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Sculptures of St. John the Evangelist and St. Catherine of Siena to adorn Boise Cathedral

Updated: Nov 15, 2023

By Deacon Scott Pearhill

Editor, ICR


Christopher Alles, who has been called a “modern Michelangelo” by Aletia.org, will create two original sculptures for St. John the Evangelist Cathedral in Boise.


Bishop Peter Christensen noticed the interior of the Cathedral lacked any statuary of its patron, St. John the Evangelist. He wanted the new statue to be in the manner and spirit of the figures of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph, which can be seen to the left and right of the altar.


Alles noted, “The existing statues take their cues from the Romantic, Naturalist style. They are very high quality and very tastefully done. They are excellent works, and the manner of the new statues will be similar.”


Bishop Peter noted the existing statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph could be described as “formal” and exhibit strength, not only because of their classic style, but also because the sculptures reveal the manner of their life, their steadfast faith and devotion to the Lord. The new statue of St. John the Evangelist will have that same strength, as will the statue of St. Catherine of Siena.


Bishop Peter chose St. Catherine of Siena, the 14th-century Italian mystic, because he “Fell in love with her” after reading about her life. “She had a vision of what God was calling her to do, and she did it. The Lord used her in miraculous ways,” he explained.

The new statues, said Alles, will be created simultaneously in the same studio. So, there will be a “natural harmony, a unity between them. They will complement each other.” Alles explained, “The designs will make use of traditional elements and will be very respectfully done, but they won’t be copies; they will be originals.”


The statues begin with drawings conceived in consultation with those who commission the work. Then, the drawings are rendered in clay in his Poughkeepsie, New York, studio. Sometimes, miniature clay versions can assist with creating the full-sized clay model, or the artist may decide to go directly to the larger clay version. The artist will apply the clay to a metal skeleton called an “armature.”


Once the clay model is complete, a mold will be made with plastic and rubber. Then, a cast will be poured with resin and marble dust. The cast will typically involve several resin layers, allowing the first layers to be transparent and later layers to incorporate marble dust, creating the marbleized look.


Once the statues are complete, they will be shipped to Boise and placed in the Cathedral.


Alles, age 32, is described as a sculptor “who specializes in art for sacred places,” said Bill Miller in a March 15th article for The Tablet:


“Artist to Sculpt ‘Fatherhood of St. Joseph’ for the Co-Cathedral.” In addition to the commission to create a life-sized sculpture of St. Joseph for the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, Miller notes that Alles has also completed two sculptures for St. Joseph’s Parish in Somers, New York.


According to The Tablet, the Hudson Valley-based sculptor was raised in Portland, Oregon, where his family attended Holy Rosary Catholic Church, and his mother taught piano and sang in the church choir, accompanied by Alles and one of his brothers. “In this setting, Alles discovered the confluence of artistic beauty and spirituality,” said Miller. Many in Idaho may know his father, Douglas Alles, who has served as the Director of Catholic Charities of Idaho for the last decade. His father and mother made sure the family was connected to their faith.


“One of the great things about that parish, growing up, there was a lot of beauty associated with it. Besides good art, there was good music. And that can become a vessel or a way to express your spiritual life. The more beautiful it is, the easier it is to pray,” said Alles in The Tablet article.


Growing up in Portland, the family played music, drew, and delighted in books of art. “There was a lot of exposure to creativity and beauty at an early age,” Alles explained. “I considered a career in acting or music but veered toward sculpting. I decided to put my energies there.”


Alles attended college for a year but realized he would gain more from apprenticing. “You learn something from each mentor, then you piece it together,” said Alles. “You pick up a little here, a little there. That’s how artists learn their trade.”


His Catholic faith is also central to his art. An artist “is a secular monk in a way. You are out in the world, but you are kind of seeing all things in the light of Christ and in the light of this spiritual encounter that you have,” said Alles in a May 22, 2022, Aletia article, “Meet the modern Michelangelo,” by Theresa Civantos Barber.


“When a decision needed to be made regarding what type of art I would do, it was clear it had to be within the realm of the Catholic sacred art. This doesn’t exclude other subject matters for me, but the highest expression of any culture is the sacred, and in the case of Christian culture, it’s the Mass. All other art forms and expressions in the West flow from the art of the Mass” said Alles in Aletia.


In 2012, Alles began his practical training in Florence, Italy, where he worked with Irish sculptor Dony MacManus on an altar relief for a chapel in Rome. According to his website, MacManus’ art studio in Italy was so successful that the Archbishop of Florence, Giuseppe Cardinal Betori, asked MacManus to personally found a diocesan sacred art school in Florence based on his studio practice (donymacmanusstudios.com).


Back in the United States, Alles apprenticed under Tomasz Misztal, learning more about the European grand manner of sculpture. Misztal, a Polish sculptor, now based in Portland, has a particular focus on sacred art and once received a commission from the Gdynia dock workers, members of the Solidarity Movement, to create a sculpture as a gift for Pope St. John Paul II when he visited Poland in 1987. The piece depicts a pair of praying hands tied with ropes and chains whose links are being broken. Pope St. John Paul II had the sculptures placed in the Vatican Collection in Rome.


He also completed a master class in drawing with Vitaly Lvovich Borovic, who was head of the drawing department at the Repin Academy of Fine Art St Petersburg, Russia, for over 30 Years.


Christopher Alles and his wife, Emma, are raising a toddler son and infant triplet daughters. His triplet daughters are now nearly two years old, and his son is four. His wife is pregnant again, so for a brief period, they will have five children, all under the age of four. When people ask the artist and family man what “he is reading these days,” he just laughs.


For more information about Alles, visit christopheralles.com


If you would like to make a Christmas gift to your Cathedral, consider making a donation to the “Cathedral Statues” project. Simply Click Here, or mail your check to the Diocesan Pastoral Center, 1501 S. Federal Way, Suite 400, Boise, ID, 83705. Please note in the memo area of your check: “Cathedral Statues.”


If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it, please consider buying a subscription to the Idaho Catholic Register. Your $20 yearly subscription also supports the work of the Diocese of Boise Communications Department, which includes not only the newspaper, but this website, social media posts and videos. You can subscribe here, or through your parish, or send a check to 1501 S. Federal Way, Boise, ID, 83705: or call 208-350-7554 to leave a credit card payment. Thank you, and God bless you.


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Diocesan Pastoral Center

FAX: (208) 342-0224

1501 S. FEDERAL WAY, SUITE 400, BOISE, ID 83705

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