Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church


Temple and Garden in One Rochester Church

February 22nd, 2013, Promulgated by Bernie

In two previous posts (Here and Here) I described and explained the Catholic church building as symbols of the Heavenly Jerusalem and the Garden of Eden. These two concepts are usually employed together. The traditional hierarchic layout of Catholic churches has only recently (the past 40 years) been abandoned , replaced by a distinctly non-hierarchic approach. Modern Catholic churches, in varying degrees look more like lecture or demonstration halls with a lab table. Likewise, decorative elements echoing Paradise have been banned leaving us with sterile, stingy interiors that force the congregation to focus in on itself. Decoration is also currently viewed as inappropriate given the understanding of the Church as solely a social justice agency.

Rochester still has churches built with Temple and Garden symbolism, though. One is a relatively small church originally constructed, I think, for Belgian immigrants. Called “the little French church” it has undergone restorative work over the years but it still retains its gorgeous French baroque altars. One aspect of the original church, unfortunately lost due to deterioration, was the apse mural that formed a backdrop and illusionist heavenly environment for the altar and reredos.

(click on pictures to see clearer images)

Interior at Christmas a few years ago.

Interior at Christmas a few years ago. The traditional hierarchical layout of the interior space, and the steps preceding the raised altar suggest the Temple. There is no question that we are in a special, sacred place. The chancel compels our attention. (The free standing altar, of course, is out of place, an innovation from the original plan.)


The architecture theme of the altar and reredos suggests a building or structure such as a temple. The tabernacle, of course, suggests the Holy of Holies as does the miniature ciborium covering it.

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Volutes visually transitioning the festigium to the broader reredos below is a distinctive element of the Baroque style in which even the architecture seems to be animated.

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Detail of the reredos to the right of the Tabernacle.

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The front of the altar with the monogram rendered in plant forms.

Side altar. Vegetation motifs abound.

Side altar. Vegetation motifs abound.

Side altar. Vegetation motifs abound.

Even the cross appears as a budding tree of life.

"Our Lady of Perpetual Help" side chapel.

“Our Lady of Perpetual Help” side chapel.

We included this window image in the post on the church building as garden.

Detail from one of the stained glass windows.

Nothing is sterile or stingy in this church. Even the vestments recall the bountiful life in Garden.

Nothing is sterile or stingy in this church. Even the vestments recall the bountiful life in the Garden.

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One Response to “Temple and Garden in One Rochester Church”

  1. avatar Ink says:

    I’ve seen pictures of the old OLV… and it was absolutely gorgeous. Painting detail all over the ceiling pendants and everywhere in the apse. While it is still lovely, I think it would be wonderful to bring it all back. Maybe someday I can help with that.

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