Art Illuminates Faith

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An artist’s rare gift is to see beauty and make it visible — instilling the essence of his or her subject into a work of art. How apparent this is in the emblematic relationship of sacred art to faith, as it reveals wisdom and teachings, symbolism and inspiration.

Alan at work at the Cathedral
Artist John Alan Warford at work in the Cathedral’s vestibule

Such is the art of John Alan Warford, who has partnered with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson in the overall renovation of St. Augustine Cathedral since 2008. His work most recently includes the vestibule murals in the renovated interior of St. Augustine Cathedral, where both faithful and culture seekers visit to learn and be amazed by Tucson Roman Catholic stories and beauty.

Entitled “In Communion with the Angels and Saints,” the mural was dedicated on January 13, 2013. The 5,000 square feet of 28 life-size figures — depicting in “illusional architecture” the Tucson legacy as well as traditional Roman saints including St. Mother Teresa, St. Josephine Bakhita and St. Francis of Assisi — was one year in the making.

Immediately recognizable, John Alan’s technique of proper proportion, perspective, and 3-D muraling that span the walls and vestibule of the Cathedral are sensitively rich in detail, pointing witness to various aspects of faith and Tucson history. The murals transport onlookers to a realm inspired by the Roman Catholic Eucharistic Prayer for All Saints Day and Msgr. Edward Ryle, a priest in the diocese for nearly 50 years who was a lobbyist for the Arizona Conference of Catholic Bishops and whose passion for the poor and mentally ill reminded state leaders of their obligations to “the littlest and weakest among us.”

John Alan’s other artwork around the Cathedral intends to teach history and faith through story and symbolism: Some of the curved ceiling tiles (completed in the 2011 renovation) reference the Jesuit missionary and explorer Padre Eusebio Francisco Kino, while others reflect the history of the Tucson Diocese.

Narthex dedication, 2013
Narthex dedication, 2013

As a choral musician, John Alan was aware that the sounds, sights, scents of a Church’s interior are all part of worship and faith teaching.

“I often wonder how physical surroundings affect one’s experience,” he notes. “I find that in a beautiful and serene place I am inspired — to create, to be at peace, to celebrate and to listen to the still small voice inside. Beautiful spaces can be an expression of what’s best within us.”

In discussing the goals of his church projects, John Alan comments: “The goal is to use beauty as inspiration, as a call to learn from the stories and symbolism in the art and ornament, and to assist us in remembering what our communion teaches us about God and one another.”

In the diocesan publication (New Vision online, 2011), Bishop Gerald F. Kicanas reflected on what parishioners and outside visitors see when entering the Cathedral — a story of both Tucson and faith. The Bishop noted how the murals “set the scene for what you will experience when you enter the main space of the Cathedral. It can communicate why you are coming here. And, it can communicate what you take out into the world with you as you leave.”


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