The Newtown Pentacle

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Oy gut to visits mit das Goyem again!

– photo by Mitch Waxman

My friends at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral allowed me to photograph their 2016 Irish Language Mass, over in Lower Manhattan’s Bloody Sixth Ward on the corner of Mott and Prince, which occurred on Saturday the 12th of March. This isn’t the first time I’ve shot this event – check out “wildest speculations” and “luminous aether” for my earlier efforts.

One thing you’ll pick up on is that this year is that the House of Dagger John – St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral – looks a bit different. There is an enormous amount of construction going on within the building, as there’s a restoration project underway meant to prepare the Church for an upcoming historical anniversary and return her to the splendor of an earlier era.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As is my habit, I got there early, way before any of the parishioners showed up. During the ceremony itself, my preferred spot to shoot from is alongside the organist, which is on a catwalk that sits what must be thirty or feet over the floor. The image above is from ground level, at the center of the aisle between the pews, looking straight at the altar.

I presume they’re called “pews,” and that the ceremonial center is called the “altar,” incidentally. I’m Jewish, so what do I know? If you’re Roman Catholic, and I’m calling out “something” as something it’s not, please offer corrections in the comments section below rather than getting offended.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Speaking of the pipe organ, there is one, and it’s a magnificent thing.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The altar area at the front of the basilica has also enjoyed a bit of restoration. The carved wooden statues of the Saints (presumptively) or Apostles on the ornate screen have received quite a bit of artistic attention since my last visit here. The big oil painting that used to act as a centerpiece has been replaced by a model of the Cathedral which encloses the host.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Cruciform has also been cleaned and its paint restored, and has been relocated from its former position behind the carved altarpiece. It’s now suspended from the roof by thin wires.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This shot looks back towards the organ from the front of the Basilica, up on the altar itself. The stained glass which normally adorns the windows has been removed, and been sent off to an artisan glass shop for restoration. There’s a fabricated construction material that looked like Tyvek covering the windows, and you’ll notice there’s a scaffold set up in the lower left hand corner of the shot. Just about everywhere I looked, there was something going on, repairs wise.

I was informed that this Mass is the first time in many, many months that the Cathedral has been open to the public due to these construction and restoration efforts.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Irish language mass got going, and it was in celebration of St. Patrick’s day. Naturally, it started with bagpipes, and most of the attendants whom I spoke with were indeed of Hibernian descent. There were a couple of important people who spoke, in Irish… can’t really tell you what they were saying as I’m not fluent in Gaelic. The ceremony itself went on, and the priests performed their devotions. Actually, the guy on the left is Pastor of this church and is a Monsignor.

As a note, I LOVE photographing this event, and am honored that I’m asked to attend and record it.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Part of my awe, of course, is that this was the church of Archbishop John Hughes – who is my nominee for the most important but largely forgotten New Yorker of the 19th century.

Dagger John, as he was known in his time, is the founder of Calvary Cemetery along my beloved Newtown Creek in Queens, and he actually officiated the very first funeral that was held there. It was also because of Dagger John, and his creation of an entirely free Parochial School system for the children of the poor (including Protestants) that the Protestant elite of NYC created a Public School system which must NEVER mention a god or offer religious instruction.

If you don’t think about the Protestant/Catholic conflict when discussing 19th century NYC, you probably don’t know anything about the Bowery B’Hoys or the Bloody Sixth Ward. McGurk’s Suicide Parlor was a couple of blocks away from here, not far from McSorley’s and Cooper Union. A few blocks east, German and Ukrainian  Socialists conspired to oppose the bosses over on first, and just a few blocks further east was an area referred to as “The Jew Ghetto.” Lame Duck was the king of Doyers Street and its opium parlors to the south, and to the north west at Union Square – a political organization which called itself “Tamanend” was just beginning to flex its electoral muscles.

Back in the 1830’s and 40’s the Catholic Church was considered to be a threat by the old line Protestant “powers that be” and the Pope was referred to as (and was the de facto) King of Italy. NYC was boiling with racial tension in that era, with ethnic militias making war upon each other on the streets. A Nativist Mob once marched on this very church intending to burn it down, and were greeting by Irish gunmen manning the fences along Mott, Mulberry, and Prince Streets.

It’s hard to imagine, I know. Back then, the concept of race wasn’t just black and white, it included National origin. Back then, the Irish were considered a degenerate and primitive race, separate and lesser than the other pale skinned Europeans. Reading the NY Times archives from back then on the subject of Irish emigration, and the growing population of Catholics in the United States, can be a startling experience for modern eyes.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The Mass played out, and the two priests brought the host down for the congregants.

On a technical front, I was constantly swapping lenses throughout the ceremony, and rotated through my entire kit several times. The camera was set up on a tripod, with a remote shutter release cable installed. The “architectural” shots were narrow aperture and low ISO (to gather all the ornate details available within the hyperfocal distance available between f8 – f22 and “infinity”) and a shutter speed which floated around in the neighborhood of 2-6 seconds.

The shot above, if I recall correctly, was a high ISO (2,000, maybe) with the aperture set at f7.1 and the shutter open for 1/60th of a second. There were several exposure triangles which were quickly gleaned for usage on various types of shots, suffice to say, and that all of the “technical” sort of night shooting I’ve been doing is growing increasingly useful.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I wanted to get a bit “arty” in the shot above and blur the moving people a bit while leaving the Church and its ornamentation tack sharp. The aperture went down to f22 and then I lowered the ISO to 100 so as to cut down on as much light as possible from hitting the sensor, and then opened the shutter up for 30 seconds. Anything moving in the shot became ghostly and was blurred into a motion trail.

The arty part was to try and suggest the impermanent condition of the living in the context of a sacred space which has seen the fortunes of New York City rise and fall several times over, or something.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If you click through to the flickr set these photos are a part of, (just click the image) there’s lots more of Old St. Patrick’s and the ceremony to check out in there. I hope that when the restoration is done I can get my camera back into the House of Dagger John.

Eyn loshn iz keynmol nisht genug!

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inspired dreamer

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124 years ago today, an outsider was thrust roughly into the world.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

If the squamous gods of our own world do not care about you, what causes you to believe that those whose realm is cosmic would even take notice of an unimportant mortal speck living on a muddy world which – from their unknowable and unguessable point of view – has only recently coalesced from star stuff and debris? Were you to find yourself lying prone, naked, and cowering before some galactic, universal, or pan dimensional deity whose regency includes whole galaxies – realizing the true horror of the universe in that moment, and the inconsequential role which terrestrial life plays in it – would you go mad with the realization of the futility of life itself or would a blood vessel burst in your brain? Would you rise to your knees, begging to join some hidden cult which worships the titan, or stare unblinkingly at its manifest radiance until your eyes boiled away? One is incapable of anticipating what ones reaction to a pulsing nucleonic horror found at the center of our universe that is called Azathoth would be, nor what beholding the so called “goat with a thousand young” which is both the gate and the key called Yog Sothoth might do to you, but one would certainly be forever altered and held under their sway afterwards. We are but men, lords and ladies.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

These star born – or Elder Gods – whose machinations stretch back billions of years and into other dimensions and realities where our paltry notion of the constancy of physics and the true nature of the universe are revealed as childish fantasy – enjoy the devotion of uncountable servitors. Their servants, who are the true rulers of the earth, are in the air and the water and burrow into the ground unmatched and unheralded. None inquire as to their purpose, for none have realized that theirs is a plan which has survived more than one extinction event. The cities of the Old Ones, at the so called Mountains of Madness in fabled Antarctica, and those of the ruggose cone shaped Elder Race (which drifted into their current position as the continents formed) in the deserts of Arabia and Australia demonstrate that at the end of all things – only the Conqueror Worm claims victory. The so called insects have a plan, and they created this biosphere of ours only to increase their food supply, as a stock yard. Deep below the Pacific Ocean, their paymaster lies not dead but dreaming instead.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

One hundred and twenty four years ago, a set of ideas was born at 194 Angell Street in Providence, Rhode Island. The product of Sarah Susan Phillips Lovecraft and Winfield Scott Lovecraft, the child grew into a strange and lonely but quite erudite man who always considered himself an outsider in the world to which he was born. His name was Howard. His pen name was H.P. Lovecraft, and today (all this week, actually) we celebrate the day of his birth at this, your Newtown Pentacle.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

August 20, 2014 at 11:00 am

wildest speculations

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In today’s post – it’s the Goyem.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Last year, I got to photograph the Irish Language Mass at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral on Mulberry street in Manhattan, as described in this post from march of 2013.

Opportunity to capture this year’s event presented itself, so I got on the train from raven tressed Astoria to the Shining City and headed over to the House of Dagger John.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

This time around, your humble narrator decided to move the camera about a bit more, while still attempting to document the mass itself. As mentioned in the past, one is captivated by the pageantry of the Roman Catholic practice, despite having been raised in the Jewish tradition.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

A bit of attention was paid to swapping around my lenses this time around, which runs counter to my normal practice of choosing an “omnivore” lens with which I handle an entire event. Normally, these days, I’m using my Sigma 18-35 or Canon 24-105 for most everything. I’ve got a Canon 70-300 which is somewhat unreliable, but it found its way onto the camera as well during this event.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The issue with the 70-300, a “consumer” level zoom lens, is that I find it to be a bit soft and prone to “back focusing” in the focus department. Its an intermittent thing, mind you. I’ll pop out three exposures and the one in the middle is sharp while the two surrounding it are soft. This sort of unreliability causes me to use it less and less, as photography is all about freezing a moment and there are no “do overs.” I’ve got my eye on a lens I want, but it’s going to take a LOT of summer walking tour revenue to pay for it.

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hewed way

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The pipes, the pipes are calling.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s just something about that sound. For people of certain ancestries, Bagpipes sound pretty good (I’m one of them) and they stir the emotions. To others, and this has nothing to do with the modern concept of “nationality” so get over that one, this instrument creates a wave of revulsion that shakes them to their core. Your humble narrator used to keep a disc of bagpipe music handy to break up teenager parties in our last apartment building. The kids would scatter as soon as the drone started, acting as if chlorine gas had been released into the air.

from wikipedia

Bagpipes are a class of musical instrument, aerophones, using enclosed reeds fed from a constant reservoir of air in the form of a bag. Though the Scottish Great Highland Bagpipe and Irish uilleann pipes have the greatest international visibility, bagpipes have been played for centuries throughout large parts of Europe, the Caucasus, around the Persian Gulf and in Northern Africa. The term bagpipe is equally correct in the singular or plural, although in the English language, pipers most commonly talk of “the pipes”, “a set of pipes” or “a stand of pipes”.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Famously, the Irish and Scots considered (one of the hundreds of variations on the bagpipe) this instrument a weapon of war. The Spartans marched behind a sort of bagpipe, accompanied by drums, all the way back in ancient Greece. The legend of Emperor Nero playing his fiddle while Rome burned is apparently a bastardization of Emperor Nero playing the Tibia Utricularis, Roman bagpipes, while the inferno roared.

from a very cool site, with lots of historic representations of bagpipes, going all the way back to the Roman Tibia Utricularis, billhaneman.ie

All throughout the centuries when warpipes were used by the Irish as a part ot their military equipment. Little Irish history was made in their absence, though their participation in the activities of warfare was not specifically mentioned. In forays and battles the pipers took literally a foremost part. Being always in the lead, and heroically remaining to encourage their troops with spirited war tunes, until death or defeat silenced their strains.

The Irish advanced to the charge at the famous battle of Bel-an-atha-buidhe, or the Yellow Ford, in 1598 to the stirring strains of the warpipes, and many instances are cited by Grattan Flood where the warpipes were used effectively. In the language of Standish O’Grady: “They were brave men those pipers. The modern military band retires as its regiment goes into action. But the piper went on -before his men and piped them into the thick of the battle. He advanced sounding his battle pibroch, and stood in the ranks of war, while men fell all around him.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Acoustic weaponry or not, like those teenage partiers at my last apartment, the sound of bagpipes is generally enough to upset those who don’t have a predisposition to their particular sonic wavelengths. They’re hardly an LRAD, of course, but these things – when played in concert and syncopation with other pipers – set up a standing wave of sound which can penetrate the din of battle and shake the confidence of an enemy force, who know instantly that the men of the north are approaching with serious intent. Happy St. Pat’s, ya’all.

from theguardian.com

As anyone who has walked along Princes Street in Edinburgh will know, the sound of bagpipes is enough to make any stroller beat a hasty retreat, which is why the Scots have historically used them to repel their enemies. And long before the Scots had discovered how to make a horrible noise, Joshua was using trumpets to make the walls of Jericho come tumbling down. Throughout history noise has been a powerful weapon but can it really curdle your insides, or make buildings crumble?

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Christmas!

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More Christmas, more.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Spotted this neatly dressed Nativity scene over on Houston and Sullivan (I think St. Anthony’s?) recently. Seemed appropriate fair for the day, but what do I know? I grew up Jewish and Christmas Day is when we would go the New China Inn on Flatbush Avenue for Lo Mein.

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Written by Mitch Waxman

December 22, 2013 at 3:09 pm

extended indefinitely

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Manny hatty keeps on forcing me to visit.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

For someone who actually loathes visiting Manhattan, preferring the ruinations of western Queens and devastations of northern Brooklyn to the Shining City, I do seem to be spending an awful lot of time there of late. Another recent series of events demanded that I visit the Bloody Sixth Ward and Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, so down the hole and into an electrically driven aluminum box of monkey meat did I go.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The visit to Old St. Patrick’s was all business, introducing a certain engenue to the Church’s resident historical hierophant. While on site, I snapped a few quick shots, all the while wishing that I had brought my tripod along with me. Unfortunately, the bulky tool is a bit of a carry, and unless I expressly know that I’m going to be utilizing the thing it gets left home. When I’m not on that rattling contraption that hurtles beneath the streets, I’m walking, after all.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

While doing some of that walking, on my way back to the underground monkey mover, this absolutely cliche “little italy” shot appeared before me. It looked so incredibly staged, couldn’t help but record it.

Note: A holiday schedule of single images will be presented here next week, although I’m going to be solidly ensconced in Queens as no one will have me. Time for a little break, and to mix things up a bit. You may have noticed that Maritime Sunday hasn’t splashed into port the last couple of weeks- which is mainly due to my inability to get out on the water during the cold months, precluding the gathering of fresh and or interesting content for the feature. It’ll return in the future, when I’m able to get out there again.

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luminous aether

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“follow” me on Twitter at @newtownpentacle

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Maritime Sunday is suspended this week in honor of St. Patrick’s day. Last week, I had an opportunity to wave my camera around at St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral in Manhattan, and was allowed to photograph the Irish Language Mass they were conducting. Here’s what I saw…

from oldcathedral.org

Designed by architect Joseph Francois Mangin, St. Patrick’s has great dignity and character in its restrained simplicity. Her sidewalls rise to a height of 75 feet, and the inner vault is 85 feet high. The church is over 120 feet long and 80 feet wide. Near the west wall stands the huge marble altar surrounded by an ornately carved, gold leaf reredos.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

To begin with, these shots are a combination of tripod and handheld. It’s not that bright in the cathedral, but it is lit like a movie set by the interaction of sunlight and stained glass which is augmented by well placed electrical fixtures. Sculptural elements and motifs are plentiful, and it is easy to get lost in photographing small details.

from wikipedia

In 1836, the cathedral was the subject of an attempted sack after tensions between Irish Catholics and anti-Catholic Know-Nothing nativists led to a number of riots and other physical confrontations. The situation worsened when a brain-injured young woman wrote a book telling her “true” story – a Protestant girl who converted to Catholicism, and was then forced by nuns to have sex with priests, with the resulting children being baptized then killed horribly. Despite the book being debunked by a mildly anti-Catholic magazine editor, nativist anger at the story resulted in a decision to attack the cathedral. Loopholes were cut in the church’s outer walls, which had just recently been built, and the building was defended from the rioters with muskets

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Long has one enjoyed the pursuit of photographing ritual spaces of all kinds around the City of New York, but fascination with the era surrounding this cathedral lent a certain nervous excitement to my task. This was the “House of Dagger John“, after all, and its connections with Calvary Cemetery along the Newtown Creek have given it a special status in my eyes.

from wikipedia

John Joseph Hughes (June 24, 1797 – January 3, 1864), was an Irish-born clergyman of the Roman Catholic Church. He was the fourth Bishop and first Archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York, serving between 1842 and his death in 1864.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The plan for the service (and one must remember that a humble narrator was raised in the Hebrew faith as I stumble through this part- I’m not being vague, sarcastic, or anti anything- rather I’m Jewish and have no real idea what the meshuggenah goyem do) was for the Mass to be vocalized in the Irish Language. There was an Organist and a Cantor performing music, and the adherents stood up and sat back down a couple of times while the Priests said things (in Irish).

from wikipedia

Irish was the predominant language of the Irish people for most of their recorded history, and they brought their Gaelic speech with them to other countries, notably Scotland and the Isle of Man, where it gave rise to Scottish Gaelic and Manx. It has the oldest vernacular literature in Western Europe. In the Elizabethan era the Gaelic language was viewed as something barbarian and as a threat to all things English in Ireland. Consequently, it began to decline under English and British rule after the seventeenth century. The nineteenth century saw a dramatic decrease in the number of speakers especially after the Great Famine of 1845–1852 (where Ireland lost 20–25% of its population either to emigration or death). Irish-speaking areas were especially hit hard. By the end of British rule, the language was spoken by less than 15% of the national population. Since then, Irish speakers have been in the minority except in areas collectively known as the Gaeltacht.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

I met the fellow on the left earlier in the day, one Msgr. Donald Sakano, who was a very nice fellow. He and the other Priests performed several actions while saying things which I’m sure would be familiar to adherents of the Roman Catholic Church, or at least Irish speakers, but not to this Jewish kid from Brooklyn.

The gaps in my knowledge just astound sometimes, actually, how can I not know every single detail of this altar ceremony?

from urbanomnibus.net

Monsignor Donald Sakano is one of those urbanists who certainly possesses a singular perspective, forged from his work at the intersection of ministry, social work and affordable housing development and policy.

For the past four years, as Pastor of the Basilica of Saint Patrick’s Old Cathedral, he has presided over the restoration and transformation of Old Saint Patrick’s buildings — which include The Old Cathedral, the school, the Parish House, St. Michael’s Chapel, the Youth Center and the iconic wall — into a series of community facilities available for outreach, assembly and cultural events, such as our benefit event, which will begin at the St. Patrick’s Youth Center at 268 Mulberry Street.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

It’s funny, as I can bore you to death about Arius, Origen, or Loyola. Want to talk about the Renaissance, Reformation, or Second Great Awakening- I’m all in. Recognizing the common tools and long practiced performance of catholic mass?

No.

I can describe the effects of nearly all the known forms of kryptonite, however.

from wikipedia

The Roman Missal contains the prayers, antiphons and rubrics of the Mass. Earlier editions also contained the Scripture readings, which were then fewer in number. The latest edition of the Roman Missal gives the normal (“ordinary”) form of Mass in the Roman Rite. But, in accordance with the conditions laid down in the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum of 7 July 2007, the 1962 edition of the Roman Missal, the latest of the editions that give what is known as the Tridentine Mass, may be used as an extraordinary form of celebrating the Roman Rite Mass.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The ceremony continued, and I decided that maybe it wouldn’t be that terrible to get lost in some of that architectural detail for a frame or two, and opened up the shutter for a long exposure. The big difficulty encountered, of course, were the dichotomous ambient conditions whose luminous contrast stretched into narrow bands of shadow and light.

from wikipedia

The Eucharistic Prayer, “the centre and high point of the entire celebration”, then begins with a dialogue between priest and people. This dialogue opens with the normal liturgical greeting, “The Lord be with you”, but in view of the special solemnity of the rite now beginning, the priest then exhorts the people: “Lift up your hearts.” The people respond with: “We lift them up to the Lord.” The priest then introduces the great theme of the Eucharist, a word originating in the Greek word for giving thanks: “Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God,” he says. The congregation joins in this sentiment, saying: “It is right and just.”

The priest then continues with one of many Eucharistic Prayer prefaces, which lead to the Sanctus acclamation: “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts. Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.”

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Following the moment depicted above, the three priests dispersed to the heads of the aisles, whereupon celebrants of the faith formed lines whose reward seemed to be a small cookie or cracker. One presumes that this is “the host” which figures so prominently in the Catholic Mass.

How am I supposed to know, I’m Jewish- by me it’s a cookie.

Happy St. Patrick’s day- and thanks to Jim Garrity and Msgr. Sakano for allowing so poor a specimen as myself to spend the day with them.

from wikipedia

The absence of snakes in Ireland gave rise to the legend that they had all been banished by St. Patrick. chasing them into the sea after they attacked him during a 40-day fast he was undertaking on top of a hill. This hagiographic theme draws on the mythography of the staff of the prophet Moses. In Exodus 7:8–7:13, Moses and Aaron use their staffs in their struggle with Pharaoh’s sorcerers, the staffs of each side morphing into snakes. Aaron’s snake-staff prevails by consuming the other snakes.

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