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  • Catacombs of St. JosephCatacombs of St. Joseph Newark, New Jersey
    Many places in Europe have catacombs, those subterranean tunnels that hold niches and corpse shelves for many of the early Christians that were put to death and hidden from the eyes and ideology of the church. Yet the United States lacks these underground cemeteries that profuse the cities of Europe, so Rev. Father Mateo Amoros, assistant pastor at St. Joseph's Church in Newark, New Jersey decided that we needed them here. The state of New Jersey wasn't ready to have burials done under the ground, but the good father went ahead and opened his own in 1937, but instead of burying the dead, he filled the crevices with the wax bodies of the most favorite of the martyrs of his church. He started the Greatest Hits catacombs and quite by accident started the first wax museum in the nation. It has become the ancestral home of all the Last Supper and house of horrors that has risen across the United States since then and although small in comparison to the ones in Europe, they are catacombs like you have never seen them. The Franciscan pastor created the catacombs, which resemble an unusual kind of concrete basement, completely finished and ready for the crowds to peruse and enjoy. Old porch lights have been installed in the concrete ceilings and the niches that house the bodies of the deceased are safe behind glass that is now fogged with age and lit up with huge Christmas light bulbs. Many find it hard to believe that the father would use his spare time to become a handyman working late into the nights fixing and building his catacombs. The entry way is difficult to notice, marked only by a small sign, saying Catacumbas in honor of the Spanish congregation that attends this church in Newark, and nailed to the wall above a small metal door that leads onto the sidewalk of the combs. The building that stands above isn't a church anymore, but the annex to the Immaculate Heart of Mary school, and those choosing to visit the catacombs must go to the rectory and ask that the door be opened. Once the door is opened, you walk down a little flight of stairs and the catacomb's yellow walls and ceilings seem to burst upon your senses like a eerie lit, but cheerful sunburst. It is odd against the corpses that line the walls and hide in the niches built just for the wax figures. Every one of the wax effigies is complemented by a gold framed bilingual biography and the recumbent Jesus is sprawling at the bottom of the stairs, very tired of sharing His love, according to the accompanying sign. His form needs no introduction or explanation, but the remainder of the haphazardly spaced figures, dating from the early days of the Christian martyrdom, positively need the signs to describe who they are and the circumstances that put them here. Just beyond the Christ, is a niche of St. Tarsicio, a small 12 year altar boy that would not give up his Eucharist and was beaten to death. St. Genaro is around the next turn, and he was thrown into a den of wild beasts, after being thrown into a lit fire, when he decided he loved the Lord more than paganism. Continuing onward, two crypts down is the niche of St. Ines, an obedient girl and role model, who had refused to marry a Roman, saying instead that she was already married to God. She was then dragged to a brothel, raped and pillaged and finally vengefully murdered. Every martyr is sleeping peacefully, with their heads lying on soft pillows, with many having deep gashes in their necks showing that their heads were cut off, and the signs state that these kinds of martyrs were like zombies, needing their heads whacked off because they were so hard to murder. St. Genaro's life hadn't succumbed to the fire or the beasts, so they had to decapitate him and St. Cecilia, laying in the biggest crypt in the strange forlorn catacombs, was actually condemned to die by steam; which didn't work, so she was sent to the chopping block. Another was St. Filomena, who was scourged, shot with arrows and then for good measure drowned with an anchor, only to be beheaded after to make sure she was dead. In her small hands, a tiny anchor lays, a memento of her struggle. There is a metal plaque that hangs on the wall by the stairs saying that Father Amoros departed in 1945, with no other explanation or details, and the power to do anymore work in the catacombs seems to have left with him. There is a central altar that is always ready to hold mass, and is overseen by a big framed photo of Pope John XXIII, who signed the picture for the father in 1959, inferring that the papacy did acknowledge the catacombs of Father Amoros in the new world. The catacombs would get a makeover in 1984, as artist Nina Tamburro painted religious frescoes on the walls, with broad faced olive skinned people that contrasted to the pale willowy white corpses that hid in the niches and crypts, and shows the changes that have occurred in the congregation in the last half century. With deep earnest attempts to improve the ambiance of the catacombs, her best work seems to be the dripping cartoon blood that she painted on the wall just below Jesus' hands while he hangs from a mounted crucifix... There seems to be only one other set of catacombs in the nation, built by Franciscans also, but those are still there.

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  • Newark MuseumNewark Museum Newark, New Jersey
    The Newark Museum is the biggest museum in Newark, New Jersey and contains a marvelous collection of American art, arts of the Americas, Asia, Africa and the ancient world, contemporary art, and decorative arts. In the beautiful collection of masterpieces that are held in the American art collection, there are works of art by; Frank Stella, Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Cole, Hiram Powers, Tony Smith, Frederick Church, John Singer Sargent, Georgia O'Keefe, Mary Cassatt and Edward Hopper. The museum's Tibetan galleries have been thought of as the finest in the world, the collection being bought from Christian missionaries that traveled around during the early 20th century. It has an in-situ Buddhist altar that the Dali Lama consecrated. Besides the marvelous art collections housed here, the museum is devoted to natural science, including a mini-zoo that contains more than 100 animals, the Victoria Hall of Science that showcases many of the 70,000 specimen Natural Science collection and the Dreyfuss Planetarium. Behind the museum rests the Alice Ransom Dreyfuss Memorial Garden, which has become the setting for many concerts, performances and community programs, as well as being home to a 1784 old stone schoolhouse and Fire Safety Center.  The museum was started in 1909 by master Newark librarian John Cotton Dana, who had been instructed to establish a museum for the city to exhibit pieces of art, history, science, and technology that would encourage the study of the sciences and arts. The nucleus of the museum was a Japanese collection of silks, porcelains and prints that had been collected by a Newark pharmacist. The museum opened on the fourth floor of the Newark Public Library and was able to move into its own building that was constructed with funds donated by Louis Bamberger in the 1920s, and designed by Jarvis Hunt. It has continued to grow, moving south into the former YMCA, north to the 1885 Ballantine House and then in 1990 to the west by getting an existing building. Most of the museum, that included a new addition, the redesign was achieved by Michael Graves. In their featured exhibitions there are many wonderful collections that include; Constructive Spirit: Abstract Art in South and North America, 1920-1950s, Blackout: A Centennial Commission by Paul Henry Ramirez, Party Time-Re-imagine America: A Centennial Commission by Yinka Shonibare, MBE, Skies Alive! Bird Migration in the Garden State, Small but Sublime: Intimate Views by Durand, Bierstadt and Inness, Glass Beads of Ghana, The Lenox Legacy: America's Greatest Porcelain, 1889-2005, JPMorganChase Presents Once Upon a Dime: The World of Money, Fire Escapes: Danger & Survival, and A Cry of Fire: The New Jersey Fire Story. In their permanent galleries, there are the African Art Galleries, American Art Galleries, with more than 300 wonderful works of art that belong to the museum's marvelous collection that contains paintings, photography, decorative arts and drawings. There are 17 galleries in this collection that contain more than 250 years of paintings and sculptures with other media that attempts to tell the story of picturing America. To continue the permanent collections; the Art of the Americas, Asian Galleries, with 8 permanent galleries showcasing the extraordinary collection of the Tibetan artworks, the Classical Galleries, and the Contemporary Art Galleries, which contain the Women Photographers gallery, the American Art 1960s-1990s, contemporary art and finally decorative arts.

January 11, 2011