NYC – Day 1: Of Sedes, Sargents, and Sandwiches

I’m happy ensconced in New York City for a few days.   First on the list of things to do: go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

I was heading toward the small Van Gogh exhibit of Irises and Roses and stopped for a moment to admire some lovely Marian images.

First, all members of the Church Militant will enjoy this one.

This is an ivory plaque, one of the only of its kind to survive from the Caroligian period, 800-825.

This is the Virgin Mary, dressed in military garb, as personification of the Church.  She is seated on her curule chair, holding a scepter and two spindles, which refer to the Annunciation and Incarnation of the Lord.  Mary is often depicted as spinning or with a wheel in the background as the angel of the Annunciation comes to her.

Next, because there is a transcendent quality to it, this plaque, cloisonné, from S. France, 1050-1100.  You see the A and ? (which resembles a curvy W).

Christ in Majesty.

I think I have posted on this before.  Mary is seated with Child, in limestone, polychrome and gilding, c. 1415-17, Poligny, Burgundy.

The inscription is from Ecclesiastes 24: Ab initio et ante saecula creata sum, et usque ad futurum saeculum non desinam: et in habitatione sancta coram ipso ministravi….From the beginning, and before the world, was I created, and unto the world to come I shall not cease to be, and in the holy dwelling place I have ministered before him.

Mary is associated with Wisdom.  She is Wisdom’s vessel and throne.

Christ, divine Wisdom itself, is seated upon Mary, holding a book (an indication of “wisdom”), thus, Mary is Sedes Sapientiae, Seat of Wisdom.

There is a beautiful, tender exchange here between Mary and Christ.

In the 12th and 13th centuries, Seat of Wisdom was a common theme.  Nearby we find this one, which is also a reliquary.

French, 1157-1200.  Wood, paint.

Mary’s large hands draw attention to the Child, who would be holding a book.  Christ is depicted as a small adult.

Also nearby, gilded copper, with champlevé, gems.

Mary, crowned, is also Queen of Heaven.  Christ, Wisdom, King, holds the book.  The figures here are full on, static.

This survived probably because it was in Spain and not France!

Another nearby, gilded copper, champlevé, Limoges, 1270-1300.

There is an inscription on the base: Ave, Gratia Plena.

Here is Mary, Queen of Heaven, enthroned, who is triumphant over two nasty serpent dragon critters. Think Ps 90/91: 3: “Super aspidem et basiliscum ambulabis, et conculcabis leonem et draconem.”

Another, N. France, 1210-20, Mary and Christ are enthroned.

There is an evil snake beneath her feet, reminiscent of Genesis 3:15.

Then… after visiting the interesting, small, Van Gogh exhibit, I decided I would walk through the John Singer Sargent exhibit.  I really like his stuff.  I figured I would walk through and then come back later for a slow, systematic digestion.

I was in luck! One of the curators of the exhibit was just bringing in two people for private tour and they didn’t mind if I tagged along to listen!   So, I got the skinny on many of the paintings, what they were trying to do with the exhibit, how they obtained some of the pieces, anecdotes, etc.  I am now determined to be back there at opening to explore more fully.   The exhibit is fine and extensive, but not overwhelming, probably about 120 pieces, including watercolors and sketches and, of course, the infamous Madame X!

Then it was off to meet friends at my favorite pastrami place in the world.  In the background, homemade potato chips.

Finally, check out something really funny we spotted on the Uber app.

(Uber is the shared-ride enterprise that gives the taxi monopoly a little – over due – competition.  Cheaper, cleaner, faster, courteous… )

With Uber you can choose the type of vehicle you want. The available cars appear on your map.  You can even follow their movement, like an ant farm! Fun.

Take note of the type of vehicle all the way to the faaaar left!

Mayor DeBlasio, pretty much a socialist, when not persecuting the Police Department, has been unfriendly to Uber.

When you click the far left option, you get…

I would have thought that there might pop up an image of a horseless horse carriage dragged by a participants in the “gay” parade….


Tonight, supper with an entrepreneur, a nurse, an Italian opera singer, an Italian clothing designer, and a distinguished canonist.

We opened with a tower of seafood.  Jaws dropped.  The English couple next door wanted photos.

The oysters were good despite the fact that the month doesn’t have an R.

Cold tomato soup with fennel, pesto and saffron.  That’s grated Parmigiano.  I would have used a little more saffron.

The wine, if you are curious, is a Sancerre.  Hints of grapefruit, good for seafood.

I had Coq au vin.  I like to compare how I do it with other presentations.  This had a multiplicity of mushrooms, including a Chinese black that really popped out in a good way.  I like a bit more gravy with it, but it was good with the rice and pearl onions.

The singer had a risotto of peas and pear and little shrimps.  It was glorious, from the small taste I had.  I would leave out the shrimp and, instead of the sprout garnish, use summer sorrel or watercress.

One end of the table spoke mainly Italian and the other English, with lots of cross over.  At one point our singer burst full voice into an aria, which drew a little fascination.  The English couple next to us agreed, on their departure, that we had the cool kids table.

The next time I host a Supper for the Promotion of Clericalism, I may have to make either that tomato soup or that risotto.  I regularly make a risotto with pear and Taleggio, which could form a good bis with this one.  And, if I make Coq au vin – on the basis of Julia’s recipe – I think I’ll modify it slightly.

So, thus endeth Day 1.  Time for some Office!

BTW… today Card. Arinze said Mass at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel here in Manhattan. Not bad.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in On the road, What Fr. Z is up to and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Gregg the Obscure says:

    Sadly my first thought when I saw “sedes” above was “sedevacantists”. Very glad that the reference was to the Sedes Sapientiae, particularly on such a great Marian day as today.

  2. Now that’s what I cal R’nR! Please do post pictures of the Sargent exhibit. I know it is up until the 4th of October, perhaps providence will allow me to see it this year. Happy travels and God bless.

  3. benedetta says:

    Outstanding images all, Fr. Z, how very beautiful! I can’t decide quite yet which I like the best, I think the ivory plaque versus the Burgundian Blessed Mother and Christ Child are competing for favorite for me at this point — I am drawn to the peacocks arrayed in the corners above the ivory Blessed Mother arrayed as Church Militant at this point though. I hope you have an enjoyable visit to the Big Apple.

  4. acardnal says:

    Article in today’s “Bloomberg News” about the “de Blasio” feature on Uber app. Hilarious idea!

  5. thickmick says:

    FYI Billy Boy is going to the Vatican next week to attend a conference called…wait for it…”Modern Slavery and Climate Change: The Commitment of The Cities.”

  6. New Amsterdam says:

    I love Sargent! He created the murals in the Boston Public Library including this crucifix
    Check it out next time you’re in Beantown!
    What’s next on your NYC itinerary?

  7. gracie says:

    Forgive me, Father, if I’m reading your words incorrectly, but in case you don’t know –

    The letter you saw that looks like a “w” is, in fact, a ‘lower-case’ version of the Greek letter “Omega” – the ‘upper case’ looking like a horse-shoe. So what you’re seeing are the symbols for “Alpha and Omega” – with the “w” in place of the ‘upper-case’ (horse-shoe) Omega one usually sees. Here’s an image from the catacombs that has it:

  8. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Splendid – thank you!

    Do ‘we’ have a good idea what Our Lord would be doing with His left hand and Our Lady with her right, if they had survived, in the Ps. 90 one?

    Would it have been something like the lovely Poligny one? Did that originally have an inscription on the open leaves of the book as well? Could we have read what Our Lord seems to be tenderly expounding? (It made me think of Him later among the doctors.)

  9. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    I think I’ve seen capital Alpha with small Omega before, but have no sense of conventions or traditions, here.

  10. Giuseppe says:

    Father Z, if you have free evening theater time, consider seeing the musical On The Town. You referenced On the Waterfront recently and noted that Leonard Bernstein wrote the score. On the Town was Lenny’s first Broadway musical, and it is a sadly overlooked masterpiece. The revival is superb. It opens with the national anthem. The dancing and singing is top notch, and there are truly heartbreaking moments (the songs “Lonely Town” and “Some Other Time” are unheralded gems.) It is hilarious, wacky, and touching, although it is more ribald than I might have expected from a 1944 musical. (Apparently the greatest generation also had hormones!)

    I have been going to B’way shows for over 20 years, and this is one of the best I have ever seen. It’s usually 50% off at TKTS too. “An American in Paris” has been getting all of the press, and it’s great, but the Bernstein score of “On The Town” is an unheralded classic and worth hearing. Plus, “An American in Paris” is rarely 50% off at TKTS.

    [I saw an ad for American in Paris today. On The Town? Funny you should mention it. Just today as I descended to take the uptown 6, I had in my head that great opening languorous bit at the beginning, “I feel like I’m not out of bed yet”, since I’ve had about 8 in the last 48 or so… perhaps because I was so tired and because it is right in my vocal range. Obviously, verses of the aria don’t apply, but – hey – it describes the daily human condition for a lot of people. It’s about a guy who every day busts his back for his family. The line about his baby’s – and wife’s – blue eyes is pretty poignant, and this is only a musical! I know men like this and they are a never ending source of inspiration.HERE

    And then there’s this.

    New York, New York, a helluva town.
    The Bronx is up, but the Battery’s down.
    The people ride in a hole in the groun’.
    New York, New York, it’s a helluva town!]

  11. jameeka says:

    Fr Z: you are amazing. The first day of your R and R and you are giving us a sermon in pictures, for us to contemplate and imitate Blessed Virgin Mary. What marvelous sculptures!

  12. Kathleen10 says:

    Agreed Jameeka, thank you Fr. Z.! This is all lovely to look at and think about.

  13. Mike says:

    My first reaction on viewing the photo of the cloisonné was that it would be fascinating to see what Daniel Matsui could do in that medium. Thank you for sharing the photographs.

  14. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Giuseppe, commenting on the ribaldry in Comden and Green’s On the Town book and lyrics (1944), observes, “Apparently the greatest generation also had hormones!” It’s worth remembering that it was a year earlier that C.S. Lewis said (in the written text of his radio talk on “Sexual Morality”), “They’ll tell you sex has become a mess because it was hushed up. But for the last twenty years it has not been hushed up. It has been chattered about all day long. Yet it is still in a mess.” And at Eastertide 1945 in a talk to youth leaders, he said, generalizing about average (young) unbelieving Englishmen, drawing on years of having given talks in R.A.F. camps, “They are mostly fornicators, but then they do not feel fornication to be wrong”, even adding, “I do not myself think we can expect people to recognize it as a sin until they have accepted Christianity as a whole.”

  15. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Speaking of lyrics in Bernstein musicals, it is interesting to compare stage and film versions as late as the 1961 West Side Story and see how far they have been toned down or left out for the silver screen.

  16. Clinton R. says:

    Thanks for sharing these beautiful photos of Our Lord and the Virgin Mary. The food pics are mouth watering. Enjoy your stay in New York, Father. Maybe one of these days, you will be able to head out here to Los Angeles. If you do, I would recommend eating at Phillippe’s. Their double dipped roast beef sandwiches are excellent. God bless you in your travels. +JMJ+

  17. FranzJosf says:

    Looks like you were at Balthazar, maybe? Haven’t made it there yet. I repeatedly plan to go, but then revert to favorite neighborhood places. Nocello, on west 55th being one of them, Le Veau d’Or on east 60th being another (alas, Robert died, RIP, but his daughter is keeping it up. It’s classic, pre-Nouvelle. I go for the old New York feel as for the food. Nothing has changed in years.) And of course, Neary’s on east 57th. Nothing has changed there, either. Jimmy Neary will greet you personally, may even sit down for a chat. Priests are most welcome there! If your in a posh mood, try Harry Cipriani at the Sherry Netherland or The Monkey Bar on east 54th. The powers that be at the St. Regis decided to fix something that wasn’t broken, so they tarted up the King Cole Bar, but red-haired Michael will treat you very well, if you ask for him to wait on you. (Since you’re a priest he may even give you the reserved table that isn’t reserved for anyone on Sunday afternoons.)

    I’m sure you don’t need recommendations, but I hope that they are not unwelcome.

    Enjoy your stay!

  18. Andreas says:

    The last time I delighted in a hot pastrami sandwich such as that in your photo was MANY years ago when, right before the start of rehearsals with the New York Choral Society, I’d feast on one of those delicious monsters (or their corned beef equivalents) at the wonderful Carnegie Deli. Sam Clemens said it well when he wrote, “Eat it and weep for the Angels, for they ain’t got none!” or something to that effect.

  19. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Actually, there are a fair number of patristic sources in which the shape of the lowercase omega (which looks like a lowercase w) is given great symbolic significance. (And y’all would know this if you had a copy of my translation of Part 1 of St. Beatus of Liebana’s Commentary on the Apocalypse, “the little key to all the books in the bookcase.” And yes, I’m working on Part 2 and it’s almost done with being edited.)

    As St. Apringius of Beja’s Commentary on the Apocalypse tells us, and as St. Beatus quotes him, both the uppercase A (in Greek and Latin) and the lowercase Greek omega are comprised of three lines: in the uppercase A, there are two of equal length (representing “divine unity”, according to tradition handed down by some of our Christian ancestors) and with three of equal length in the omega (presumably representing the Trinity, although this is not explicit in Apringius). Meanwhile, the roundness of the Latin “O” represents how God encloses all things in His protection. (And there’s a Latin O in that cloisonne also.)

  20. Prayerful says:

    The first image of Our Lady is strikingly like a Consular diptych, a carved ivory panel given in commemoration of a Roman gentleman who has attained the office of Consul. A Consul might be shown seated in some formal way giving games in celebration of his elevation to high office. A Consul would distribute the ivory to those who had given their support to him. It was a practice through the Empire but it took the form seen in image above, around the forth century, and lasted until sometime in the sixth century. It is striking that work in the style of an Imperial workshop could still appear that late.

  21. pjsandstrom says:

    For what it is worth:
    1) In addition to what has already been said, the image of the Virgin on the ivory dyptych is a strong vision of the role of the Virgin Mary in the Church — as God’s wife. Consider the book of Proverbs 32:10-31.
    2) The use of “Alpha and Omega” as Initials also appear in the Unicorn Tapestries at the Cloisters Museum in Upper Manhattan. [The curators of these Tapestries in fact have been stymied in their efforts to identify “the original owner” of these Tapestries by referring to the Initials, which do not fit any likely candidate for the ordering of these wonderful Tapestries. The legend of the Unicorn is in fact associated with the Blessed Virgin/Church as the main female character and the Christ as the ‘Unicorn’ living in the Enclosed Garden where he is ‘attached to the ‘Tree of Life’ in the ‘eschatological garden’. So it tells the viewer of the hoped for and believed in ‘share in the Divine Life’ in Paradise. The “Alpha and Omega” Initials/identifiers gain their proper meaning and intent with this ‘back-story’ in mind. It is a shame that the curators either miss the meaning or perhaps intentionally avoid it.]

  22. Venerator Sti Lot says:


    Thanks (and well done providing us with a translation of a work I had never heard of, but which sounds most interesting and valuable; hurray for your recent ‘De Magia’, too – equally unknown and richly informative-sounding)! It would be interesting to see the form of the ‘Alpha’ in the manuscript(s). The Wikipedia “Alpha and Omega” article is illustrated with photos of an inscription from the Catacombs of Domitilla and a painting from the Cubiculum Leonis of the Catacomb of Commodilla – both have the capital Alpha composed as it were of four lines, with the cross-bar a sort of ‘v’, obtuse in the inscription, acute in the mural – as indeed in the cloisonné here and (thank you, pjsandstrom!) the Unicorn Tapestries. The Rhodia stele in Faiyum is interesting in having such an Alpha, but in her name an uncial ‘A’, with small Omegas in both places:

    Your saying “two of equal length” made me think of the compass in some illustrations of creation – and then, the ‘v’-like crossbar, of the square of Masonic use – did they extrapolate it from this sort of Alpha, I wonder, or was it, like the compass, already an existing Christian combination (with or without relation to such an Alpha)?

    I have not found a specific example with capital Omega, though lots of fairly standard images: calligraphically, it looks like it can be anything from one flowing line to comprised of three or five lines, not counting serifs (perhaps different forms have elicited different exegeses)…

Comments are closed.