Friday, January 3, 2014
Photo Essay: Brooklyn's Most Holy Trinity Church, Sanctuary & Triforium, Haunted
Williamsburg, Brooklyn (my old stomping ground) is well-known for its Eastern European populations. These days, it's more for the Polish and the Czechs who have been pushed out of Williamsburg, the East Village, and Greenpoint by encroaching low-income artists and, eventually, young affluents and faux poor hipsters. But long ago, this part of Brooklyn was, like my father's family on the North Side of Syracuse, German.
And not only German, but Roman Catholic.
In fact, there were so many Germans moving into Brooklyn needing religious services, that the Most Holy Trinity Church was rebuilt several times to accommodate the growing congregation - first as a simple frame structure in 1841, in the same place where the present (and third) structure stands.
The second building - brick, with two towers - stood where the current parish school building is today, its cornerstone laid in 1853.
The cornerstone of the current church was laid on Ascension Day in 1882. Because this church was made of sandstone (technically, New Jersey brownstone), it has been and currently is crumbling, so much so that the 20-story-tall spires have been covered to protect them from further damage (and to protect the neighborhood below from flying parts).
There once was a time when a Catholic church could be open all day and all night, but now the church is generally locked outside of its hours of services, although its vestibule is usually open for people to pay a little visit whenever they can.
Any sense of unease may come from the fact that one of the church's former bellkeepers was murdered late one night by robbers (one allegedly a parishioner), so brutally that a bloody handprint was left as evidence on the wall.
Or, perhaps it's because when standing in the vestibule, you're immediately above the crypt where two former pastors are buried, including founding Father Raffeiner, who was buried at a nearby cemetery and then exhumed and relocated to the basement of this church, in approximately the same area he called home and slept nights, in the basement of the first church. (Stay tuned for a crypt photo.)
Aside from its grizzly history and cryptic underbelly, the Most Holy Trinity Church also claims its fame as the unnamed "most beautiful church in Brooklyn," as featured in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, the classic novel written by Betty Smith, also a parishioner of the church.
And it is beautiful.
Architect William Schickel modeled it after the French Gothic style of the 13th century, which was popular at the time.
The side walls feature carved Stations of the Cross and stained glass windows from a famed Austrian mosaic glass workshop in Innsbruck.
Most of the ornate windows (except two) depict a number of the important Roman Catholic saints, as well as scenes from the Old and New Testaments. They're all original except one.
There are ornate wood carvings everywhere...
...and an altar made of carved white marble and Caen stone.
The church was designed to look like one that the German immigrants might remember from their hometowns...
...to make them comfortable in their new home...
...and although I learned some new things about German traditions, especially those for Christmas...
...it seemed pretty familiar to me too.
The best part was visiting the areas other than the sanctuary, including climbing the stairs...
...up to the triforium, a catwalk-like gallery level above the ground floor with tri-fold arched openings.
Although the walkway doesn't exactly serve a function (besides housing some radiators for heating), it's a typical feature of Gothic-style churches, meant to lend a sense of mystery to those sitting in the nave below.
And it works. We all couldn't wait to get up there. I spent hours as a child imaging escape routes through those arches.
Stay tuned for more photos from our harrowing trip up even higher into the upper reaches of the church, and down into the dark recesses of the basement.