When Saint Raphael Catholic Church was built in 1987 a large 9 ft. by 14 ft. ceramic, brick, and mortar sculpture (a bas relief) of the Holy Family was created in the Atrium on an entrance wall outside the church Sanctuary. Five sculptural groups of figures stand out in low relief following the line of the curved church wall. The sculpture was created for this location by Washington DC sculptor and architect Miles Stafford Rolph, II. This sculpture shows scenes from the life of the Holy Family. Several are taken from the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary.
Bas Relief Top Left
At the top left is a depiction of the Annunciation when Archangel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would give birth to Jesus the Christ.
Hail Mary full of grace.
The Lord is with you.
Bas Relief Top Right
The top right figures depict the Visitation showing Mary and Elizabeth sharing their good news. Mary has found that she is pregnant and visits her cousin Elizabeth who will give birth to John the Baptist.
Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Bas Relief Center
The centerpiece of the bas relief is the Nativity, the birth of Jesus. As a symbol of family unity, Mary holds Jesus in her lap and reclines against Joseph. Angels had appeared to shepherds tending their sheep. So the shepherds, one holding a lamb, have come to see this Prince of Peace.
Glory to God in the highest
And on earth peace!
Bas Relief Lower Left
The Flight into Egypt
This next relief is not part of the Joyful Mysteries. At the lower left is a depiction of the Flight into Egypt. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus had to flee to Egypt to escape from King Herod who was planning to kill Jesus. Note Mary delicately holding the newborn baby Jesus.
A voice was heard in Ra’mah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more. Matthew 2
Bas Relief Lower Right
Finding Jesus in the Temple
The lower right section depicts the Finding of Jesus in the Temple. After the death of King Herod, the Holy Family returned from Egypt and lived in Nazareth. When Jesus was about 12, his family went to Jerusalem for a Passover feast. Jesus did not return with his family. Mary and Joseph found him preaching to Jewish Rabbis in the temple. In this ceramic sculpture you see Jesus trying to explain himself to his worried parents.
Why were you looking for me?
Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house? Luke 2
History of the Bas Relief
In 1980 The Parish Council and I adopted the motto OUR FAMILY TOGETHER as the motto of Saint Raphael Parish. In 1984 when we began planning for our new Church we had this idea in our minds that we were a family together in the Lord and from the very beginning we spoke about a shrine to The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph as a part of our program.
When our architect, Robert Smith of the D.C. Firm Smith & Segretti,, read our parish plan – the plan that our committee spent two years in the writing, he suggested that we engage Stafford Rolph (known as Jarbo) to design and sculpt this shrine. Rolph, a noted sculptor of the time, had just completed the Sanctuary on the Mall in Washington, D.C. for Pope John Paul II’s Mass. He had also recently completed work at the Naval Academy Chapel and at Holy Spirit Church In Northern Virginia. Jarbo was asked to study our Parish Plan and to submit a proposal for a Shrine and a Crucifix. He came back with idea of a bas-relief of several scenes in the life of the Holy Family to be situated at the head of the Atrium. The building committee liked his ideas and commissioned him to execute both the bas-relief and The Crucifix. He presented a small scale model of each which we approved. However, he gave an estimated cost of $36,000.00 for the two. The committee was concerned with this additional cost and was about to decide to postpone this art work to a later time. At this point Committee Member Dr. Fred Ng said that he and his wife Anita would pay for this. Thus these finished art works were the gift of Dr. Godofredo and Mrs. Anita Chua Ng.
The bas relief was executed in clay tile in square pieces, each fired separately, and when the time came Jarbo put the bas relief together on site. Once in place the tiles were painted with a special sealant.
Rev. Monsignor Gerald L. Lewis
Director of the Archives
Miles Stafford Rolph, II (1936-1997) was a successful Washington D.C. architect and sculptor. He was a Chester Dale Fellow at the National Gallery of Art, and has sculptural works at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Portrait Gallery and other museums and churches in Washington, D.C.
“His work is absolutely stunning. …It is Renaissance, not modern, yet not derivative.”
John Walker Second Director of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC from 1956 to 1969.
Our bas relief in the Atrium and life size crucifix in the Sanctuary are both Rolph sculptures. The corpus on the crucifix is fiber-glass hung by piano wire. The cross was made from a pecan tree on the Saint Raphael property.
Conservation of Our Atrium Bas Relief Wall
What is a Bas Relief? A French term from the Italian basso-relievo (“lowrelief”), bas relief is a sculpture technique in which figures and/or other design elements are just barely more prominent than the overall flat background on which it is carved.
Over time our sculpture deteriorated. The fill material over the mortar joints began to crack and flake away leaving areas of loss in a number of areas. In 2016 Saint Raphael applied for and received a grant from the Koch Foundation to conserve this work. The artist died in 1997 so the Art Committee contacted the North Carolina Museum of Art for conservator references.
- Cleaning the figural elements of the sculpture.
- Consolidation of cracking and flaking surfaces
- Infilling the areas of loss
- In painting to visually reintegrate the areas into the surrounding areas of the sculpture.
The work was completed over the period of a month in 2017. The restoration and new lighting has enhanced the the Holy family scenes.
Stories of a Young Jesus
Once the Holy Family images were restored Jean Lachman on the Art and Liturgical Environment Committee has been creating a board book for our preschool and copies will be given to each classroom.</p>