Holy Toledo!

inToledo  |  12/01/2007

Toledo and Lake Erie West have an extensive collection of national treasures in the form of late 19th and early 20th century churches

By Dennis Hicks

Toledo’s Collingwood Boulevard, in the historic Old West End neighborhood, became the predominant place for the building of grand churches beginning during the late 19th century. There are literally dozens of churches built in Lake Erie West during this period of time. Inside and out, they are irreplaceable architectural treasures in Gothic, Renaissance, Spanish Mission and other styles. The churches of Toledo were a powerful magnet for some of the best artisans in the nation; they provided the churches with fantastic and lasting works in stone, ceramic, brick and glass.

The origin of the phrase, “Holy Toledo,” supposedly comes from this era of Toledo’s grand church construction. One legend has it that the expression came from a visitor being driven up Collingwood Boulevard and, after seeing the dozen or so churches, temples, and Holy Rosary Cathedral, exclaimed, “Holy Toledo, you’ve got a lot of churches in this town.”

Others say that "Holy Toledo" was a sarcastic expression resulting from the high proportion of bars to churches. In the pre-World War I period, it was a standing joke that you could walk out of a church on one corner and enter a bar on the next.

Another version claims the exclamation of surprise refers to Toledo, Spain, which became one of the great centers of Christian culture after its liberation from the Moors in 1085. Its 13th-century Gothic cathedral, one of the largest in Europe, is the seat of the Cardinal Archbishop of Spain.

Whatever the origins of the phrase, Toledo retains some of the finest examples of church architecture in the nation.

The following is but a small example of Toledo’s religious treasures. Our hope is that this sampling will inspire you to scan the skyline for the steeples and domes of historic churches in your corner of Lake Erie West.

St. Patrick's Church
130 Avondale Avenue, Toledo

The Historic Church of Saint Patrick is one of Toledo's most important and imaginative religious structures. Its history reaches back to the city's beginnings and its founder is still respected for his efforts to improve the community.

Father Edward Hannin was 36 when he was assigned to organize a parish for Toledo's Irish Catholic population. It was a challenge, for in 1862 the city was busy constructing the Miami and Erie Canal, and its laborers were more interested in saloons than churches.

By 1891, the church became unsafe. The parish hall, constructed in 1873-1874, was used as a temporary church and all pews, altars, and furnishings were moved there. The old church was taken down.

The construction of the current church foundation began in May, 1892 and was completed that November. To guard against settlement in the new edifice, further work was discontinued and the foundation was allowed to remain as it was for an entire year. Construction resumed in 1894 and the cornerstone laid on July 15, 1894. The church was dedicated April 13, 1901.

St. Patrick’s Church is over 180 feet long, with a width of 82 to 119 feet. From floor to ceiling, the height is over 65 feet. The ceiling is supported by 10 columns, cylindrical in form and made of soft red granite. Bases are octagonal with richly carved heads. Pure white marble forms the capitals.

Sanctuary stained glass windows depict life-size figures representing Saint Ann, The Blessed Virgin, Jesus, Saint Joseph and Saint Joachim. Eight side windows depict the 12 Apostles and four Doctors of the Church. The Transepts’ 4 by 40-foot windows portray The Nativity, Saint Patrick and the Birth of Christianity in Ireland. In the Gallery, larger-than-life-size figures depict King David playing the harp, and Saint Cecelia playing the organ and looking toward the choir, giving musical inspiration.

The exterior of the church is pure Gothic and built of Amhurst blue sandstone. Its spire reaches 240 feet high.
Our Lady, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Cathedral
2535 Collingwood Blvd., Toledo

Toledo’s original cathedral, St. Francis de Sales, was a fine mid-19th century structure. However, it didn’t convey any real sense of grandeur, and by the beginning of the 20th century the Bishop was calling for a replacement. The cornerstone of the church was laid in 1925 and the church was finally dedicated in 1931. John Comes, a member of the Pittsburgh firm of Comes, Perry and McMullen, was chosen as the architect, and Rosary Cathedral is considered the crowning achievement of his career.

Rosary Cathedral, an early Spanish-style masterwork, is one of Toledo’s greatest landmarks. Comes was a man of strong faith, and his specialty was church design in Romanesque and early gothic styles. But a California commission gave him the opportunity to see Spanish inspired Mission architecture first hand, and he designed the Cathedral in the Spanish Plateresque style (meaning, ornamentation resembling a silversmith’s work), gothic-inspired, carved stone decoration and classical touches such as Palladian arches filled with gothic tracery. The structure was built with granite and limestone in the traditional manner. The recessed arch was a favorite Comes motif. Between buttresses are a series of bas-reliefs depicting the history of the Church in the Old World and the new.

The interior seats 1,500 with a long vista of the nave and a finely decorated Spanish ceiling, a baldachino over the altar, and a rose window dedicated to the life of Mary. Modern materials were used for decorative elements, like aluminum for the railing and the baptismal font hood. Wood carvers were still at work as late as 1948. The fine use of rich materials was most impressive, and the whole design suggested the promise of higher achievement.

As the mother church of 131 parishes in the diocese, Our Lady, Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Cathedral leads the way as a 20th century house of worship. It remains an American-Medieval Cathedral – an album of art; a sacred site; a story of faith in stone, paint, precious metal, glass and wood.
St Stephen's Church (Hungarian)
1880 Genesee St., Toledo

The Parish was founded in 1898, and the first Mass was said in the new wooden church on September of thst year. On June 27, 1908, the church and school house were destroyed by fire. By November, a new church, which faced Genesee Street, was blessed. It was considered a temporary structure, and by 1914 the present church was built at a cost of $93,500. The church was dedicated and placed under the patronage of St. Stephen, first king of Hungary.

The church seats 750, has a 30-foot by 36-foot Sanctuary with two sacristies and full basement, is 135 feet long, 63 feet wide over the two towers, which are 16 feet square. The width at transepts is 68 feet, the inside height is 45 feet; the towers are 102 feet high from grade to top of cross. The exterior is pressed brick, trimmed with cut stone and terracotta and a Spanish tile roof. Each tower is surmounted with a copper dome, lantern and cross.

The architectural treatment is Early Christian Basilica with certain features of the churches of northern Italy and Spain from early Renaissance. This type of architecture is also widely used in Hungary, where through the ages it has been adopted as the national church style. The oak furniture and pipe organ were designed to fit in their particular place. The organ-pipes fit gracefully around the rose window; the oaken confessionals are flush with inside walls forming a bay on exterior.

The richly colored art glass of the windows, which illustrate scenes of Christ’s life and pictures from the lives of the various Hungarian Saints, is the work of Flanagan & Biedenweg. The mural paintings and decorations depict pious legends from Hungary’s history of the Saints, chiefly of King St. Stephen. They are by Louis Linek, a Hungarian artist from Cleveland.

Under the three arches, in the back of the church, are the mosaics done by Father Peter Prokop in 1973. These mosaics show the three theological virtues – faith, hope, and charity.

Good Shepherd Catholic Church
550 Clark St., Toledo

In 1972, about 60 East Toledo families of Irish descent petitioned the Cleveland diocese for permission to organize their own parish. The petition was granted a year later, and the first Mass was held in a railroad hall at the corner of Oakdale and Miami Streets. The parish priest, Rev. Robert A. Byrnes, purchased an acre of land bounded by Clark, Utah, and Nevada Streets. The first parish building on the lot was a two-story frame structure with the upper floor serving as the church and the lower level as a school and pastoral residence. This building served the Good Shepherd Parish for over 30 years.

In 1899, ground was broken for the current church, which was completed in 1901. The building is constructed of Amhurst blue sandstone in the Romanesque architectural style, with one dome and two bell towers. Each tower houses a massive bronze bell, with one weighing 1,800 pounds and the other weighing 4,000 pounds.

The dome and the tower roofs are capped in copper, which has an emerald green patina. The interior of the dome towers over the church altar is painted in a celestial motif.

Photo: Rev. John R. Blaser, pastor of Good Shepherd Catholic Church

First Congregational Church,
2315 Collingwood Blvd., Toledo

In Congregational tradition the people are the Church, the building in which they meet, the Meeting House. And what a meeting house. You pass between massive, soaring columns and enter through one of three sets of double doors topped by fine stone filigree. Inside the foyer, you are confronted with a delicate and subtle craftsmanship in brick and stone that opens to a soaring domed “Audience Room” of black walnut pews and vibrant stained glass.

Founded in 1833, the church is the oldest congregation organized within Toledo’s original boundaries. From 1844 to 1913, the church occupied a succession of three meeting houses on St. Clair Street. In 1913, First Church merged with Central Congregational Church. The pews and eight stained glass windows from the 1878 church were incorporated into the Early Renaissance-inspired Collingwood Meeting House, which was dedicated in 1916.

Occupying the west wall of the church, behind the pulpit and the choir, are eight Louis Comfort Tiffany windows from the St. Clair Street church. Some of these windows are often called “jeweled glass” because of their gem-like construction and quality. Upon close inspection, much of the glass appears very thick and roughly chipped into many facets. This gives the windows an entirely different character from hour to hour and season by season, almost like living entities.

The large center window of the north wall above the balcony is called “The Ascension.” The central figure is that of the ascending Christ, clad in long robes of white, his arms outstretched in blessing. His face expresses infinite tenderness and vision. Grouped at the left and right foreground and completing a fine design are his 11 faithful disciples, their figures silhouetted against the clouded blue sky that forms the background. Tiffany was so pleased with this window that he traveled to Toledo by train several times to show it to clients.

To the left and right of the Ascension window are four themes (two on either side) with figures depicting Truth, Justice, Hope and Inspiration. These are remarkable windows as well. With their combination of vibrant and subtle tones, a painter’s eye for composition, the multi-layering of glass and use of textured glass to give the impression of rippling water and wind-blown fabric, these are priceless examples of Tiffany at his best.

On the north wall beneath the balcony are three other smaller Tiffany windows. “The Guardian Angel” is meant to be a symbol of the idealism of the children of the church. The center window is “Christ Appearing Unto Mary on Easter Morning.” The window at the right is “The Good Samaritan.”

Trinity Episcopal Church
1 Trinity Plaza, Toledo Ohio

The beginning of Trinity Episcopal Church can be traced back to the late 1830s. There was not much to bring people to Toledo at that time. Stores were scarce along the riverfront and much of the area was a muddy swamp.

The first services were held in a frame building on Sunday afternoons when the rector from St. Paul’s in Maumee would travel to Toledo on horseback. In March of 1842, a meeting was held to discuss the matter of forming a church. The people in attendance adopted this resolution: “We, whose names are hereto affixed, deeply impressed with the importance of the Christian religion and earnestly wishing to promote its honor, nevertheless, in the hearts and lives of ourselves, our families and our neighbors, do hereby associate ourselves together under the name, style and title of the parish of Trinity Church.”

The first building was erected and paid for by January 1845. The next few years brought tough times. From 1846 to January 1848, 13 people were elected Rector. Between 1848 and 1868, the church began to blossom and the parish became quite large under the leadership of Dr. Henry Walbridge. Trinity continued to grow and be recognized as an integral part of downtown Toledo.

Over a 100 years later, in 1975, another important meeting was held. The fate of Trinity would be decided this day. Would the church stay in the heart of the city or move to the suburbs? The vote was unanimous to stay downtown. This was a turning point in our history. Over the years, parish demographics have changed, and most members do not live in the downtown area. But the core values of community, service and Christian faith bind us together as they did in 1842.

Liddy Hoster, Rector of Trinity Episcopal Church

Immaculate Conception Catholic Church
434 Western Ave., Toledo, OH

During the period of the Civil War, the Irish immigrants who had come to build the Miami and Erie Canal and the railroads, swelled the ranks of St. Patrick's Church. In 1867, the territory was divided a new parish was established, bounded by Swan Creek and the Maumee River. The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church was built on a tract of land at the corner of Western Avenue and Sumner Street. The Church was enclosed but never actually finished. In 1870, in order to accommodate an ever-growing congregation, a second and temporary church was built on five lots purchased on Jervis Street. The original church was torn down and the property sold. In 1871 five lots for a permanent church were bought at the convergence of Broadway, Maumee, and Eastern Avenues.

In May 1892, the cornerstone was laid for a new church, which was completed in 1896. The church is built of red brick in the Gothic style. At the time, it was one of the largest churches in the Diocese of Cleveland (of which Toledo was a part).

In 1915, significant improvements were made to the church, including installing electric lights, improving the organ, building new stations and constructing a new school building. In 1920, the church suffered a disastrous fire. Its reconstruction included new altars of fine Italian White marble.

The interior gives the feel of an outdoor Spanish courtyard, but on a massive scale, with soaring gothic arches holding up a pitched roof laced with a checkerboard of wood beams. The intricate stained glass rose window illuminates a restored organ and organ piped stationed above on the balcony. The altar’s liberal use of white marble leaves the impression that it glows with an internal light of its own.