From darkness to the light of Savannah (Dennis Aubrey)


I was diagnosed with Stage IV prostate cancer in late September and as can be imagined, life turned upside down. Oncology treatments started immediately and in March I started radiation.

There is a holistic practitioner locally who has dedicated enormous efforts on helping the “wellness” side of the equation and she has achieved great results, so much so that I felt pretty good through much of the radiation. But the last three weeks was devastating to my system and I was in pretty bad shape. Looking back on it now, it was much worse than I realized.

South side chapel, Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, Savannah (Georgia) Photo by PJ Aubrey

I have one strange quirk when very ill. When I got sick in France in 2015, on our return to Cape Cod I entered a “nesting” phase – I bought new cupboards, a barbecue, a bench for our deck, and lots of other things for our home. I sat on the couch with my iPad and ordered continuously; I even bought a beautiful bronze chiminea! This year, I did the same thing, only it was artwork. I bought three paintings by Salvatore Grippi, prints by Irving Amen, Joan Miró, Pierre Bonnard – statues, glass sculpture by Shahid Khan and Richard Satava, and more, filling our home with beautiful things. We already had a plethora of art, but I filled every available wall, spending far more than I ever would have if my mind worked properly. I never understood why I did this, but during my cancer treatments, I was often up alone at night looking at the works, loving our home, and loving PJ so much. It was painful to see how my suffering hurt PJ and I longed for a way to make it up to her

Side aisle, Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, Savannah (Georgia) Photo by PJ Aubrey

The solution was to celebrate the end of radiation with a road trip to Charleston and Savannah so that we could visit with our great friend Diane Quaid. Diane recently moved from Cape Cod to South Carolina near Hilton Head. Ten days after radiation was completed we started – I was feeling better at the beginning of the trip, but as we moved along, things deteriorated. We had some wonderful moments, but the trip was too much too soon, but I was bound and determined to go through with it.

Altar and south side chapel, Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, Savannah (Georgia) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

We loved the Georgia lowlands and ate wonderful meals of fresh local seafood. That was medicine in itself, but the highlight was the opportunity to photograph Savannah’s beautiful cathedral. The cathedral, in the old downtown of the city, is a wonderful structure. It is essentially a large hall church with a nave and side aisles but no transepts. Instead there are chapels on each side of the altar.

Nave, Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, Savannah (Georgia) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The original cathedral was founded to serve a congregation of immigrants fleeing the insurrection in Haiti and the revolution in France. The first parish, the Congregation of Saint Jean-Baptiste, was formed at the end of the 18th century. The original French Gothic-style cathedral was dedicated in 1876 by the Archbishop of Baltimore. In 1898 a devastating fire destroyed everything except the outside walls and the two spires. Rebuilding began immediately and the cathedral we see today was dedicated on October 28, 1900.

Nave vault, Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, Savannah (Georgia) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The first thing one notices upon entering the church are the paintings, The stained glass windows, executed by the Innsbruck Glassmakers in the Austrian Tyrol, were installed in the Cathedral around 1904. Christopher Murphy, a noted Savannah artist, planned and directed a team of artists in the painting of the murals.

Apse from south side aisle, Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, Savannah (Georgia) Photo by PJ Aubrey

So now it is a month later and I am making real progress in my recovery. We are both back to work – preparing our various exhibitions and now, hopefully, returning to our beloved Via Lucis blog. Thank you all for your patience and your good wishes; you have helped more than you will ever know.

Nave elevation, Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, Savannah (Georgia) Photo by PJ Aubrey

One final note; regular readers of Via Lucis may notice that the photographic credits for PJ’s photos now read “PJ Aubrey” instead of “PJ McKey”. We started this project before we were married and we used her professional name. She has now decided to use her married name. The change does not seem to have affected the quality of her photographs at all!

41 responses to “From darkness to the light of Savannah (Dennis Aubrey)

    • Ana, thank you for your kind thoughts – and yes, there are so many churches for us to explore. We were planning to go to Sardinia and Corsica this fall, but we don’t think I’m quite ready for a two-month trip yet. Next spring looks good!

  1. Dear Mr. and Mrs. Aubrey, whatever you do has my whole hearted support, what happens to you will be up to he for whom all your beautiful churches were built. Would that the love you have given, in sharing them with us, be repaid tenfold. My prayers are with you both, Lucy

    • Lucy, thank you for this beautiful thought. PJ and I are so glad to be able to work again; if not as often and hard as before, but we love this Via Lucis community so much.

    • Always a pleasure to see your name on a comment, Ludwig. During the time that I was not able to work, one of the things that I missed most were the exchanges here on Via Lucis. During the “dark days”, I used to come on the site and read what people were saying for inspiration and comfort. Your name was always among the ones that I read. Thank you.

      • Thank you, Dennis. You are very kind. It amazes me how precious our online friendships can be. I feel that I am standing in the marvelous places in your photos and hear the telling of the stories in a quiet, respectful voice and that I am with friends. Hope to join many more of your journeys. Be well!

  2. Just want you to know that a Melbourne woman aged 80 is passionate about early churches and looks at your photos and reads your blogs with great interest and pleasure. When I travel in Europe I go right to the Romanesque cathedrals and churches.

    • I love so much your description of Saint George the Martyr: “Saint George’s Goodwood is a Catholic church in the Anglican tradition. As such we are slow religion. It’s like slow food: we take our time; we give that time to God to slowly and surely change us. We do this through our liturgy: its solemnity and beautiful music. We are here to worship God. By doing that, we let God take us and change us.” I can already feel your prayers working on me!

    • Fiona, we all have these troubles … it was just my time. How lucky I am to have PJ, my family, and the support of people all over the world through Via Lucis. Thank you.

  3. I’m very glad for your recovery and the post is a testament to your improving health. This is a beautiful church and I am studying it closely – as I do all you photographs. All the best to you and P.J.

    • Aquila, I know that we are in the approximate same part of the country and wanted to send you a personal invitation to the reception for the Dayton exhibition, even if you can’t make it. Can you send me a message on the contact link on our “Via Lucis” tab with your email address? Thanks!

  4. Dennis, many thanks from a Frenchman for sharing your passion for so many French churches (and others) with everyone. You and PJ are great masters of photography and fine observers. May the light be with you, always.

    • Merci, Joel. I had no idea from your previous comments (and excellent English) that you were French! Your kind words lift us both and make us anxious to return to our beloved French countryside!

  5. Que notre belle Vierge de la Sagesse veille sur toi, qu’elle soit brune, noire, blanche ou dorée! Bénédictions!

    • Merci pour ça! Catherine, the exhibition in Dayton is exquisite – 24 large high resolution framed prints of these vierges. We have another exhibition of them in January. Are you interested in contributing to the catalog?

    • Thank you so much, Richard. Wonderful to hear from Whangarei, a place that somehow is a distant home though I have never been there! Greetings to the New Zealand Aubreys!

  6. Recover asap, Dennis!! A plethora of Spanish Romanesque churches are willing and eager to be photographed one day by the Masters of Via Lucis… 🙂

    All the best to you, my friend

    • But of course I will recover asap. PJ and I were sitting outside with our coffee yesterday morning and she said that it is so hard choosing where to go in Europe now, because we have to go see churches and we must go see friends! Worse choices may be found in life. Thanks, Covetotop, the retired, the scrivner, our dear friend.

  7. Absolutely stunning images of this beautiful sacred place. We have been there and your work has somehow captured not only the physical beauty but the immense hushed reverence. Thank you for sharing your work and your love. Wishing you both continued health, peace and joy.

  8. sorry to hear of your health concerns, and extremely happy to hear you are recovering, returning to my blog I realize how long I have been away, and how much I have missed reading our posts. Good luck wth exhibitions and I look forward to reading your future posts.

    • Janice, thanks so much. Am glad to be on the recovery side of the equation and glad we could take some time to photograph in Savannah. Seeing your comment sent me to your site to relish your Compostela pilgrimage once again!

  9. prayers for you in your remarkable determination to live life to the fullest. The pictures are beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

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