Preserving a Legacy: Stained glass and artwork featured at BuffaloReligiousArtsCenter
After reading an article in the Buffalo News in September 2007 about all the churches in the city of Buffalo, NY slated to close during the massive reconstruction of parishes in the Diocese of Buffalo, Mary Holland felt compelled to visit each one of the churches and get involved with the closing Masses.
“As I sat in these churches I thought how sad it was for the people,” said Holland. “Then I thought, what’s going to happen to the artwork, stained glass, and statues?”
Holland had recently viewed the movie “Rape of Europa,” which spoke about how people in WWII Europe saw the importance of preserving the artwork and other church artifacts. They removed these items and hid them from the Nazi regime, so that the items could be enjoyed by future generations. She saw a parallel to the closing of the churches. “If no one in Buffalo stepped forward to save these items as the churches closed, many items would most likely be sold out of the area.”
A visit to the renowned E.B.SmithStainedGlassArt Museum in Chicago prompted Holland to start a similar facility in Buffalo. In 2008 she founded the BuffaloReligiousArtsCenter. Located in the former St. Francis Xavier Church, which closed in 2007, the mission of the center is to preserve the rich artistic and historic legacy of Buffalo’s immigrant religious and cultural heritage.
The building, a circa 1912 Roman basilica style church, was the perfect location according to Holland, who serves as director of the center. “It’s just off the expressway, easy to find, close to downtown, and in the historic Black Rock neighborhood.” The church was considered the “mother parish” of all the Black Rock Catholic parishes.
I recently had the opportunity to visit the BuffaloReligiousArtsCenter, along with several other churches with exceptional stained glass windows, on the annual Splendors in Stained Glass bus tour offered by Buffalo Tours. Our tour guide, Bill Koch, has been conducting tours of Buffalo churches since 1985.
“Buffalo has a rich ethnic heritage and the settlers brought their style of churches from the Old Country,” said Koch. “They were working people who gave their extra funds to the church; a place that they could enjoy physically as well as spiritually.” He added, “Buffalo is a unique city that has such fantastic architecture; the churches in the city are so spectacular.”
That same thought was echoed by one of my fellow travelers, Ann Wik. “You just don’t realize what a rich area this is in terms of history and architecture,” said Wik. “It had been along time since I visited this area of Buffalo and I was really amazed at the overwhelming beauty of the churches, not only for the stained glass, but also for the woodworking.” Wik, who has traveled to Europe, added, “They were as beautiful and grand as some of the churches I saw in Germany and Austria. I am so pleased that there is a group tirelessly working to preserve the beauty of these churches and the rich art and history of these communities.”
As our group entered the arts center, the first thing that caught our eyes was the mural work behind the altar area. The upper level depicts the Holy Trinity, while the central portion portrays St. Francis Xavier, a Jesuit missionary. The lower level of the mural features the saints and apostles.
However, the most unique feature of the center is the stained glass windows, which are the Stations of the Cross. Crafted in Munich, Germany by F.X. Zettler, only a handful of churches in the world have windows like this. Koch pointed out the pieces of wood affixed to the upper crosses in the windows. According to church law, wood must be part of the stations to make them sacred.
Since the center opened, Holland and her staff of mostly volunteers have acquired items from over 45 churches. The BuffaloReligiousArtsCenter is one of the first museums that specializes in artifacts from closed churches.
“When a church closes, the items from that church first go to other churches in that area that remain open, who decide what they want to keep. Excess items are sold to other churches or priests, and then the remaining items are made available to the arts center. Sometimes the items are donated and other times they must purchase the items.
So far the center has 51 windows, including several from the now closed Queen of Peace Church. Six of these windows are mounted in frames that are backlit; several are displayed in the confessionals. “All these windows are stunning; stained glass as an art form is unique,” said Holland. “We also have over 100 items in storage awaiting restoration, including statues, crosses, artwork, and windows.”
While the majority of items in the center are from Catholic churches that have closed, they actually accept items from any faith. “We will preserve anything sacred from any church,” said Holland. “When Temple Beth El closed, we acquired a monument with the Ten Commandments in wood and brass and a Star of David.”
Holland said that plans are in the works to do more bus tours through Buffalo Tours, including several during the summer. The annual Splendors in Stained Glass takes place the first Saturday in December. This tour includes a stop at the BuffaloReligiousArtsCenter, lunch, and visits to several other churches with notable stained glass windows.
Sandy Eichelberger, who also went on the tour this past December best summed it up. “The stained glass tour was a feast for the eyes, plus the historical commentary was filled with fascinating details about early settlements, architecture, and ethnic groups in Buffalo.” She added, “There is no better way to spend an afternoon than revisiting the beauty and grandeur of Buffalo’s heyday and coming to an appreciation of how important it is to preserve these historical landmarks and learn the story of our area’s cultural heritage.”
Buffalo Religious Arts Center-Xavier Hall Gallery157 East Street (by Amherst Street, near Niagara Street) Buffalo, NY14207www.buffaloreligiousarts.org Mary Holland 716-481-2350, Bill Koch 716-773-5977.
Open Saturday and Sunday May-October. $10 admission. Tours at 1pm. Also open by appointment for group and private tours.
Buffalo Tourswww.buffalotours.org 716-852-3300
From Niagara Falls and north: From the 190 South, exit at Ontario Street. Make a right on Niagara Street at the light Make a left on Amherst Street
Make the second left, on East Street, the Church is immediately on the right
From Downtown Buffalo and south: From the 190 North, take Exit 12 at Amherst Street. Go straight through the light. Make the second left, on East Street, the Church is immediately on the right.
In addition to the BuffaloReligiousArtsCenter, the Splendors in Stained Glass tour this past December included the following Buffalo churches with exceptional stained glass windows. These churches are open to the public daily.
Corpus Christi – This was the last Polish church to be built in Buffalo’s “Polonia." Built in 1907, this church was slated to close in 2003. However, current and former parishioners worked to save it. The windows in this Victorian Romanesque style church were crafted by Franz Mayer works in Germany. Of special note is the choir window which depicts the coronation of Mary as Queen of Heaven by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Church, 199 Clark Street, Buffalo, NY 716-896-1050, www.corpuschristibuffalo.org Open daily 8am-5pm.
St. Ann’s Church – This Gothic style church was consecrated in 1886. The windows were made by F. X. Zettler in Munich. The six windows in the nave depict the Apostles Creed. The upper transcript windows show Saints Ann and Joachim, while the lower windows on the transcript tell the story of the Holy Family.
The altar, which is dedicated to St. Ann, is adorned with 153 lights, making it quite a spectacular site. Since the church was originally founded by Germans, who were noted for their woodcarving, the side shrine, dedicated to St. Ann, features an altar made of American Butternut with ornate wood carvings made of Linden wood. The statues on either side of the altar are also hand-carved.
Saint Ann’s Church, 651 Broadway, Buffalo, NY 716-852-0100.
Trinity Episcopal – This church has striking windows done by both John LaFarge and Louis Comfort Tiffany. It is one of only two churches in the United States that has LaFarge and Tiffany windows side by side. The first thing that one notices is the intensity of the colors on the windows. The windows are of opalescent glass, which means that the colors are added to the molten glass as it is formed, instead of being painted on as it had been traditionally done for centuries.
Trinity Episcopal, 371 Delaware Avenue, Buffalo, NY 716-852-8314