A Story of Light: St. Monica 2018 Renovation Wins Award

Winter 2017-2018: Plans progressed for the renovation of the church building. The primary focus of the projects included updating the lighting system, painting and a thorough cleaning, necessary as a 21 years of dust, grime, soot, with no significantly upgraded since the reconstruction of the Church after the 1994 Northridge earthquake. Our community moved to the Grand Pavilion and a tent on the Grand Patio for 2 months during the renovation.


In the course of preparing for the renovation, we were referred to several design professionals. We were so grateful that Bridget Williams, a talented lighting designer with a solid reputation in the Southern California region for working with houses of worship, decided to aid is in the project. We were not disappointed. In fact, St. Monica and Bridget Williams Lighting Design were recently recognitzed for achievements in lighting and design.


On Bridget's first visit to St. Monica, within 5 minutes of our meeting and walking into the building, she noted the beautiful frescos in the apse, and said to me: "I’m going to light the Holy Spirit." To remind you, above the head of Jesus, in the apse, is a tremendous image of a dove symbolizing the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus at his baptism.


Bridget has a design philosophy for lighting a building in a way that will highlight the story of the architecture. Working primarily with religious architecture, and a thorough knowledge of the Church’s Liturgy, she has let our gem of a church building shine. Under her careful eye, her design has enhanced focal points of the Litrugy itself: altar, chair, font, ambo, assembly. Each element and locus has been thoroughly treated with care and attention. She treated our building with so much care, the same way that it was built and consecrated in 1926, patterned after the Basilica of Santa Sabina on the Aventine Hill in Rome. The video at left depicts the Basilica and it's beautiful configuration: "The architect was particularly aware of the light effects in an interior space like this. The glass tiles of the mosaics would create a shimmering effect and the walls would appear to float. Light would have been understood as a symbol of divinity. Light was a symbol for Christ. The emphasis in this architecture is on the spiritual effect and not the physical. The opulent effect of the interior of the original Constantinian basilicas is brought out in a Spanish pilgrim’s description of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem." (Dr. Allen Farber, "Basilica of Santa Sabina, Rome," in Smarthistory, August 8, 2015, accessed August 14, 2020, https://smarthistory.org/santa-sabina/.)


Dale Sieverding, our Director of Worship, recently spoke with Bridget to ask where she gained this understanding and how she developed her philosophy of lighting design. She immediately spoke of the way she was raised with love and care in her family, and the influence of her godmother, who helped her with catechism and taught her about faith, church, worship. Raised in a variety of churches, she was baptized as a child at the San Gabriel Mission, and which she is now on the project team for it's reconstruction after a recent devastating fire. She said that Catholicism, planted in her as an infant, keeps drawing her back, even though her growing up, that deep connection has stayed with her throughout her life.


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Dale was compelled to ask Bridget why she had said that, upon first seeing the space: "I’m going to light the Holy Spirit." She responded that, when visiting St. Peter’s basilica in Rome, designed in the renaissance, she came upon the stained glass window of the Holy Spirit in the apse – beyond Bernini’s baldachino over the confessio, to which she was immediately drawn. “I had to light the Holy Spirit, because the Spirit is responsible for everything." It is the Spirit that hovered over the waters of creation, brought about life, descended on Christ at his baptism, was sent as counselor, guide and advocate to give birth to the church after the resurrection.


Bridget's work has reached critical acclaim: Bridget Williams Lighting Design recently won an award from the Illumination Engineering Society for their work on the St. Monica Lighting Renovation project. The project included a very talented team of architectural, electrical and general contractor groups that seamlessly integrate lights and supportive equipment. The lighting controls were designed to run on time-schedules, and can be adjusted to transform the interiors when required. Many of our regular visitors will note that the lighting often reflects the liturgical season; at our highest attendance Masses, such as during the Christmas and Easter seasons, the interior of the Church is enhanced by the innovative lighting design, making it a prayerful and beautiful space for worship and represents the heart of our community.


We congratulate Bridget and her team - thank you for the great work for the benefit of our community. To learn more about Bridget, and see other projects she has worked on, visit: www.Bridgetwilliams.com.


The awards ceremony can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-8-OSUdt3w - with Bridget's award for her work at St. Monica at the 17:35 minute mark.


Below are images of the completed project:





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