The above picture depicts Easter Sunday at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in 1962, the opening of the church after having finished construction by the Glenmarys, who are responsible for opening most parishes in WNC Appalachia. Even in 1962, it was a fad to do up minimalist references to the divine. But at least they still had ad orientem and the Communion Rail and proper cassocks and surplices for the altar boys.
But by the end of the Second Vatican Council (1965), an ironing board freestanding moveable altar (super-tippable) was hacked together from dozens of scraps of plywood and placed versus populum on the one-step elevation, all the way to the front of that step. sigh… At the same time, the Communion Rail (Altar Rail) was ripped out and the back altar was ripped out. I’m just as happy that the original ad orientem altar was destroyed as it couldn’t haven’t been uglier, couldn’t have been more weird, or so I thought, until now.
The ironing-board altar had a rock face made from scraps of the back of the chimney seen behind the altar above. The hearth faced into the residence in back of the church. Here’s a picture of the scraps making a design:
If you can’t see the only possible design that can be picked out, here’s some help:
Once you see it, you can’t unsee it. The ladies in the parish hated this and had gone out of their way to cover it up with upholstery cloth, etc. It could have been turned around so that it would be an upright cross, not upside down. I wasn’t much bothered by it because I had once been an assistant priest at a parish named after Saint Peter Apostle. You’ll recall that he was crucified upside down out of an abundance of humility, not presuming to be crucified as our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. However, the presumption of that motivation for installing the rock insert upside down, as it were, disappeared entirely, when, in the prep work for installing a new porcelain floor previous to installing a new Altar, Altar Rails, and some new logistics for the Tabernacle, something unexpected was discovered.
The ad orientem Altar had been replaced already around 1965 with a kind of Tabernacle stand (which was at least in the center of the sanctuary). That also had a rock face incorporating two vertical pieces of stone, each with a tall cross etched in and plated with gold.
Fine. But, two crosses there along with a third in the ironing board versus populum altar recalls the crucifixion of Our Lord on Calvary, not that of Saint Peter. So, surely the upside down bit in the new altar was a mistake by a drunk and disorderly workman. But, as far as I know, all the workmen were Glenmary priests and brothers, as that’s what they do, constructing churches and opening up parishes on a shoestring budget in counties where there are not any Catholic churches and only a few Catholics. Kudos to them for such evangelization. It is what it is, or is there something worse?
Those two stones under the mid-1960s Tabernacle stand with the two tall crosses in them were faced backwards and were unseen for the last 45+- years. When we ripped apart that Tabernacle stand, it was noticed that the crosses were also installed upside down. That would be three crosses installed upside down. What the hell? (That using proper theological terminology in that question.)
I got a call from a parishioner spearheading the work with all this: “Have you seen these big stones up at the church? You gotta come up here and see this?” Here’s a picture of them right-side-up, because leaving them upside down was too offensive to him, even for another couple of minutes of my travel time up to the church.
It’s kinda hard not to notice that those tall crosses would be upside down. I don’t know the story here, who was who in doing the work, but I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all. I’ll do an exorcism over these stones and they will be incorporated again into a new construction. After all, the “third” cross, that of our Lord, is between them, up high. All will be good again. And they will be right side up.
STORY TIME: In yet another parish in upstate New York, the fiasco of building the church was related to me. There is an analogy with what happened here in Andrews, NC.
Up in New York, the daily construction work of the field stone church was destroyed nightly, for weeks by a nefariously lodged-up group. Parishioners were resilient in construction, but were getting frustrated. The railroaders back in the day heard of the anti-Catholic attacks and stood guard at night. The church was successfully constructed. But the Catholics didn’t have the last laugh. Not at all.
That church had a basement, which sported a rectangular cement support from the floor of the basement up to the flooring of the sanctuary just the size of the heavy stone altar in order to support it’s great weight. But, of course, that was ripped out in order to put in, yet again, an ironing board altar. As the old altar was removed, parishioners were able to see down the rectangular cement support structure, and they saw a box just begging to be opened. Was it a time-capsule? No, no.
It contained a note to future generations the nefarious intent of those who had been destroying the daily construction of the church building, and an entirely credible claim as to who the perpetrators of the hate crime were, namely, a very specific lodged-up group. Sigh. Of course, all those perps by this time have gone on to their eternal “reward”, as have, I’m quite sure, those who had done up the installation of the three upside down crosses.
Mind you, at my own parish church, back in the 1960s, the liberal Catholic culture was to have as little as possible refer to anything about God. I bet while these three crosses were being installed properly, the workman (not a Glenmary) was instructed to hide the two crosses as just the simple rock face would do just fine. It’s a lot of work to gouge out stone like this and paint it up all good. What a blow it would be to be told just to hide it all. I bet that’s when the guy lost whatever faith he had, and in retaliation, did reverse the stones, but them installed them upside down, and then did the same for stonework in the ironing board altar. I bet he’s repented since then. Prayers for them all.
Right now, we’re trying to be careful not to let any such malice or resentment make for that which is inappropriate.
One response to “Mistakes or a nod to the demonic in 1960s church sanctuary renovation?”
oh wow Father – I can only see you on your knees, kissing those stones and letting your tears fall in reparation. This account made feel like someone punched the breath out of me…but then I think on the work being done now and remember Jesus’ …behold, I make all things new…