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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The "Stairway To Heaven" Story

Walking up the stairway to heaven!
It was an ordinary day.  Just knocked on the very last door I could find and was pleasantly greeted by a young woman named Janice.  I stated my plight to her and was told she could give me aide to accomplish the mission for my trip.  All began when I read about the history of one of Lancaster's most beautiful churches in the city and decided to make a visit.  St. Mary's Catholic Church on the corner of Prince and Vine Streets in downtown Lancaster is in the final days of their 275th Anniversary.  The half-block long church has been a spiritual mainstay in the city since 1941.  The Church of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary is the fourth oldest Catholic Church in the original thirteen colonies.  
The log cabin church of Father Wappeler and Father Schineider.
It was in 1741 that two German Jesuit priests, Father William Wappeler and Father Theodore Schineider, arrived in Lancaster and began Lancaster's first Catholic mission in a log chapel on the same location where the church now stands.  Eighteen years later the chapel was destroyed by arson.  Limestone from nearby fields was gathered by the 100 or so parishioners and a new stone church shortly rose from the ashes on the site of the original log church and the corner stone was laid in 1762.  
The first stone church stands next to the 1852 church.
The congre- gation grew and ninety years later was in need of a larger church to accommo- date the growing parish.  In 1852 the foundation of a wall next to the church, erected next door to the stone church, was laid using stone from the old jail located a block away at the corner of King and Prince Streets.  Two years later the church was consecrated by Bishop John Neumann and Father Bernard Keenan.  Father Keenan was the pastor of St. Mary's from 1823 until 1877 and was a good friend of President James Buchanan as well as Thaddeus Stevens.  
The wall next to the church was built with stones from the
old jail on Prince Street, a block to the north of the church.
Once again, fire struck the church in 1867 with the result being raising the roof from two stories to it's current height.  The original old stone church remained in place until 1881 when it was demolished to make way for the current school and convent which opened three years later.  In the late 1880's pastor Father McCullagh commissioned the creation of the beautiful stained glass windows, marble altars, marble statues of Mary, St. Anne and St. Joseph as well as the relief-sculpltured Stations of the Cross and three altar paintings.  
The wall as it appears today.
Over the years various changes and restorations took place until prepara- tions were finally made for this years celebra- tions by cleaning and restoring the church.  The interior of the church is amazing as Janice ushered me into the church to view the church and take a few photographs.  The stark stillness and silence brought a feeling of spiritual awareness as I focused my camera from the stained glass windows to the choir loft to the beautiful star-covered blue ceiling to the altars.  Amazing experience in a most beautiful place in one of the most historical cities in the United States.  I hope my photos will give you the same spiritual feeling I achieved with my trip today.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy. 

The entire St. Mary's Parish with the wall beginning on the right.
Magnificent steeples point toward the Heavens.
This sculpture caught my eye standing next to the main church.  Upon further exploration I found it to be part of an old grave that was being repaired.  
Plaque outside the front door of the church.  Click to enlarge photo to read it.
Inviting doors!
The main Altar of St. Mary's Catholic Church.
The organ chamber and choir loft. Notice the twinkling stars on the ceiling.
One of many beautiful stained glass windows that grace the side walls of the church.
This statuary was carved in Italy.  Mary on the Blessed Virgin Altar was completed in 1889, eight years before it was installed in the church.  
The final of the three altars which stand next to one another in the church. 
A remarkable view from the entrance of the church looking toward the three altars. 
This is the door leading to the Parsonage of the church.  The final door I tried before I was offered aid with my photographic mission.

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