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New doorway at St. Mary’s in Boise unites Hispanic, European Catholic heritage

Artist J. Chester “Skip” Armstrong created these doors at St. Mary’s
Church with the help of sculptor Jan Hansson (pictured).
Artist J. Chester “Skip” Armstrong created these doors at St. Mary’s Church with the help of sculptor Jan Hansson (pictured). Joe Jaszewski / Idaho Statesman

Awed schoolchildren entered the narthex, or foyer, of Boise's St. Mary's Catholic Church Monday afternoon to get a glimpse of a new massive set of hand-carved wooden doors 16 feet tall by 10 feet wide and up to 24 inches thick.

Based on a story from the Bible's Book of Revelation, the enormous carving is designed to portray the battle of good vs. evil, said the Rev. W. Thomas Faucher, pastor at St. Mary's, the West State Street church under renovation.

It took multiple cranes to hoist each 1-ton door into place.

"Good always triumphs over evil," Faucher said. "And good art takes us to the Spirit."

TWO CULTURES, ONE IMAGE

The doors depict the story of the Woman Clothed with the Sun, a kind of metaphorical retelling of the Christian story. The woman - not Jesus' mother Mary exactly, Faucher said, but a "Marian" figure, a type of Mary - is about to give birth. But she's confronted by a seven-headed dragon that has just cast a third of the stars from the heavens. St. Michael, shown with a sword in the door, casts the beast out of heaven.

The story has great significance for Hispanic Catholics, many of whom see the woman as a precursor of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Faucher said.

"It is a very important part of Mexican spirituality," Faucher said. "And St. Michael's victory over the dragon is an important part of European spirituality."

The image brings the two divergent - but both Catholic and both active at St. Mary's - cultures together, he said.

"It's a multi-ethnic parish, and all the new art that is going to the church has to be art that has to be appreciated by all the different ethnicities in the parish," Faucher said. "There is a tremendous need for good art in religion. Bad art hurts religion; no art hurts religion. But good art helps people come to an awareness of God."

The reverse side of the doors tells the story of Noah's ark, using native Northwest animals.

THE ARTIST

Faucher first spoke about creating the doors with carver and artist J. Chester (Skip) Armstrong of Sisters, Ore., back in the spring of 2007.

"Skip said it would be the most awesome challenge of his life," Faucher said. "But he said if I thought he could do it, he'd be willing to try."

THE PROJECT

The wood for the doors is Honduran mahogany from a hurricane-downed tree in Belize.

"It is the only wood that would be good for this," Faucher said. "The log we used was approximately the size of a railroad car."

The entire project has been made possible by a donor from the Boise area, said Faucher, who declined specify the cost.

And more art is coming.

St. Mary's renovation will include a 10-foot-tall oil painting to be hung over the altar; 10 carved musical angel sculptures along the roof beams; a life-sized cast-bronze statue of Mary seated in a pew of the church; carved Glastonbury chairs; enhanced stained glass medallions along the windows ; a renewed and expanded shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe; a large carved image of the parish symbol - three roses and a butterfly; and a Shrine to the Immigrants.

Brenda Gutierrez: 377-6440

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