Posted by: faithtravelfocus | September 26, 2011

Cathedral of Learning: A Good Pitt(sburgh) Stop

Gothic inspires learning in Pittsburgh

The vertical spires, flying buttresses and pointed arches of medieval Gothic-style cathedrals in Europe and theU.S.(Notre Dame de Paris and Washington National Cathedral among them) have for centuries inspired mankind to heavenly wisdom and reverence. 

On the University of Pittsburgh  campus, Gothic inspires something else.

 The 535-foot, 42-story Cathedral of Learning that was built in the 1920s and 30s by designers who wanted to leave a lasting landmark that would reflect their belief: education comes from aspiring to great heights. The monument they left continues to lift the emotions and resolve of students. 

This commanding Pittsburgh academic and administrative icon and some of its unique classrooms also capture the admiration of observers who take an elevator ride to the top to observe city panorama and wander some of the building’s spectacular lecture spaces. For all its glories and cultural importance, The Cathedral of Learning is on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Entry is through the soaring first through third floors Commons Room or lobby – a Gothic space that looks and feels just like a medieval European ecclesiastical church.  Yet instead of worship pews, you most likely see students at desks. 

Austrian Nationality Room

Even more magnetic are the cathedral’s famed 27 Nationality Rooms. Built between 1938 and 1957, the Nationality Rooms were designed, funded, and built by Pittsburgh’s mostly European heritage groups such as the Lithuanians, Polish, Chinese, Italian and Turks. Communities responded to a call from the university’s chancellor to create classrooms that would represent their unique cultures. Churches, schools, fraternal and labor groups, social organizations in Americaand the old countries represented answered his call with funding and design support. The rooms with concepts as diverse as they cultures they represent include: Athensin the time of Pericles; a palace hall in Beijing’s Forbidden City; a 6th-century oratory from Ireland’s Golden Age; and London’s House of Commons.

 For faith travelers, the Cathedral of Learning is a worthy Pittsburgh stop because several of the Nationality Rooms call up the importance of faith in the ethnic groups that developed Pittsburgh. All 27 rooms are treasures of cultural history, community voice, and design that should not be missed. 

The Irish Nationality Room – Romanesque architecture inspired this limestone room with design elements from Killeshin Chapel in County Carlow. Design was inspired by oratories (places for prayer) from the west coast of Ireland. A replica of the famed Book of Kells rests on a sculpted stone chest, patterned after a bishop’s tomb. The Gaelic motto, “For the Glory of God and the Honor of Ireland” adorns the room’s cornerstone. 

The Israel Heritage Room – Imagine listening to your professor as you sit in the elegant simplicity of a first century Galilean stone dwelling. Benches are patterned after those in Capernaum’s 2nd/3rd century synagogue and bear the names of the 12 tribes ofIsrael. Wall murals cover chalkboard doors, and depict Ezra the Scribe reading the law; Moses bringing forth water for the 12 tribes; and the sons of Aaron consecrating theTemple. 

The Ukrainian Nationality Room – The Baroque style defines this room, in carved wood, colorful ceramics, and intricate metalwork in this adaptation of a nobleman’s reception room. An inscription over the lintel commemoratesUkraine’s millennium of Christianity (988-1988), and traditional icons of St. Nicholas, the Mother of God, Christ the Teacher and St. George adorn the walls. 

The Italian Nationality Room – Inside this room there is the serenity of a 15th-century Tuscan monastery with its devotion to faith, art, music, and education. The turquoise cazetta ceiling embellished with carved, golf-leafed rosettes, was inspired by one in a convent. Benches cushioned in red velvet rise above the red tile floor with a pattern similar to that inFlorence’s Palazzo Vecchio. A Florentine sandstone fireplace bears the Latin inscription, “O Lord, Do Not Forsake Me.” Savonarola chairs are at either side of the fireplace. 




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