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All across the country, these former houses of worship now sit empty. As I lean back beneath the crumbling ceilings, behind altars covered in dust, all I can wonder about is the life it must have seen. How many people must have spent so many days inside, walked the aisle or were even wed here? Below, I will share a section from my first book “Empty Spaces” which will be out April 21st – all pre-ordered copies will be shipping on that date as well.
As we stood static beneath the crumbling mural of the apse, a cold wind fluttered in through the openings surrounding us. Where once stained glass was held in place now remain bare frames circling the upper walls, pouring chilled air into the desolate chapel, and down towards the altar like waterfalls into a small oasis. The fluttering of birds fills the space high above the altar, and even higher up through the towers that remain, slowly collapsing in the chapels front.
This church was completed in 1933 to serve a part of Cleveland’s Carpatho-Rusyn population. The Rusyns are an Eastern Slavic ethnic group originating from the Carpathian Mountains; primarily near the borders of modern day Hungary, Ukraine, Slovakia, and small parts of Poland.
Come the 17th century, after having practiced Orthodox Christianity since the 9th century when brought to the Slavic people by saints Cyril and Methodius, they had now become part of the Catholic Church. In the late 1800’s, many Rusyns came to Cleveland, and had established many ornate Byzantine Catholic Churches throughout the area.
This beautiful Romanesque-style temple, designed by Polish-American architect Joseph E. Fronczak, now covering a smaller structure previously built in 1913, lies tucked away within a small Cleveland neighborhood. Symmetrical bell towers peak from the tops of trees, overlooking the streets that run along its sides. Two flanking side isles run along its interior, supported by beautifully decayed columns, topped with Corinthian-inspired capitals. Various biblical scenes remain painted, faded by rain and the elements, within the barrel vaulting. Crumbled plaster hangs from the archway as the sun shines brightly through the opening where a door used to sit. So what has become of this 80 year old architectural landmark?
The St. Joseph Byzantine Rite Catholic Church will sit abandoned on its 80th birthday as it has spent half of this life in ruin. For the past 40 years, rain, wind, snow, and time have begun to paint over the beautiful murals throughout the structure. Summers burn through into autumn; while in the same way, autumn falls to winter. Some of the murals have been faded by the rain, as others have fallen to the floor, crumbling with the passing of time; ceilings caving to the weight of heavy snowfall, and strong winds of winter.
The most preserved mural as of today, is that residing in the apse, above the cracking marble altar pallet. It depicts the Christ child, joined by his earthly parents Mary and Joseph, for whom the church was named, on either side of him. Above and behind him dwells God the Holy Spirit as a dove, and God the father as an aged man bearing a glowing, triangular halo. To the further left, we find Moses holding the Ten Commandments and to the right, John the Baptist.
A beautiful red-bricked facade showcases the St. Peter and St. Paul Catholic Church, topped with incredibly tall, narrow bell towers reaching towards the sky. These architecturally superb steeples tower over us like a giant as we stand beneath the entrance to this Neo-gothic masterpiece. Built around 1890 as a German Roman Catholic church, it housed (and still houses) one of the largest organs of its kind in the country. Above this organ, the wall is fitted with an alluring rose window filled with captivating color. The church was rebuilt after a fire in1909 with some interesting cement over the red brick. As we journey through time to 1964, we find that famous actress Susan Hayward and her husband were baptized under the apse of this chapel. A multicolored brick school house resides in the back lot, and atop the floors of that sits a large gymnasium. Parts of the famous movie, “Dogma” were filmed outside the front of this church.
These structures will continue to crumble beneath the pressure of destructive elements as long as we let them sit uncared for. Temples will become tossed to the hands of Mother Nature, sanctuaries will sink into the Earth as she consumes the beauty we have left behind.
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