Art As Time Capsules of Glorious Churches— Never To Be Seen Again

One of the perks of running an online art studio is getting to know the participating artists and their works. There are a wide variety of styles and techniques represented on this website, but hopefully (if I’ve done my job right) they all have the common effect of being uplifting and inspirational. The featured artists on Paradise Found Studio have been recruited after a process of research and vetting that forced me to become familiar with different facets of the art creation process and their subject matter. While that sounds like a chore, it has been a joy, like in the case of Richard LaRovere.

The work of Richard’s that I became familiar with included a wide variety of subject matter, most of it Christian-based. His medium of choice was and still is pen and ink, often over either watercolor, or blended watercolor pencil. I was particularly drawn to his intricate architectural drawings of church interiors, which are featured on Paradise Found Studio (click here to see the full selection).

Like most Internet-savy marketers, I use Google to dig a little deeper on subjects, so I looked up the churches from his paintings and found a surprise. Some of these churches were sold by the Diocese and re-purposed, so worship spaces made way for condos, and the the magnificent alters and stained glass removed and sold. While Richard’s images are beautiful in their own right, they are also time capsules of church interiors never to be seen again.

What a shame! While I understand that time moves forward, and the Catholic Church has to adapt to the changing demographics and needs (and budgets) of their congregations, I can’t help but feel a sense of loss. The colloquialism “they don’t build them like they used to” certainly applies. Newer churches may have their own beauty, but nothing as awe-inspiring and breathtaking as these grand old spaces.

So please indulge me as I get nostalgic and pay tribute to St. Boniface and St. Bridget Catholic Churches…

St. Boniface Catholic Church, Jersey City, NJ

St. Boniface was opened in 1866 to cater to the local, largely German, community in downtown Jersey City. It was a relatively simple, modest-sized, but attractively designed Gothic Revival building.

The new main altar was built in 1894. Large, ornate stained glass windows were installed in 1896, which were developed by the Tyrolean Stained Glass Company of Innsbruck, Austria. In 1897, steeples were added to the structure, including bells from St. Louis, MO, but upper portions of the steeples had to be removed 31 years latter because of structural issues.

The church was redecorated in 1900, and then again in 1913 to replace gas lights with electrical. Additional redecoration happened in 1938 and 1955, but never so heavy-handedly as to obscure the original appearance and charm of the structure.

In 1996, St. Boniface was a included in a consolidation effort and became a part of the Parish of the Resurrection. The church was closed in 2006, its stained glass windows re-purposed and restored in a local mausoleum, and its interior divided up into high-end condos and duplexes.

Pen & ink and watercolor painting of St. Boniface Catholic Church, with the ornate alter and spectacular columns.

Pen & ink and watercolor painting of St. Boniface Catholic Church, with the ornate alter and spectacular columns.

Converted condo showcasing the same columns.

Converted condo showcasing the same columns.

St. Bridget Catholic Church, Jersey City, NJ

St. Bridget Church is just a few years younger, and was founded in 1869, but wasn’t established in its final location for another 20 years. Unfortunately, I was not able to easily locate the architectural history like I did for St. Boniface.

The number of congregants shrunk sharply from 6,000 in 1910, to almost 1/10th of that almost 90 years later. This inevitably led to St. Bridget meeting the same fate as St. Boniface, merging into the Parish of the Resurrection, and sold almost a decade later. Some congregants were offended as the space was later rented out as an event space, hosting weddings, concerts, and festivals like the Jersey City Oddities Market.

Two three-story buildings and one five-story building that made up St. Bridget’s rectory, convent and school, were converted to a senior residence in 2014.

Similar to St. Boniface, St. Bridget Church structure will be carved into 38 rental units.

Pen & Ink and watercolor painting of St. Bridget Catholic Church.

Pen & Ink and watercolor painting of St. Bridget Catholic Church.

Exterior of St. Bridget Catholic Church before it was closed.

Exterior of St. Bridget Catholic Church before it was closed.

st bridget condo renderings.jpg

Condo renderings from 2018 of St. Bridget Catholic Church.

Post Script

As I reread my blog, it sounds like I am down on churches being converted to condos and rentals. That’s not really the case. I recently rented a flat in London through Airbnb, and the main attraction was the charm and history of the structure. Re-purposing historical properties, whose original function fall out of relevancy over time, affords proper maintenance that allows us to appreciate at least a hint of former glory. Thank God the full glory of these Churches aren’t totally lost to time thanks to the fine work of artists like Richard LaRovere!


Sources:
St. Boniface - http://blogs.shu.edu/newarkchurches/archives/660
https://jerseydigs.com/jersey-digs-goes-inside-the-st-boniface-church-conversion/
St. Bridget’s - https://www.nj.com/hudson/index.ssf/2014/11/jersey_citys_st_bridgets_church_being_sold_by_archdioces.html
https://jerseydigs.com/380-montgomery-street-jersey-city-development/


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"Interior, St. Boniface Church" by Richard LaRovere
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