Halley’s Comet 1910


High in the tower on the East side of St. Francis de Sales church, is a hidden window with a spectacular “outer space” theme showing stars, planets, and a big ball of light. Why is it there and what does it mean?

One possibility is that it celebrates the Creation as described in the Book of Genesis:  “In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth — and the earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters—Then God said: Let there be light, and there was light…”

Alternatively, though not quite star-shaped, it could be intended to represent the Star in the East that heralded Christ’s birth.

Another thought is more topical. The appearance of Halley’s Comet, when our church was being built in 1910, was much like Y2K in the year 2000. Though it came into view every 75 years, the comet that year was supposed to be exceptionally bright, and the earth was scheduled to pass right through its dusty tail. No one quite knew what would happen.

The tabloids were inspired to predict all sorts of catastrophes: a belt of poison gas, disruption in electrical systems, and the end of civilization. The mainstream press consulted scientists, who suggested that there might be a beautiful light show – like the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights – either during the day, or around the moon at night. Pope Pius X, who had recently updated the scientific instruments in the Vatican Observatory, believed it would be neither spectacular nor dangerous, and scolded Italians for hoarding emergency oxygen cylinders “just in case.”

Our parish records are skimpy for that period, since our church was under construction (the cornerstone was laid on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary in 1907 and the building would not be officially completed until 1911). We do know that our three round and six long signed D’Ascenzo stained glass windows were crafted in 1910. We are not entirely certain who designed the others, but they were probably made that same year.

IMG_2477 (2)Halley’s Comet was supposed to be “at its closest, therefore its brightest, between May 14 and 22” 1910. Our parish celebrated its twentieth anniversary that year on May 14, 1910, so it’s possible that the ball of light shown in our eastern tower window celebrates the “sunrise” of the world, while at the same time offering a nod to the comet as an auspicious omen for our parish anniversary. The window exactly opposite appears to be a “burning bush” – another heavenly sign



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