Pursuing Relics in Mount Vernon Place

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In January, Susan had read of a new exhibit coming to the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore. Titled "Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics & Devotion in Medieval Europe", the show would focus on a display of reliquaries, ornate containers said to hold remains of a saint. This sounded like a unique and very interesting art exhibit. But, we had to find the right time to see it before it closed in May. We had our Florida trip in March, and also several trips to Winchester to see Julia's shows. The weekend of April 9 was to be it. So we headed for Baltimore on Saturday morning.

Baltimore is not really far away. A little over an hour. We don't have occasion to go there often, though, and we had never been to the Walters. The Walters Art Museum is in the Mount Vernon neighborhood of the city.

Baltimore's Washington Monument (1829)
It was once a very elegant neighborhood, full of the townhomes of financiers and captains of industry. The Charles Street corridor through the center has seen redevelopment and it is now home to many cultural and civic institutions.

There was a convenient parking lot across the street from the Walters. We started our tour right at the Treasures of Heaven exhibit. (Museum admission is free, but the special exhibit is $8.) It was even more fascinating that I thought it would be! The exhibit traced the development of Christian reliquaries from Roman models to the Middle Ages to a few contemporary examples. Images of saints were followed after 313 AD by public shrines to commemorate them. Some reliquaries took the form of a body part, such as a hand or arm, if that was the remain said to be housed inside.

Baltimore's Washington Monument
By the Middle Ages, pilgrims want to take away something to remember a visit to an important shrine. Reliquary pendants could hold oil blessed at the site, or there were small discs or clothing adornemnts fromteh shrine. (There was a trade in these items. Indeed, they served a similar purpose as modern-day souvenir travel magnets or pins, commemorating a traveler's visit to a memorable place.) By the Renaissance, reliquaries were valued as much for their inherent artristic craftsmanship and beauty as their sacred content. I thought many transparent works (so the relic inside the vessel could be seen) were made of glass, but learned instead they were made of rock crystal. The rock crystal was amazingly as clear as glass. The exhibit concluded with the 20th century and a monstrance containing a relic of Elizabeth Ann Seton (1774-1821), the first American-born saint.
Lafayette Equestrian Monument (1924)

After seeing the exhbit, Susan and I took a break for lunch, planning to return to see more of the art museum. We had lunch at nearby George's and then went for a walk around the park at Mount Vernon Place. In the center is Baltimore's Washington Monument. It was completed in 1829, years before the more famous Washington Monument in Washington, DC. But, this one was the first and was designed by Robert Mills, who also designed Washington's later column. This Doric column has a statue of George Washington on top. A four-pronged park surrounds the monument contining statues of other figures. An equestrian statue of Washington's friend and ally, the Marquis de Lafayette, is in front of the monument. It was installed in 1924 to honor American and French soldiers lost in World War I.

Garrett-Jacobs Mansion
 

We took note of two former mansions facing the park. The Garrett-Jacobs Mansion is a very imposing edifice occupying three former house lots. It began in 1872 when the president of the Baltimore & Ohio Railway, John W. Garrett, built a home on the site. His son expanded it in 1884 and his wife again in 1902. It is preserved as the Engineering Society headquarters and is reported to have a Tiffany stained glass skylight. (But we could not go inside to investigate.) Next door we found the 1849 Murnaghan House that had been the residence of Henry Walters, the founder of the art museum. We couldn't go in it, either, but we'd have a surprise once back inside the musuem.

On the opposite side of the park we looked at the Mount Vernon Place Methodist Church.

Garrett-Jacobs Mansion interpretive marker
It's a spectacular high Victorian Gothic design, probably accurately reflecting the neighborhood of 1872 when it was built. I couldn't help notice all the college-age people walking around with musical instrument cases. Oh, that was because the Peabody Conservatory also faced the park!

There was still plenty of time for afternoon exploration, so Susan and I headed down Charles Street to find the Baltimore Basilica. Along the way we stopped at the interesting A People United store. Selling clothing, goods, and teas from India and Southeast Asia, it seemed to typify the shops and cafes of Mount Vernon Place today. (The Doll House Boutique across the street conjured up a racy image, but was a regular women's clothing store.)

Reaching the grounds of the Basilica of the Assumption, on Cathedral Street, we went inside.

Garrett-Jacobs Mansion
The Basilica of the Assumption, completed in 1821, was the first Roman Catholic cathedral in the USA. It was founded by John Caroll, a cousin of Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. John Carroll almost single-handedly founded the basis for American Catholicism following the Revolution and so is much revered here.  The Basilica was designed by Benjamin Latrobe who was also the architect of the U.S. Capitol. Thus, the cathedral is a Greek Revival structure. The interior is simple, but light, airy, and beautiful.

Across Cathedral Street is the Enoch Pratt Free Library, the central branch of Baltimore's public library. We inspected the Wi-Fi cafe inside stocked with Seattle's Best Coffee.

Murnaghan House (1849)
 It was a popular information hangout on a Saturday afternoon.

Time to return to the Walters for a look at the general collection galleries. As a companion to the Treasures exhibit, the Walters had prepared a leaflet entitled The Walters Pilgrimage. It guided visitors through all the galleries while highlighting an object in each that would tie in with the Treasures special exhibit in some way.  A very clever way to lead visitors through the musuem! It bgean in the Egyptian gallery, where a mummy and canopic jars were a type of reliquary of Ancient Egypt. (A object of interest was the cat mummy on display. Now, that nicely tied in with the Ancient Egyptian Cat Rug we had seen at Villa Zorayda in St. Augustine!) Susan and I toured on through the Greeka and Roman, Medieval, Middle Eastern, 18th-century European, and Chinese galleries.

Doors at the Murnaghan House
One disappointment was that a few of the objects designated in the brochure had been removed! What was up with that? But, a major surprise was that the Asia gallery was behidn hte main musuem in the attached Hackerman House. The house featured a spiral staircase topped with a Tiffany stained glass skylight installed in 1892. That was a sight! (All the more so as they had just turned our the lights in the gallery to prepare for closing.)

Time to reutrn home as the museum closed at 5:00 p.m. A great day in Baltimore!

Africancrab says:
I have enjoyed this, it is exciting because we made a stop at the Washington Monument yesterday. Of course you have better shots since the cherry blossoms were showing. We did not tour the churches as most were literally closing by the time we were done with the harbor area attractions.
Posted on: Jun 24, 2012
troysgonewalkabout says:
Very interesting - maybe if/when I ever make it back to DC I should make a day trip to Baltimore :)
Posted on: Apr 14, 2011
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Washington Place
Washington Place
Baltimores Washington Monument (1…
Baltimore's Washington Monument (…
Baltimores Washington Monument
Baltimore's Washington Monument
Lafayette Equestrian Monument (192…
Lafayette Equestrian Monument (19…
Garrett-Jacobs Mansion
Garrett-Jacobs Mansion
Garrett-Jacobs Mansion interpretiv…
Garrett-Jacobs Mansion interpreti…
Garrett-Jacobs Mansion
Garrett-Jacobs Mansion
Murnaghan House (1849)
Murnaghan House (1849)
Doors at the Murnaghan House
Doors at the Murnaghan House
Murnaghan House interpretive marker
Murnaghan House interpretive marker
Garrett-Jacobs Mansion
Garrett-Jacobs Mansion
Severn Apartments (1894)
Severn Apartments (1894)
Mount Vernon Place Methodist Church
Mount Vernon Place Methodist Church
Mount Vernon Place Methodist Church
Mount Vernon Place Methodist Church
Peabody Conservatory
Peabody Conservatory
Treasures of Heaven exhibit banner…
Treasures of Heaven exhibit banne…
Charles Street corridor
Charles Street corridor
Basilica of the Assumption (1821)
Basilica of the Assumption (1821)
Interior of the Baltimore Basilica
Interior of the Baltimore Basilica
Altar at the Baltimore Basilica
Altar at the Baltimore Basilica
Plaque to John Carroll and subsequ…
Plaque to John Carroll and subseq…
Baltimore Basilica (Baltimore Cath…
Baltimore Basilica (Baltimore Cat…
Pope John Paul II Prayer Garden
Pope John Paul II Prayer Garden
Enoch Pratt Public Library
Enoch Pratt Public Library
Enoch Pratt Public Library interior
Enoch Pratt Public Library interior
Baltimore row houses
Baltimore row houses
Row house on Morton Alley
Row house on Morton Alley
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A pleasant atmosphere and tasty food at George's
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photo by: freak0ut