At St. Patrick's, the resurrection now is complete Stained-glass is back after '83 fire


The face of the high priest was smashed. The Angel Gabriel looked beaten. St. Joseph was missing.

It would have taken the faith of a saint to believe that the stained-glass windows in a Fells Point Roman Catholic church could have been resurrected from the damage of a huge fire inflicted 10 years and 2 months ago.

But on a bright fall afternoon, seeing is believing at St. Patrick's Church at Broadway and Bank Street.

Its windows are back after a lengthy trip to the Munich stained-glass works where they were produced in the late 1890s.

Today, the light pours through the Gothic Revival panels. The eye is drawn to the details -- the pots of flowers, the brocade in the robe of the high priest or the veil on the Virgin Mary. The remarkably translucent golds, reds, purples and blues seem to evoke a sense of piety, faith and religious devotion.

"It was really an experience to sit in here the first Sunday all the windows were back. People weren't looking at the sanctuary, people weren't listening to the preaching, the people were looking at the glass," said Father Blair P. Raum, St. Patrick's pastor.

The chief usher, John Holman, who lives in the 2000 block of Bank St., said, "We made up our minds that whatever it took, we wanted our windows back. We'd paid out for insurance all those years. And what beauties they are."

St. Patrick's is a congregation that traces its origin to 1792. There have been five different church buildings; the present one, a towering Gothic landmark, was dedicated Nov. 20, 1898.

But some 85 years later, a painter's torch accidentally ignited the base of the roof. By the end of Aug. 16, 1983, after 500,000 gallons of water had been used in the firefighters' battle, the blaze was out. Nearly every window in the church sustained damage. Some were broken out to ventilate the fire; the force of the water stream crushed glass and bent the leading that held the individual components in place.

The work of reconstructing St. Patrick's windows went to the Franz Mayer Studio in Munich, a firm that has been designing and building church art windows for well over a century. Still owned by the same family, the Mayers retained the original cartoons (the preliminary sketches) for the St. Patrick glass.

"It's amazing. The windows wound up being restored by a firm that survived both world wars in Munich," Father Raum said.

The panels that line the church's nave tell New Testament lessons in glass: Mary's presentation in the temple; the Angel Gabriel appearing to her (the Annunciation); the birth of Jesus in the stable; Jesus in the temple; the marriage feast at Cana; Mary Magdalene washes the feet of Jesus; Jesus blesses the children; the Agony in the garden; the discovery of the empty tomb; and the apostles on Pentecost.

Once their overseas restoration was completed, the panels were crated and shipped back to Baltimore and installed late last month.

There was some doubt the Archdiocese of Baltimore would allow insurance money to be used for the $210,000 restoration. For more than eight years the damaged windows sat in Germany. In the meantime, the rest of the church was thoroughly restored, but reopened in 1986 minus its art glass windows. Church bureaucrats balked at using insurance money for their costly restoration.

"I'd say that Archbishop Keeler is our patron, a real friend of St. Patrick's. He believes in us; he likes this church," said Holman, who was one of the parishioners who led a crusade to bring back the glass.

Several other Mayer windows stand above the high altar. They also sustained heavy damage. These depict the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, St. Joseph and a woman dressed in black garb.

"For years, we thought it was St. Ann, the mother of the Virgin Mary. But the cleaning revealed it to be St. Brigid, the Irish saint," Father Raum said.

There is some logic in this. St. Brigid is the name of a daughter parish of St. Patrick's. Located in Canton, St. Brigid's Church also recalls one Brigid O'Donnell Dolan, the mother of Father James Dolan, one of St. Patrick's most illustrious 19th Century pastors.

"East Baltimore is very deep in its faith. The congregation is well aware its forefathers installed these," the current pastor said.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad