New icons adorn the Monastery of the Holy Cross in Bridgeport
June 6, 2014
Prior Peter Funk with the new icons at the Monastery of the Holy Cross. (Photo by Gabriella Valentino)

By Susan S. Stevens

The Roman Catholic Monastery of the Holy Cross has some new objects of art and veneration. Workers have mounted three large icons prominently within the flourishing monastery.

Together, the three pieces form a triptych, a three-part work of art that functions as a single unit visually to present a unified message. Jesus descending from heaven on a throne carried by angels and presiding over the liturgy as judge of the world adorns the center panel.

To the right are Mary and St. Anthony the Great, and at left are John the Baptist and St. Benedict; all four are interceding for the world’s salvation.

“This is very, very traditional and very dense in symbolism,” said Prior Peter Funk, OSB, the ordinary at the monastery. Behind the Christ are two squares of red, symbolizing unity, diversity, stillness, and action—“God unchanging but active,” Fr. Funk said.

Eight-pointed stars represent the seven days of creation, with the eighth day beginning a new creation. The icons in the monastery at 3111 S. Aberdeen St. received a blessing May 26 in a centuries-old tradition that calls for the ceremony about 40 days after installation.

Fr. Funk said that amount of time allows the oil paint on the icons to dry thoroughly.

Vladislav Andrejev, a renowned Russian Orthodox iconographer in New York, created the icons for the monastery. Fr. Funk said the Eastern style is in keeping with the traditions of the order of monks founded by St. Benedict around 500 A.D., before the Eastern and Roman division of the Catholic Church.

While Andrejev painted the features on the three icons in glowing colors, the background is gold. “The person who commissioned it asked for extra gold leaf,” Fr. Funk said, so the afternoon sun would make the triptych blazingly bright.

Mounted high behind the altar, the icons measure about the height of a tall person. Andrejev told Fr. Funk these are the largest icons he has ever painted. The benefactor who commissioned the icons asked to remain anonymous. Soon, the monastery will adorn the space further by replacing the altar with a larger one, made mostly from marble. Brother Linus Appel said the monks expect to consecrate the altar, which still is being built, in August or September; they have invited Cardinal Francis George to the ceremony.

Fr. Funk hopes workers can install the altar by Saturday, June 28, in time for solemn choral vespers for the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, to which Cardinal George also has been invited.

The monastery moved a crucifix the size of a human to make way for the icons and will remount it, probably above the center aisle. Workers will erect a clear crucifix above the new high altar.

Immigrants from Bohemia built the monastery as a German Gothic church, which they called Immaculate Conception Church when it opened in 1908, Fr. Funk said. When the church closed in 1990, workers stripped much of the interior, including the organ and most of the pews. When the monastery opened a year later, it began reinstalling pews and creating new traditions as a contemplative space where one may seek God through prayer, silence, work, and hospitality.

The monastery emphasizes retreats, which draw attendees from a wide area to the Bridgeport community
for brief experiences of the monastic life.

The monastery offers Mass at 6:35 a.m. Monday through Saturday and at 10 a.m. on Sunday. Its residents also recite the divine office seven times a day, Monday through Saturday, and five times on Sunday. Sunday Mass draws an average of 40 worshippers, Fr. Funk said, noting the monastery does not compete with nearby parish churches, such as St. Mary of Perpetual Help.

Two apartments are available to the public as the Benedictine Bed and Breakfast. Rates for the two- and three-bedroom apartments start at $180 per night for one or two adults. The units have air conditioning, free off-street parking, and full kitchens and baths.

The choir in residence, Schola Laudis (School of Praise), specializes in Gregorian chant as well as traditional music. It is becoming so popular that the choir plans to record CDs in the acoustically superb church. The choir will sing selections from Renaissance composers Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina and Adrian Willaert at 5:15 p.m. on June 28. Fr. Funk and two other priests are among ten monks wearing black habits who serve the monastery, living a communal life marked by much silence and prayer.

For more information on the monastery, see www.chicagomonk.org or phone (773) 927-7424. For information about joining Schola Laudis, also see the website or call the monastery.