Communities at www.isjl.org, and for a broader picture, read The Story of the Jews by Simon Schama.
The Cathedral of Saint John the Evangelist 1916
Standing in front of the cathedral, let your eyes travel upward. For decades this was the highest building in Lafayette—a symbol on the horizon to guide Catholics to this sacred space. At the very top sits a rooster. “Has there always been a chicken at the highest point of the Cathedral?” I ask museum curator Janice McNeil, whose father and grandfather both worked on the building of this church.
Notice, each one is slightly different throughout the church. There is said to be a code within the seemingly inconsistently rendered crosses. I’ve never been able to figure it out!” The interior is a feast for the eyes with colorful story-telling stained glass windows, larger-than-life paintings of saints, and serene statues all seeming to echo the common greeting of the mass, “Peace be with you.” The eternal light, like the ner tamid of the temple, marks the holy presence of God. However, God’s presence here is the word made flesh in the person of Jesus Christ present in the consecrated bread held within.
Explore the cathedral yourself, attend a daily or Sunday mass, and try to decipher the code of the Jerusalem crosses. For a lively account of how Father Teurlings led the wagon trains of building supplies through Lafayette, cracking his whip at the head, read his memoires titled, One Mile an Hour.
Islamic Center of Lafayette 1995
From the exterior of the mosque nestled in the live oaks on the corner of Tulane and Taft near the university, we see what looks like a sprawling brick home with a simple tower-like structure on the northeast corner. “As-salamu-alaykum,” is the greeting we hear as we remove our shoes at the door. Dr. Ghayas Qureshi, the President of the Islamic Center, leads us to the prayer room where we are served hot, deliciously strong tea with a bit of sugar.
“Ah, yes!” She smiles. “It serves as a reminder of Peter’s denial of Jesus. When the cathedral was finished in 1916, the rooster was originally a weather vane. It was continuously being knocked off by hurricanes until it was welded in place facing east—as does the Church—towards the rising sun, the place of resurrection and new life.” “Why would the faithful want to be reminded of Peter’s denial?” I ask, still not understanding why such a place of prominence on the church would be given to a rooster.
She’s quiet in wonder herself but only a short while before she responds, “When we think about Peter’s rejection of Jesus, we are reminded that even if we doubt, even if we fall from grace, God can use us to bless the world as he did Peter.”
McNeil guides us into the church, climbing several steps to enter this massive brick edifice built with no metal infrastructure that sits seven feet above ground, an accommodation made out of respect for the original St. John’s cemetery below. Father Teurlings, the priest charged with its building, was home visiting his parents in Holland when he serendipitously ran into an architect in need of a job. “Father Glenn Provost always said this church was a happy adaptation of several architectural styles. It’s considered Dutch Romanesque, but here we have Gothic windows and Byzantine capitols on the major columns.” She further points out, “You see the Jerusalem crosses on the capitols? 36 March 2015
Within, we can see that the tower contains a mihrab or niche defined by an arch with a point at the top, and within this is a minbar or podium from which the sermons are delivered. “This is the room where we join shoulder-to-shoulder, heel-to-heel in prayer, facing Makkah, where the Kaaba is situated. Our focus in prayer is on freedom from suffering, asking for guidance, peace and heaven.” Qureshi goes on to clarify, “Here in America, our prayer room faces 45 degrees northeast, the direction of Makkah, the direction we always pray to from all over the world. If I am out and about in Acadiana, I use I-10 going east to west to find my direction towards northeast for prayer.”
Qureshi points out, “There are four typical components of mosque architecture-the dome, the minaret, the mihrab and the minbar. These components are not commanded by Allah; they are creations of humans–in many cases an extravagant way of luring people in or proclaiming one’s presence in a place. Here, we are a community mostly of students; we choose to use our resources to be able to give alms instead of having a showy mosque.” Concluding our visit, we pass into the halls hung with art. Dr. Qureshi notes, “You will not find images of living creatures in sacred Islamic art. We do not want to assume the power to create life which belongs only to Allah. You will find beautiful calligraphy, patterns and shapes. Here is a piece with the ninetynine beautiful names of Allah.” He reads the names artfully written in Arabic. “As-salaam—that means peace.” The holy day of the week for Muslims is Friday with prayer time starting in the afternoon. For details on attending, call the Islamic Center at 337-232-7700. For more information about the Islamic community in Lafayette, check the website www. islamiclafayette.com.
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