Treasures of Our Lady of Mercy
Tales of Island Life: November 2023
Our Lady of Mercy church was designed by F. Burrell Hoffman who is known for Vizcaya, the Venetian-style mansion on Biscayne Bay in Miami. The church design was commissioned by Gertrude Hill Gavin and a committee of other Boca Grande residents and was constructed by local builders in 1950.
The exterior of the church is elegant and simple but through the Spanish oak doors is a collection of Renaissance treasures. At the front of the church under the nave is the most important part of the altarpiece: a polychrome wood-carved Annunciation relief from approximately 1615. It may be the work of Gregorio Fernandez, one of the most Spanish sculptors of all time.
Below the Annunciation is a polychrome wooded sculpture of the risen Christ from about 1600. On each side are reliefs of Saints Peter and Paul. Similar tabernacles are found throughout the north of Spain. The tabernacle’s gilded frame houses a collection of small Renaissance paintings and sculptures.
The large oval marble relief of the Virgin Mary and Child dates to about 1525. The square alabaster carving of the Flight Into Egypt near the top of the tabernacle is probably Belgian, most likely exported to Spain long before being brought to the Island.
The church’s windows are stained glass in grisaille, a gray monochrome style of painting that looks like sculpture. The blue majolica tiles around the major windows are in dramatic contrast to the plain white walls. The hanging lights above the apse are star-shaped and made of metal and glass to stand out against the sky-blue vaulted ceiling.
Gertrude Gavin’s nephew, Jerome Hill, painted the Stations of the Cross on the church’s interior. She was able to attend the consecration ceremony for the church on March 5,1950 which was also the day after her 67th birthday. Among her other philanthropies were the donation of a reconstructed chapel which came from France which contains a niche where tradition holds Saint Joan of Arc worshipped in 1429 before a battle with the English. She also donated French landscape and pastoral paintings to the Minneapolis Institute of Art, contributed to the construction of the Church of St. Mary of the Lake in White Bear, Minnesota and provided a trust for the James J. Hill Reference Library in St. Paul.