wearing a crown of thorns; St. Helena, with the Cross; and Saints James and John the Baptist. Located immediately behind the altar is a painting representing Christ fulfilling the Mosaic Law of Circumcision and receiving the sublime name of Jesus. The painting is a remarkable work from a Belgian artist, J.B. Huysmans, who offered it to the church. The hanging located to the left of the main altar shows the Virgin Mary and the Child Jesus and was also presented as a gift of Napoleon III in 1857. Please note this hanging is not a painting, but rather an exquisite demonstration of delicate artistry in which multicolored threads are carefully woven into a classic portrayal of the Virgin and Child. The painting located to the right of the altar represents St. Peter and St. John healing the paralytic and is the work of the Belgian painter Du Jardin (1876). Crowning the main altar is a five-meter-high, three-paned stained-glass window with stunning colors illustrating the Resurrected Christ.
The Canons' stalls in the Sanctuary are made of walnut from Beirut and were crafted by Stefary Primi from Smyrna. The Presider Chair located to the left of the altar was graced by the presence of Pope Paul VI on the occasion of his visit to the Pro-Cathedral in 1964, after which he commented on how comfortable he felt being in the midst of the devoted clergy and sisters in attendance.
During the restoration, the relics of St. Timothy, St. Francis, St. Anthony of Padua and Sr. Mariam of Jesus Crucified were sealed in the main altar, and a smaller altar with table and columns of local red stone was located in the front of the main altar area as a generous gift of Count von Metternich.
Station 10: The Blessed Sacrament Altar
The Altar of the Blessed Sacrament is located in the south nave of the Pro-Cathedral and is constructed of fine natural stone. Above the altar is a striking painting of Christ in his agony. Flanking both sides of the altar are plaques indicating the remains of the Auxiliary Bishops: Mgr Appodia, Mgr Fellinger, Mgr Gelat and the Apostolic Delegate Bartolini, who are buried in this altar.
Station 11: Statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary
The Mother of God is the mother of all people. This beautiful statue of Mary helps us to recall her lifetime journey, which began with God's invitation to collaborate with Him in the great mission of redemption, by bearing and rearing the Savior of the world. The French sculptor, Fabisch of Lyon, is known for his work of art, in particular the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes.
Station 12: The Holy Spirit Altar
The Holy Spirit altar was originally named for the Apostles St. Peter and St. John. Later, Patriarch Bracco rededicated the altar to the Holy Spirit. The altar is of rich, natural stone and provides styling consistent with the other altars in the Pro-Cathedral. When the altar was rededicated a painting was placed above the altar depicting the Holy Spirit and celebration of the first Pentecost with the Virgin Mary surrounded by Saints Peter and John. The beauty of the altar is enhanced by the placement of four majestic candleholders decorated with ornate gilded gold. Above the tabernacle is a statue of the Agonizing Heart of Jesus.
The altar is flanked by statues of St. Anthony of Padua, St. John of God and St. Jean-Baptiste de la Salle, all founders of religious Orders.
Station 13: The Altar of Our Lady of Sorrows
This altar features a painting of the Virgin Mary with a sword piercing her heart in commemorating of the suffering Our Lady endured. A smaller painting of the Virgin Mary is located in front of the tabernacle and is encrusted with small, colored ornamental stones.
Station 14: Memorial
This memorial is placed in recognition of the centennial anniversary (1864-1964) of the founding of the Confraternity dedicated to the Holy Name of Jesus. The memorial is a replica of the monument in the Garden of Gethsemani on the Mount of Olives depicting the agony of Christ.
Station 15: Chandeliers
The center of the Pro-Cathedral is illuminated by three beautiful chandeliers, which stand out against the background of the blue ceiling and were provided by the Belgium Lieutenancy of the Knights of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre. During remodeling the chandeliers were electrified, which enhances the ambiance of the Pro-Cathedral, and causes the beauty of this glorified House of Worship to come together in unison; the main altar, the paintings on the vaulted ceiling and the stained-glass windows, all in artistic harmony.
Station 16: Pulpit
The pulpit, located to the right of the main aisle, was handcrafted by the Poussielgue family and financed by Parisian benefactors. Its center section is circled with a series of shields naming the benefactors, who include Baron Havelt, a generous friend of Patriarch Valerga. The beauty of the original design was reestablished during the restoration of the Pro-Cathedral.
2. Stained-glass windows
The Pro-Cathedral is blessed with stunningly beautiful stained-glass windows that were handcrafted by the Lorin Company of Chartres, in France. The antique glass is hand-cut and leaded together in a manner that conspicuously demonstrates the artistic skills of the craftsmen. The stained-glass windows provide the Pro-Cathedral with brilliant natural illumination that enhances the sacredness of the spiritual celebrations, and the serenity of the setting.
The five-meter-high, three-paned stained-glass windows were installed by Patriarch Bracco in 1876, and destroyed in 1948 during the Arab-Jewish War. Fortunately, during the restoration project, it was possible to re-commission the Lorin Company to provide new handcrafted stained-glass windows as replacement windows.
From the vantage point of the center of the Pro-Cathedral, the beauty and the vision of Patriarch Valerga are vividly evident; one can admire the combination of the striking brilliance of the stained-glass windows and the majesty of the main altar, both highlighted by the paintings of Pacelli on the vaulted ceiling.
Station 17: North Transept Window
This stained-glass window to the left, in the north transept, illustrates the Crucifixion of Christ. The background setting contributes to experiencing the agony of our Lord.
Station 18: East Window
Positioned high above the main altar, this stained-glass window illustrates the Resurrection, the Risen Christ. The brilliant red robe worn by Jesus symbolizes the greatness of the Resurrection.
Station 19: South Transept Window
To the right, this stained-glass window illustrates the Nativity with the Virgin Mary and the Child Jesus surrounded by kings and shepherds from the fields. The beautiful window utilizes a stunning combination of vivid colors to illustrate the glory of the Incarnation.
Station 20: West Window
High over the rear of the Pro-Cathedral is a wheel-shaped stained-glass window, five meters in diameter, with the Mystical Lamb as the centerpiece, surrounded by the four evangelists. This window, facing the west, glows in a symphony of colors in the afternoon sunlight and was a gift of Dr. J.H. Fassbender of Dusseldorf, Germany.
3. Ceiling and Wall Paintings and Organ
Complementing the beauty of the stained-glass windows are the ceiling and wall paintings of the Pro-Cathedral. While preparing in Rome for the First Vatican Council, Patriarch Valerga commissioned a young talented painter called Vincenzo Pacelli (from the family of Pope Pius XII) to provide paintings for the church.
Station 21: Ceiling paintings
The vaulted ceiling paintings by Pacelli are artistically original and decorative, and in keeping with Patriarch Valerga's ambition to portray saints from the Old and New Testaments, and the first saints from the Church of Jerusalem. From the vantage point of the center of the church, directly overhead, is a painting of the Blessed Virgin Mary with Jesus and Abraham, circled by an array of angels. The next area of the ceiling depicts David, Melchisedech, Abraham and Moses from the Old Testament. The paintings provide rich ornamentation and an opportunity to reflect upon the significant figures that played a major role in the rich history of the Church.
Station 22: Wall paintings
The theme of the wall paintings by Pacelli correlates with the theme utilized in the ceiling paintings. Namely, the progressive portrayal of eminent figures mentioned in the Old Testament, saints in the New Testament, and distinctive Bishops of the Holy Land. The paintings between the pillars portray saints and angels prominent in the history of the Church. The distinctive artwork contributes to spiritual inspiration provided by the Pro-Cathedral.
Station 23: Organ
The organ, with two keyboards of 12 and 21 registers, was constructed by the Bassani family in Venice and resonates with rich tones to complement the Mass and Liturgical Services.
4. Lower level
Access to the lower level of the Pro-Cathedral is provided through the circular stairway located near the door on the north side of the church.
Patriarch Valerga decided to provide an underground burial place for the deceased clergy of the diocese and an excavation was made under the western section of the Pro-Cathedral, to provide an appropriate burial site.
Station 24: Burial chambers
During the restoration of the Pro-Cathedral, the burial site for the clergy was expanded to provide four burial chambers. Upon entry, the first chamber has a small altar, and beneath that altar is a stone protrusion of hard "mezzi yahoudi", a composition of crystallized limestone. There is no religious or historical significance to the stone, other than it serves as a reminder of the difficulty the hard limestone caused in the excavation of the burial chambers. It is said the hardness of the stone is symbolic of the solid rock on which the Church was founded. Beyond the first chamber is a second chamber and branching off to the right and left are two smaller burial sites.
The extensive refurbishment of the lower level of the Pro-Cathedral tends to reflect the respect and remembrance owed to the first patriarchal clergy. The altar and modern-styled Stations of the Cross on the walls of the burial chamber were a gift from Dr. Geogren.
There are several exterior items of note to consider in completing the tour of the Pro-Cathedral.
Stations 25 and 26: Plaques commemorating the visits of Popes
Several commemorative plaques can be found in the courtyard just outside the church. They all commemorate visits from different Popes over the years, including Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.
Station 27: Bell Tower
The Bell Tower, high above the Pro-Cathedral, has four bells, which were provided by a friend of Patriarch Valerga from Genoa, Italy. Originally, the bells were rung manually with the use of pulleys. In 1970, the bells were electrified and the mighty chimes now resound daily over the city of Jerusalem.
Photos: Nicolawos Hazboun