Tucked into the heart of an old Houston neighborhood, the Villa de Matel gleams with burnished light. Home to the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word, the convent serves the larger community as a place of worship and retreat as well as being a retirement home for the Sisters.
Its centerpiece is the large Lombard-Romanesque Chapel designed by architect Maurice J. Sullivan. Consecrated in 1928, it’s breathtakingly beautiful with high, vaulted ceilings, German and Irish stained-glass windows, massive marble pillars and intricate tile work. Like the Rothko Chapel, another Houston landmark, it’s impressive without being ornate and its numinous space shimmers in the silence, inviting visitors to pause, rest and reflect.
Apart from its ambiance, the Chapel is known for magnificent acoustics, making it a perfect venue for musical performance. Last December, I took pleasure in attending one of three Houston Chamber Choir concerts in their Christmas at the Villa series. The program, a delightful mix of traditional carols, jazz settings of seasonal favorites and sacred choral music, was sold out, and so we arrived early to ensure ourselves the best seats.
Watching the arrival of other music-lovers, I noticed a woman taking her place in the subscribers’ section of the broad main aisle. Elegant in black velvet, she would have been less noticeable had she not been wearing a Santa hat, vibrant and red as the poinsettias trimming the nave. Turning this way and that to greet friends, she set its white pom-pom jiggling and bobbing, an amusing accompaniment to her conversation until, at last, all conversation was hushed and she settled back to enjoy the music. Continue reading