Gonippo Raggi was born in Rome, Italy, in 1875. He studied at the Art Institute of S. Michele in Rome. He came to the United States in 1904 at the invitation of Papal Marquis Martin Maloney to supervise the decoration of St. Catherine’s Memorial Church in Spring Lake, New Jersey. Maloney had erected the church as a memorial to his daughter, Catherine. Raggi drew the attention of Rt. Rev. Thomas J. Walsh, then bishop of Trenton. When Walsh became bishop of Newark, he encouraged Raggi to continue his work in the Newark diocese.
Raggi was internationally acclaimed as a portraitist and ecclesiastical artist. He provided murals for many churches and church institutions in the United States and supervised the decoration of the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark. He died in 1959.
Many of the murals Raggi executed for St. Patrick’s are no longer in place. Painted on canvas and held by adhesive to the walls, they succumbed to damage from water and from time.
Some, however, remain. Along the lower wall of the sanctuary are Raggi’s paintings of angels kneeling on either side of the coats of arms of the first five bishops of Newark. They were completed in 1929.
From left to right are the coats of arms of:
The Coats of arms of Archbishops Bayley and Corrigan have ten tassels on either side of the green prelatial hat. The crosses have two bars. These indicate their status as archbishops.
The coats of arms of Bishops Wigger and O’Connor have six tassels and their crosses have one bar. These indicate their status as bishops. For an unknown reason, perhaps chemical changes in the paint, the hat over Bishop O’Connor’s coat of arms is reddish in color, rather than the proper green for bishops and archbishops.
The Walsh coat of arms was originally painted as that of a bishop with six tassels and a cross with one bar, proper for a bishop. When he became archbishop in 1938 it was altered and eight tassels added. However, the artist forgot to double the bar, producing a hybrid coat of arms.
Beneath each coat of arms is a motto on a scroll. The mottoes are in Latin. The motto of Bishop O’Connor was Sapientia Desursum, “Wisdom from above.” Raggi mistakenly painted Sapienza, the Italian word for wisdom, rather than Sapientia, the proper Latin word.