One of the over-reactions (in our opinion) to Vatican II in the 1970’s was a desire to minimize the architectural beauty of many new churches being built. Liturgical experts were brought in to explain why things needed to change….although Vatican II never said anything to that effect. Suddenly we had bland, ugly buildings with a plain table and two candles for an altar. It was simplistic taken to extremes. The tabernacle may….or may not…have been visible to the congregation. In other words, tradition was to be despised and we all needed to “get with the times”. Of course, we know where that led….but that is another story for another time.
Priests and lay people hoping to build more traditional buildings often had to fight their own diocese to accomplish it……making quite a few compromises along the way. Fighting the architectural commitees of their diocese was often an uphill battle. Keeping the tabernacle in a prominent position was certainly one of those battles…in some cases it was practically in the broom closet.
But the pendulum has begun to swing back, and there is a growing appreciation (you might even say a hunger) for greater beauty in the sanctuary. Utilitarian is beginning to be replaced by Gothic or Baroque styles of buildings. Many of the churches being built today have a more traditional look….and some older churches are being remodeled to look traditional.
While many parishes in the Northeast and Midwest have found it necessary to close, the “sun belt” states have seen tremendous growth over the last few decades. The South was formerly called “the Bible Belt” due to its heavy Protestant influence…just don’t tell them that Catholics wrote the Bible!. Along with that growth came the need to build new churches to accommodate the many Catholics moving into these states.
It is always sad to see some of these beautiful old churches close, especially those with such features as marble altars, old stained glass windows, hand-carved statuary, etc. But as many cities aged, and people moved out of the area, these churches had such low attendance that they were forced to close and either torn down or turned into something else. The magnificent features that made them so beautiful were sold off.
Fortunately, in some cases, the contents of these churches were purchased and used in new church construction elsewhere.
One example of this is the new sanctuary building for Saint Clare of Assisi Catholic Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The building committee had found out that the Sisters of Saint Joseph Convent in Pittsburgh, built in 1897, was designated to be sold and the chapel furnishings auctioned off.
It said that some things are not coincidences, they are God-incidences. And this is certainly one of them. The new building here in Charleston was designed so that the windows would be fitted with clear glass until a future time when the parish could afford stained glass windows. They needed 12 windows.
The chapel in the Sisters of Saint Joseph Chapel had 12 stained-glass windows designed by renowned German window maker Franz Mayer of Munich! And they fit their architects’ design for the new church by a matter of inches (the 120 year-old windows were 18 feet tall by 8 feet wide). Not only that, two of them depicted Saint Clare of Assisi! Coincidence? We think not.
According to the pastor, Rev. Gregory West of St. Clare of Assisi, the church paid about $450,000 for the windows and their removal. New ones would have cost many times more than that, he said.
In addition, they have also purchased the Stations of the Cross, the high altar (reredos), the main altar, statues of Saint Joseph, the Blessed Mother, Saint Clare of Assisi, and a baptismal font. They will all have a new home here at Saint Clare of Assisi Parish in Charleston.
Here in South Carolina you will find a church that inspires you with its architecture. The address might confuse you, but Daniel Island is a planned community within the city of Charleston.
Address: 990 Etiwan Park Street, Daniel Island. (by the way, Etiwan, also spelled Ittiwan is the native American tribe that lived here). They were located approximately 30 miles northeast of Charleston, South Carolina.
Click here for the official website of Saint Clare of Assisi Parish in Charleston. You can also find them on Twitter and Facebook.
Photos courtesy Saint Clare Catholic Church, Charleston, SC