Content here represents the voice of SIGNATURE SUNSETS, an informational initiative designed to broaden and brighten horizons in the funerary domain.

The material is an outgrowth of a pre-planning reference book, Pondering Leaves: Composing and Conveying Your Life Story's Epilogue, written by the author of this blog.


Tuesday, April 14, 2015


Journey Journal... Gotha, Florida


Capacious mausoleums designed with nakedly exposed walls can be like blank slates that invite ingenuity.  When there is a barren expanse of significant magnitude, why ignore the possibilities?  The white, sun-drenched side of such a structure at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California is transformed into a silver screen on evenings when movies are projected on it.  People bearing picnic paraphernalia and blankets repose on a spread of unadulterated turf as they watch the action under starry skies, overlooking the graves of celebrity stars buried nearby.

Bob Neel, a former funeral director and previous owner of the Woodlawn Cemetery in Gotha, Florida fostered an alternative brainstorm for capitalizing on the real estate.  In 1993 when his visionary idea came to fruition he noted, “'I wanted to make Woodlawn different from other cemeteries, as darkness is unlike light, as eternal life is different from death… 
I got this inspiration to make it different by having this magnificent piece of art where people can study the life of Christ.''

The artwork to which he referred is the Life of Christ Mosaic that festoons the side of the Mausoleum of Christian Heritage.  The colorfully bold façade with its bigger-than-life intricacies readily captures the attention of visitors as they progress toward it over a long entrance road. 

The 1,560-foot mosaic, which measures seventy-eight by twenty feet, depicts pivotal stages of Christ’s life, with twenty-three chronological scenes that begin on the left – starting with his birth and advancing to his resurrection and ascension on the right.  A central panel showcases a figure of the risen Christ.  

It is one of the largest such creations in the country, though a bigger Life of Christ version is on the wall of a mausoleum at the Covina Hills Forest Lawn Memorial Park in California.  That one is one hundred and seventy by thirty feet and has twenty-six scenes.   

For many years, before commissioning two California sisters to create the drawings for this masterpiece, Neel, a Presbyterian Church congregant, laid the conceptual foundation by reading the New Testament and identifying significant verses he considered desirable to depict. Trips to Italy, where he observed other mosaic works, contributed to his visualization.  As part of the images portraying Jesus calling the children to him within a milieu of feeding the multitudes and entering Jerusalem, the artists incorporated likenesses of his four children.  Except for replication of Leonardo da Vinci’s portrayal of the Last Supper, the scenes that materialized were original configurations.  The colored rendering of the mural required three years for the artists to complete. 

In 1989, once the artwork had been completed, mosaic specialists from Italy began the laborious crafting process, employing eleven million pieces of Venetian glass.   Preliminaries within their Italian studio included photographing the mural before making a reverse copy and enlarging it to actual size.   The amplified copy, known within the trade as a cartoon, was segmented into four hundred and three manageable pieces, simulating a giant jigsaw puzzle, and numbered for convenience of assemblage. 

Each piece of glass was then methodically glued to the cartoon prior to transporting it – along with the mosaic crafters – to Orlando for installation.  Over the course of more than a month, with the paper side out, they affixed each section to the wall using a mixture of sand, cement, and glue before peeling off the paper to expose the glass. 

The finished product, which had cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, was covered with a white veil in anticipation of a 1993 dedication ceremony that took place relevantly on 
Good Friday.  Members of seven hundred churches and burial plot owners were invited along with civic and business leaders.  To reveal it, the two thousand people in attendance pulled more than one hundred cords that brought down the veil.    

Though Robert Neel, an influential prime mover in the community, died in December, 2014, his legacy lives on through this enduring hallmark of his undertaking. Every year, an Easter sunrise service is held meaningfully in front of his massive work of art. 

There is more to this mausoleum’s attraction than the garnished wall.  Another eye-catcher, also inspired by Neel, was added to the ground in front of it.  In keeping with the spiritual theme, a labyrinth is in place as a means for bereaved individuals to confront their sorrow and find spiritual renewal. 

This round, circumscribed plane is a replica of one in the Notre Dame Cathedral in Chartres, France.  There is another at the Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.  Such patterned circuits are of ancient origin, thousands of years old, and found all around the world. 

The path within it twists and turns back upon itself in an elaborate circular pattern.  A journey begins by starting at the entrance and putting one foot in front of the other to follow the winding route until reaching the six-petal rosette at the center.  There, one pauses for meditation or prayer.  Then the process is reversed as steps are retraced.   

The mind is quieted when engaged in this “body prayer” or potentially transformative walking meditation.  One’s complexity of consciousness is addressed through the simple act of walking – by retreating from the chaos of life and focusing only on the discovery of self.  Described as “prayer in motion,” it offers an avenue for introspection and healing. Relaxed contemplation is inspired, possibly augmented by focusing on breathing sensations. Slowly walking along its singular path can potentially invoke calm for individuals confronting life transitions such as death. Perspectives change, as one’s body and vision are never facing in the same direction for long.  The objective is to remain open to whatever feelings may emerge. Sometimes tears are summoned, especially when the walker is feeling burdened by grief. Metaphorically meaningful, such instruments for meditative self-exploration and restitution can help individuals take steps toward moving forward in their lives, particularly if it becomes a repetitive practice.   


1 comment:

  1. I think it's important to mention the names of the sisters who created the Life of Christ artwork. They were Venetia Epler and Daphne Huntington. They were prolific artists who worked in many mediums. I believe that both of them are buried at Forest Lawn, Covina Hills.


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