FACES ON THE FAÇADE


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Like all good Richardsonian buildings, Shadyside Church shows restraint in the use of carved ornament on its exterior.  Simple geometric and abstract natural patterns emphasize door and window openings, column capitals and major building divisions.  The delightful grotesque faces, located as they are above eye level on the lantern, may escape notice of the casual observer.  For the most part, the structure relies on its massing and quarry-faced ashlar for its beauty.

The designers used symbolic carvings with even greater restraint – mainly Greek crosses at the peaks of the four gables and a Latin cross on the gable above the west entrance.  Therefore, it is surprising that somewhat unfamiliar symbols greet worshippers at either side of the principal doors.  We find two regal faces sculpted in bold Romanesque style.  Who are these greeters, one male and one female, wearing crowns?

 

In her research for the architecture and history video for Shadyside Church, Through All The Circling Years, producer Claude LaVallée identified a quite plausible answer:  King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.  Although these are two prominent Old Testament figures, why do they occupy such a prime location?  The answer lies in their significance and symbolic meaning as Biblical “types.”  

 

An Old Testament type is a prophetic foreshadowing of a person or thing in the New Testament.  Here, King Solomon is a type of Christ, the Queen of Sheba a type of the Church.  Jesus reveals this relationship in Luke 11:31 (also in Matthew 12:42), “The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon's wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here.”  He is clearly the “one greater than Solomon.” 

12th Century Plaque

The relationship between Christ and the Church are prefigured in the relationship between Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, in I Kings and Chronicles 9:  Solomon demonstrated his great riches and wisdom to her.  In response, she praised him and brought him her gifts.

15th Century Image Solomon & Queen of Sheba

We may interpret these symbols, then, as telling those who enter that Christ is central here and the Church gathers to praise him and offer its gifts.  There are dozens of Old Testament types of Christ, and many types of His Church.  We may ask why the architects chose Solomon and the Queen of Sheba – especially since symbolism is scarce on the church’s façade.  Was this symbolism more familiar to a churchgoer in 1889?  Did it have special significance to a church leader?  Did the designer just appreciate it esthetically?  In any case, these faces are instructive for those who understand their significance.  

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