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Grey Cross Studios
1920 4th St, New Orleans , LA 70113
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(BTC) The Day the Machines Found Christ (Grey Cross)

This is a tale of much more than just the piece of art above. This is about an urban adventure. As I've said before, after Hurricane Katrina there were a lot of places that you could get into that were formally locked and inaccessible. One of the most amazing places was an abandoned church. I'd try to gain access to this place several times, but always found homeless folk sleeping inside of it. What I could see from my few glimpses within amazed me. This place didn't look like a church. In fact I am still to this day unsure what it really was. Parts of it seemed to defy logic. 

On this particular day, there was a fire across the street from it. There were a lot of old abandoned structures in this area and the police with an abundance of caution had gone into them all and removed those staying within them. I was there with my camera photographing the fire when I saw them hustling people out to a safer location. 

As they began to get the fire under control, I decided to try and get into the church from the backside if just to grab a few quick photos. And here began one of the oddest photo shoots I'd ever been on. At first glance at the outside, you'd swear it wasn't a church but a children daycare center. Note the odd dome shaped iron work in these photos. We'll come back to that later. 

The entrance lay open on the backside of the structure. This was like no church I'd ever seen.

I entered cautiously, trying not to be seen by police or firemen nearby. The I entered must have been pretty amazing in its day. There were fresco's and tiled art on some of the walls. Not cheap work, but handmade custom tiles with metallic tints that sparkled in the afternoon sunshine. I could spy an alcove that must have held a statue at one time on the far wall. 

Behind me was a room that was mostly gone with a badly sagging balcony above with its roof exposed. 

Beyond that was another large room with what I first thought was an altar at the far end, dressed in yellow and red. On closer inspection it looked more like the grotto you would place a Buddhist shrine on.

To one side was yet another grotto looking area, this one in reds and golds. And another niche that probably held another statue. 

And across from that yet another matching grotto.

High above me were broken out windows in geometric shapes. 

A closer inspection of the large altar like structure at the opposing end of the room, gave me no clues as to its use. It had once ornate metal on the arch above it and the whole structure was raised on fire glazed bricks that still shone their colors.

As I turned from the alter I realized I'd completely missed an amazing iconography made of mosaic tile. While it looked like stained glass, it wasn't. More tiled mosaics stretched away on either side of it. 

At this point I snapping photos madly, trying to capture as much of the place as I could before I was either tossed out by the police or the homeless inhabitants returned. 

Another of the great inlaid doors lay abandoned on the floor as I returned to the where I'd entered. 

Here to my right I noticed another niche, this one with a statue still within it. A bible verse in calligraphy and a baptismal font lay beneath it.

And here on the opposing wall was the most beautiful hand painted Madonna and child with yet another baptismal font beneath it. This would be the image used in the piece of art at the top of the page. 

What a treasure this place was and what a loss. Was it a church? Was it something else? In amazement I found a set of stairs still strong enough to hold my weight and I ascended to the upper level of the building. 

Another intricately tiled niche stodd at the top of the stairs.Red archways, went off in several directions, the floors in some areas not safe enough to enter.

Dominating one side of the room was an inset concrete niche with a purple clad statue of black Jesus with purple flowers on him. And even stranger a smaller statue of the a white Madonna sort of perched on his left shoulder. Around him strange cherub like faces peaked out of the concrete and pape rmache identical faces of white Jesus were lined around them.

What in the hell was this place? None of it made sense. None of the existing iconography or adornments seemed to represent one sect or denomination.  Along another wall, high up where it would have been impossible to use, was a caged area with a partial panel still upon it and what looked to me like the edge of something with an Egyptian motif. Why? 

I came back down the stairs, not trusting the floors and continued to wander in the lower level, photographing the odd and bizarre.

And here to my surprise was another stairway. This one in far worse shape than the first. I made a cautious ascent. 

And to my surprise among the burned out remains of an old fire, I found a massive still standing fireplace. 

And finally I stumbled on the oddest item yet in the place. Sitting in the center of another room was a giant wrought iron dome. Similar to the one outside where the strange merry go round was, but twice its size, it filled the room. But here was the ultimate mystery. How had it gotten here? There were no openings, windows or stairways large enough to allow for it to be brought up here. That means it either had to be brought up in sections and soldered together or was built from scratch in this space. But why????

To this day I'll wonder about that huge iron dome and what reason it had for being there. My guess it was meant to be an inside dome for the area where the ceiling had caved in. There may have been something else there that was destroyed in a past fire, but if there was, it was long gone now. 

And with that I decided I'd risked the fates enough and I made a retreat down the stairs and out.

Now that you know the backstory, lets look at the piece of art one more time. These are the step photos to create the piece. 

The work on this piece is relatively straight forward, but I think the backstory gives the art a particular resonance. Sometimes its best to not know the story behind something, but somethings it enhances. 

I'll never really know what this place was and I think the theme of machines finding Christ reflects that. Its doubtful a machine stumbling across our archaic religious symbols would have a clue what it all meant. I am not sure we who live here know what it all means either. Its just another mystery of who we are I suppose.

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