Month: September 2016

A Bell Named Adolph



Our church bells don’t ring out as often as they did in times past, but they’re still an important part of our church. Did you know that the largest bell weighs in at 2,500 pounds, which makes it bigger than the Liberty Bell (which is a mere 2,080 pounds, and cracked)!

According to the 1940 Parish Jubilee volume, the eleven bells up in the tower were “named after the following saints: Adolph, Michael, Elizabeth, Anthony, Cecilia, Theresa, Edmond, John, Thomas, Maurice, and Gervase.”

It’s an odd list. Among other things, one might wonder: why Adolph?

When the bells were consecrated in 1916, that was still a fairly common name. Several Saints are named Adolph: Saint Adolph of Osnabruck lived in Germany in the 1100s and was known as the “Almoner of the Poor;” there was also a 9th century Spanish martyr named Adolph; and Saint Adolph Ludigo-Mkasa, who was martyred in Uganda in the 1800s.

The name could be there for another reason, as well. The bells were bequeathed to the church by Mrs. Elizabeth Lippe, in honor of her late husband, William. A little research reveals that William’s Dad emigrated from Germany. His name was Dr. med. Adolph Graf zur Lippe Biesterfeld Weissenfeld, shortened to Dr. Adolph Lippe, and he was an important figure in the history of homeopathic medicine, holding the chair of “Materia Medica” at the Homeopathic College of Philadelphia (the origins of Hahnemann University Hospital) from 1863-1868.

The name could also be intended to honour Adolfo de Nesti, the Italian sculptor who created many of the statues in our church. (It may be additionally significant that Monsignor Michael J. Crane’s sister was a nun named Sister Mary Gervase; and his Assistant was the formerly-Anglican Reverend Maurice Cowl).

So, in the story of one church bell, we have represented Germany; Spain; Italy; England; Uganda; care for the poor; immigration; higher education; alternative medicine; Catholic history; Philadelphia landmarks; American history; fine art; and church music – an emblem of the rich tapestry of our Parish heritage!




Church Animals

On a Sunday near the feast of St. Francis of Assisi every year, neighbourhood pets of all faiths are welcomed to our parish (with their humans) for the Blessing of the Animals. But have you ever noticed how many animals are in our church already, incorporated in the decorations?!

Our church has a flock of Holy Spirit doves in its artwork: look for a dove in the mosaic lunette above the Mary Altar and another in the Trinity window behind the altarpiece. The dome windows feature descending and ascending doves (“the Holy Spirit among us” and “the graces that lift (humans) up to God through the religious life”). Yet another can be found representing the Annunciation in the first long window on the St. Joseph side.

Perched on the pulpit, halfway up the wall on the Mary side of the church, is a sculpted eagle representing Saint John – the author of the Gospel that begins “In the beginning, was the Word…” The eagle image is repeated on one of the pillars supporting the dome, along with the symbols for the other three Gospel writers: winged ox (Luke), winged lion (Mark), and the more human looking angel, representing Matthew.

Fish appear on one of the windows in the dome. ICTHUS, Latin for fish,  is also an acronym for the Greek phrase “Jesus Christ Son of God Savior.” Three fishes represent the Holy Trinity. A pelican is shown in another dome window. The pelican was said to pierce its breast with its beak, to feed its young from its own blood when other food was unavailable, and represents the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Yet another dome window features the phoenix: a mythological bird said to burst into flames and regenerate — a symbol of the Resurrection.

The window in the stairway to the choir loft in the back of the church shows the Lamb of God reclining on a book with seven seals — an image from the Book of Revelations, referencing the Second Coming!

At the tops of several of the columns in the church, you can just about identify carved limestone creatures that appear to be two-headed birds. The two-headed eagle was an emblem of Byzantium – fitting the design style of the church.

Live animals should feel at home here! This year’s Blessing of the Animals is Sunday, September 25 at 12:00 Noon.

Mary in the Morning


High on the wall on the Mary side of the Sanctuary is a lunette, or half moon, with a mosaic inscription showing an intertwined AM. Although this might be the first thing the Priest sees each day upon entering from the Sacristy, it is not a reminder that it is morning!

So what does it mean?

Like the S with three staves above the St. Joseph Altar (IHS, the first three letters of Ihsous, or Jesus in Greek), and the chi rho (XP, the first two letters of Christ in Greek) on the main Altar, this is another monogram – but this time, the subject is the Blessed Mother. The AM stands for Auspice Maria (Under the Protection of Mary or By the Favor of Mary). The choice of location is intriguing, not just because it’s opposite the Sacristy doorway, but because it is placed above the words “the beauty of thy house;” and Mary was the “house” for Jesus before he was born!

Several different Mary monograms were used in Byzantine art  from 500 to 1450 AD – the inspiration for our church design. In Western Europe, monograms appeared in the 11th century and became popular in the 17th and 18th century with special devotions to the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. Mary monograms became more widespread in this country after Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception was named Patron Saint of the United States in 1846.

Bishop Crane, who commissioned our church,  is said to have had a special devotion to the Blessed Mother in all of her incarnations. According to his 1928 memorial in the Parish Monthly Bulletin, he was born “on the Feast of the Nativity of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary.” He began a chapter of the Sodality of the Blessed Virgin at de Sales in 1913, and it was said that “whether walking or riding, his rosary was his constant companion…

Every design element of our church was carefully planned. Since the pastor who built it had a special dedication to the Blessed Mother, it is notable that the cornerstone was laid on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary in 1907. The Mary-themed window on the St. Joseph side of the church possibly commemorates that feast day and our parish construction. And it should be no surprise that Bishop Crane would want to start each early “before midday” ante meridiem, or AM, Auspice Maria.