The Intimate Invitation of Art

Art speaks to people in different ways. Caeli Haigh wanted to know how.

Haigh, a junior Architecture major at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas, decided to turn her curiosity into a special research project for the school’s annual Discovery Day, a day of academic presentations and discussion each spring. For her project, Caeli chose to focus on mosaics, and, in addition to her formal presentation, she will also do a practical demonstration of mosaic making.

“The desire to serve God by echoing His beauty inspired in me also a fascination with Byzantine Christian Mosaics,” said Caeli. “I wanted to do a Discovery Day project to study this, and found a weeklong course in London, England which was teaching just that.  In London, I made two small mosaics, both copies of mosaics in the Hagia Sophia.  The first is a fragment of the Christ Pantokrator mosaic, which took about four days to copy stone by stone.  The second is from a diaper pattern in one of the vaults of the Hagia Sophia and shows a Byzantine Christian cross.  I am so grateful for the opportunity afforded me by the Angelico Fellows stipend and Discovery Day grant which enabled me to travel to London and study this unique and traditional art.”

“At the Discovery Day presentation, I will have both of these copies on exhibit, as well as a small example that I will also use as part of the demo,” said Caeli.  “In the first two thirds of the presentation, I will be discussing mosaics as Byzantine art and the traditional craft of creating mosaics as I learned in the Ravenna method. In the final third, I will show pictures of my process. With an example of a mosaic half-finished, I will add to it a bit so that people can see the part of the process in which stones are added to the work in lime putty.”

The oldest of nine children, Caeli is a Classical Architecture major with a concentration in art. She is one of the inaugural Angelico Fellows at the Center for Beauty & Culture, a program of distinction at Benedictine College that seeks to equip students with the tools they need to draw others to God through beauty.

“Studying architecture specifically at Benedictine has challenged me to pursue studies in England and Italy for the purpose of learning from the greatest architects and artists,” said Caeli.

“The program is quite rigorous, but the benefit is a fulfilling study of architecture as a beautiful craft and a disciplined training in cultivating our eyes to see, reproduce, and invent for the greater glory of God,” said Caeli. “The way I’ve been tested has been life-giving, because it’s in the trying that I connect with the intimate invitation of Christ and Creation.”

Even though architecture is a highly specialized major, Caeli shared that it has been the holistic approach of studying drawing, painting, philosophy, and literature that has inspired her to pursue the study of architecture. Benedictine’s liberal arts curriculum provided a grounding in these other disciplines, preparing her to delve more deeply into the rich history of architecture.  “The architecture professors at Benedictine do a wonderful job of encouraging us to pursue architectural studies in Europe,” said Caeli. “The ways that they push us prepare us for academic rigor, but nothing can quite prepare one for the grandeur of the masterpieces in Europe.  Those have to be experienced in real life in order to fully appreciate and learn from them.”

Caeli Haigh’s Design Proposal for the House of a University President, Elevation and Plan, 2023

“I love the traditional methods of hand drafting and rendering,” said Caeli. “One of the primary objectives in my architectural pursuits is to design for people in a way that responds to the whole person, and that will ultimately orient them towards and prompt a response to Beauty Itself.”

“Through the Angelico Fellowship, I am reminded of the beauty of God’s creation and our responsibility as His creatures to respond to it through our architecture, art, literature, and poetry,” said Caeli. “Meetings with the Angelico Fellows are filled with talk of the higher things that orient us towards God.  We sit together over artisanal pastries (from Domenique’s Bakery in Atchison) and read poetry together, look at paintings and discuss their meanings and penetration into the human soul.”

Caeli is energized to study and practice classical architecture by the beauty and the shapes that characterize a culture. “One of my architecture professors teaches that architecture shows what a people or culture is oriented towards through physical representations, or, in other words, reveals what is most dear to them,” said Caeli. “This is what inspires me to study architecture: to serve God and orient ourselves towards Him through beautiful architecture, and in so doing, best serving others.”

“Studying architecture at Benedictine College and being an Angelico Fellow has opened opportunities I didn’t imagine possible before coming here,” said Caeli. “I am so grateful for the education and community I am blessed with at the college.”

Caeli Haigh’s Design for a Private Funerary Chapel, 2023

After graduating, Caeli plans to continue her study and work in art and architectural design either in personal practice or with a firm. Caeli said, “I hope that the passion I have for classical architecture and design will equip me to respond to the need of people in my town and community for beautiful spaces, while inventing spaces that will provide for their souls as well as bodies by always pointing to the Ultimate Creator of beauty Himself.”

Jenna Ross

Jenna Ross

Jenna Ross is a writer for the Marketing Department at Benedictine College in Kansas and is an adjunct faculty. A proud military spouse who has served and taught soldiers around the world, Ross has written for the U.S. Army Training Management Division and the New Mexico Lottery among other places. She and her husband, George, have three young adult children and live near Atchison, Kansas.