Tag: Philadephia

A Trip to the Movies

belmont theatre
Belmont Theatre, Philadelphia PA in 1920 (Creative Commons)

The 1928 Saint Francis de Sales Parish Monthly Bulletin offers a description of a long-ago outing, supposedly written by one “Bad Boy Brady… in the Third Grade at SFDS School:”

Our sister told us this morning in school to write…about something we did during the Easter holidays…I thought of the treat that… Joe Forte gave us on Easter Monday…Joe…lives in our parish (4839 Larchwood) and has charge of a lot of movies in West Philadelphia. He has a big green car and wears a soft hat….So one day (Father Canney) met Joe Forte in Mr. Rody’s barber shop (1213 S. 50th Street) where they get their haircut, and asked him to give the school a treat…”

We all met at the school…and marched over to the Belmont Theatre on Fifty-second and Market Street. There were over eight hundred of us…Me and Joe Rody and Cornelius McLaughlin walked over together, and talked about marbles and baseball players. Joe said he wants to be an outfielder like Al Simmons, but Cornelius said he wants to help his father on the Ice Cream truck. I thought I would like to be a cop… A couple of cops who knew Father Canney kept the green lights on so that we could all pass across Chestnut and Walnut Streets without any break in the line. A…man named Frank Yates was in charge of the Belmont Theatre and he certainly gave us a great treat…”

Imagine friendly local police, in dark uniforms with shiny buttons, officiously stopping horse carts, delivery trucks, and Model T Fords for the neighbourhood children. The long parade filed past James Beers’ Drugstore at 47th and Baltimore, and Nace Hopple’s Radio Repair shop at 47th and Cedar; then up Cedar and along Fiftieth Street, “the head of their line of march turning into Market Street as the end approached to Pine Street” (that’s ten blocks!). The Belmont Theatre, which opened in 1914, seated 1,000 people. A trendy Philadelphia-born fast-food eatery – the Horn & Hardart Automat — was next door, and doubtless, some little faces covetously eyed its interesting prepared foods behind little clear coin-operated windows.

Movie treats for parish children ended in 1934 when Cardinal Dougherty issued a pastoral letter, prohibiting Catholics from attending the movies due to cinematic violence and bad language. Boycotts worked: within a few years, the industry cleaned up its offerings and the Catholic audience trickled back – but by then, Father Canney was gone.

dougherty movie boycott
Philadelphia Inquirer June 9, 1934
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Lost Sheep

dscn3170-2-e1520018971281.jpgHave you ever wondered why there is a lamb-themed window in the stairwell to the St. Francis de Sales Church choir loft?

Nothing in our church design is there by chance, but sometimes the symbolism is confused by history – as when, in 1965, a doorway between the foyer, or vestibule, and the Baptistery was blocked off to create space for a shrine honouring our patron Saint Francis de Sales.

What does that have to do with the lamb window?

The Baptistery (today’s Adoration Chapel – open 24/7 to anyone with a key from the rectory), in the east tower of the church, was originally designed for administering the sacrament of baptism. It contained the John-the-Baptist-themed baptismal font by sculptor Adolfo de Nesti (located in the rear of the church today) and a stained glass window, probably by Niccola D’Ascenzo.

john 001 (3)The Oxford Dictionary of Christian Art describes how John the Baptist “retired to the desert, living on wild honey and locusts and wearing a garment of camel hair with a leather girdle...” In Western art, “he usually holds a reed cross, which sometimes has a scroll attached reading Ecce Agnus Dei (Behold the Lamb of God) which is what he said to John and Andrew (John 1:35-36)…” when he baptized Jesus. Such depictions generally also include the symbol of the lamb.

Our Saint John the Baptist window – inspired by works such as Francisco Ribalta’s  17th century Spanish painting — shows him in a heroic pose, wearing a hairy garment over a cloth tunic. Pointing towards the heavens with his right hand, he carries the Ecce Agnus Dei staff-and-scroll in his left, and, just as in that painting,  there is a baptizing pool behind him. The one thing missing from our window is the lamb itself.

st. john the baptist ribalta
San Juan Bautista by Francisco Ribalta (1565-1628)

Before the 1965 renovation, Saint John, with his “Behold the Lamb of God” banner, would have looked straight out through the Baptistery doorway, across the vestibule, to the Lamb of God window on the other side of the church.

How do we know that the two are intentionally related? The round tops and borders of both windows share the same cross-and-scallop-shell design. The scallop shell is generally recognized as  a symbol of pilgrimage, but it is also used as a symbol of baptism, since shells were sometimes used to pour the water and baptism marks the beginning of a spiritual pilgrimage.

That which was lost has been found – and today, our Adoration Chapel and heavenly choir music both provide avenues to connect with faith and experience spiritual “rebirth.”