Dansville, New York, has a beautiful church that has avoided ruin through “Spirit of Vatican II” activism.
Saint Mary’s in Dansville is a mix of styles. I would call it Romanesque but it has a Renaissance/Baroque main entrance, Gothic Revival coins at the corners and a prominent pediment, and touches of Byzantine in a domed cupola and stone/brick banding toward the top of the tower.
The church is in the style of an early Christian basilica and includes an open timbered ceiling, characteristic of the earliest of Christian churches. There is a large nave and two side aisles but no side chapels. The apse houses a gorgeous classical Renaissance altar designed to appear to have a baldachin or ciborium. The tabernacle was never moved after the Second Vatican Council and so is in the center of the cancel, on the altar. The vaulted ceiling is coffered with rosettes.
Appropriately, the back and side walls of the apse are painted in a rich, gold pattern reminiscence of a king’s throne room.
The draped opening between the columns of the altar cries out for a painting but we are offered an aesthetically underwhelming (to me) suspended sculpture of the risen Lord. I’m wondering if a painting was once there or was at least planned for that space.
Unfortunately, banners have been hung on some of the sides of the piers (square columns). They are at least well designed but, alas, they are banners and I dislike banners. In this case I think they distract from the Stations of the Cross. The piers were designed to be unadorned except for the Stations. Thankfully, the colors of the banners harmonize with the architecture and they are in good proportion to the sides of the piers.
The Stations of the Cross are outstanding in Saint Mary’s. Renaissance in style, each has a touch of Byzantine in the gold mosaic-like skies.
Yet another style appears to us in the spandrels between the piers (those triangular spaces over the piers). A heavenly host of angels rendered in the Art Nouveau style look down on us and announce that we are in sacred space –the throne room of the King, the temple of the Lord. (Yes, yes, I know, in the New Covenant the people are the Temple.)
Like nearly everything else in this church, the stained glass windows are beautiful. Rich in detail and outstanding in rendering they each invite study and reflection.
Look at the wonderful elaboration of the main entrance. Something important happens here. This isn’t just any building.
More Information about Saint Mary’s