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Rose and Transept Window of The Nativity, Sacred Heart Church, Toledo, Ohio

Rating: 31 votes, 4.97 average.
Thank you, Sister Virginia Welsh, for guiding me to the Sacred Heart Church and its magnificent window of The Nativity; Royce Wicks, for opening the doors of the church and sharing your appreciation of its sacred art; Mike Snyder, for sharing your love for your church; and Father Frank Eckart, for sharing the true meaning of The Nativity…

Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, Toledo, Ohio — a magnificent Nativity unfolds in three panels, crowned by the Star of Bethlehem and a brilliant Rose window. The symbols of the Evangelists Matthew and Mark — an angel and a winged lion — are found at each bottom corner of the Rose window, and on the bottom of The Nativity Window an inscription testifying to the faith of Julius Compte and Family, who donated this glorious sacred art to the Church. A smaller inscription, at bottom right of The Annunciation window, credits the gifted artists: "Emil Frei Art Glass Co., St. Louis, Mo, Munich, Ger'y." 
It's a miracle that Sacred Heart Church, Toledo, Ohio, still stands after a devastating 1975 fire. 
I've just taken the Cherry/Main Street Bridge over the Maumee River and crossed into East Toledo, en route to The Sacred Heart of Jesus Church on 6th and Oswald Streets.

The Sacred Heart central bell tower is flanked by turrets, all topped by copper domes. Their rich oxidized copper green is echoed by the color of the front doors, which are framed by honey-colored columns and a semi-circular carved arch.

But I find them locked, so I walk down the center steps — the side stairs have been turned into parterres — and head for the Rectory next door.

It's getting late in the day as I knock on the door, and I'm happy to have Sacred Heart Music and Liturgy Director Royce Wicks open it.

"Hello," I say, introducing myself. "Sister Virginia Welsh, from St. Martin de Porres sents me."

I had just left St. Martin de Porres after photographing its Nativity — a small but beautiful stained glass window — and on my way out was fortunate to run into Sister Virginia, OSF/T, St. Martin de Porres Pastoral Leader.

I talked with Sister Virginia about St. Martin de Porres' ministerial outreach — her Parish is named after the 16th century Peruvian Saint who ministered to the poor — and was touched by her eloquence and commitment. And most grateful to have her tell me about the large large Sacred Heart window of The Nativity.

Sister Virginia was so right: the Sacred Heart Nativity is not only large, but magnificent, taking up the whole right-trancept of the church. The Nativity unfolds in three panels, and is topped by the Star of Bethlehem and a brilliant rose window in blues, reds, greens, and golds (see photo, top of page).

"Isn't it superb?" I say to Royce, who was kind enough to open the church for me. "Emil Frei; what a gifted artist."

"It surprises me that you are looking at the window of The Nativity and identified the maker," Royce says. "How did you know?"

I tell Royce that The Expulsion from Eden window was my clue. I knew I had seen this powerful image of the Lord God before: at The Most Holy Trinity, in St. Louis, Missouri.

And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? Genesis 3:9 — A powerful image from The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden stained glass window by Emil Frei, Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, Toledo, Ohio. 
But Emil Frei's great artistry created in the Sacred Heart Expulsion from Eden a window that only distantly echoes, not copies, that of The Most Holy Trinity: Adam might be cowering on the ground, and Eve may be trying to cover her nakedness with a goat pelt, but the similarities end there. The Lord God is surrounded by golden rays and stars, and clad in deep blue damask, not in a halo of fire and depicted in green and gold with pomegranate motifs, as at the Most Holy Trinity.

The apparition of the Virgin at upper right shows the Mother of God with hands crossed, not holding the Christ Child. Beneath the feet of the Lord, a rocky ground has been replaced by an exotic landscape of bright flowers and birds. And even the hissing Serpent, its coils twisted around a tree, is rendered more ominous by its exposed fangs.

"You are absolutely right," Royce says, as he walks towards the left side of the church. He stands under The Annunciation window, and points at a small inscription at bottom right. "Here's Emil Frei's name."

In small capital letters is written, "EMIL FREI ART GLASS CO., ST. LOUIS, MO, MUNICH, GER'Y."

"When we renovated the church in 2003," Royce says, "we created wider side aisles by moving the pews closer together towoards the center. This allowed people to walk directly underneath the Stations of the Cross and the stained glass windows.

"Because art is as inspirational as music. Art enriches your faith; art can lead you to your faith, if you allow it — just like music, or a speaker who can move you to a faith experience."

As I start to shoot, I ask Royce what is it like creating music in this beautiful church?

"It's a privilege" Royce says. "It's a give and take between the choir, the music director, and the congregation. All of it comes into play, and it's especially wonderful if everything works together and people feel inspired.

"Music is always a challenge, because I want things to be perfect. Sometimes, I'll get that perfection very late at night, when I'm here alone and certain pieces will come together, it's nice when it all comes together."

Does Royce find inspiration in the stained glass windows?

"Yes, and I didn't realize how much so, until seven years ago, when we were installing the sound system. For half hour at a time, I had the lucky job of doing for for the sound technicians the, "Testing 1, 2, 3," at the microphone.

"It was very boring, as you can imagine, but as I was doing that, it was as though I was looking at the windows for the first time, recognizing how detailed they are: the shading, the highlights, the nuances of color. This is not just a palette of eight colors, but one of forty or more.

"Even now I see something new: watching you photograph The Annunciation and mentioning the lilies, it was the first time that I noticed that those lilies were there. Every element in those windows has been so beautifully thought through. We're so fortunate the fire didn't destroy them…"

You could not guess, seeing the renovated church, that a 1975 fire almost destroyed it — Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, Toledo, Ohio, renovated with the guidance of former Pastor Frank Eckart and the volunteer work of parishioners. 
A few months had gone by since my visit to the Sacred Heart of Jesus when I received a note from Mike Snyder, Volunteer Fireman, and member of the Sacred Heart Maintenance Committee.

"I heard from Royce Wicks about your visit at Sacred Heart of Jesus in Toledo, Ohio. Have you posted anything about that visit or photos? Please let me know."

Mike also sent me two booklets with historical Sacred Heart photographs and, of course, an account of the fire of 1975.

"We don't know how the fire started," Mike Snyder says from his home, a couple of miles from Sacred Heart.

"My wife Judy was baptized at Sacred Heart, and I've been a convert since 1959. Judy and I and my in-laws offered donuts and coffee that Sunday, and we got a call about six o' clock Monday morning that the church was on fire.

"We live nearby, rushed down, and just couldn't believe my eyes. I was a volunteer fireman, having joined the department in 1959, have seen first hand what destruction fire can cause. So I was so thankful to see that the church was still standing. There was a fire station on Sixth Street, a bout a quarter mile away, so the fire engines were close and were able to respond quickly.

When the firemen allowed us, and other parishioners who had gathered, to go inside, we found the main altar gone; up on the choir loft our beautiful Kilgen Organ was totally destroyed; along the side aisles we were picking up wall sconses that fell down when the solder on their bases melted; and as we walked downstairs, water was coming through the floor onto the basement ceiling.

But the fire was out, thanks to our wonderful firefighters who didn't chop a lot of holes into the church, but managed to get in and put out the fire. It was thought to have started in the altar area. Our main altar looked like marble, but was made of wood — and it went up in smoke. As the heat rose, it traveled across the curved ceiling to the choir loft — in what firemen call a roll-over — destroying the organ and scattering metal pipes all over the choir loft floor.

"Thankfully, the fire did not destroy any of the stained glass windows, except two in the apse of the altar, which had to be replaced.

"It was a miracle. Had the fire not been detected and burned into the attic, it would have been a disaster. If all those wooden beams had caught on fire, the church would have burned down. It's amazing when you see that picture of the truck with its 85-foot ladder reaching over the roof.

St. Joseph, holding the Child Jesus and a lily, signifying innocence, and the Virgin Mary — Chapel of the Holy Family, Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, Toledo, Ohio. 
"The Parish came together, and began to rebuild. Some of us were mopping the floor, others pumping water out of the basement using portable generators. Most of the renovation work was done by volunteers, as it has always been the case over the years in the Parish.

"So it was no different during the renovation, in 2003, under the pastoral guidance of Father Frank Eckart: With his guidance, we preserved as much as possible, and build a new: a new altar, and a parish gathering space in the back of the church, underneath the choir loft. we were taking out radiators, moving pews around on skids, laying down paneling and tile, and painting.

"And it all, Thank the Lord, worked out so nice."

Mike, who retired from GM in 1993, is saddened by the economic downturn that has driven away jobs — and people.

"At our transmission plant," he says, "we used to cast and machine all our parts. We had about 4,500 people working there, and now it's down to 1,500. So that was big job cut. We do have the Jeep plant here in Toledo, and that helps. But we used to have a large Libby Owens Ford glass factory that used to make all the glass for automobiles and plate glass for windows, but that is down to very few people now as well.

"We're hoping things have bottomed out, but it all depends on the economy."

But the economic downturn hasn't stopped the good people of Sacred Heart from digging deep in their pockets.

"We did spent quite a bit of money," Mike says, "to protect the stained glass windows with exterior panels. We'd like to do more of them, but it's an expensive process. One parishioner offered $4,000 in memory of his late wife to clean,refurbish, and protect The Nativity window, and its beauty once again shines through.

"The builders of the Sacred Heart really have left us a priceless legacy: it's really amazing to start at the far right-hand side of the church and see the beginning, Adam and Eve in the Garden, and work your way around: Jesus at the Temple, Jesus in the Workshop with Joseph, the Wedding at Cana, The Resurrection window.

"They are such beautiful windows, made even more beautiful when you contemplate their meaning. I sing in the choir with Royce Wicks, and sometimes when we're practicing in the early evening, and the sun is setting on the West, it comes through The Resurrection window and it's very moving. Sunday morning, to see the sun coming through The Nativity window, it's just awesome. I'm so proud of Sacred Heart.

"By the way: when are you coming back through Toledo? Royce and I will take you to Tony Packos.

"Have you heard of the famous Tony Packos Hungarian hot dogs? Remember Mash? Corporal Klinger? He was from Toledo, and he always talked about the Toledo Mudhens, which is our baseball team, and Tony Packos hot dogs. St. Stephen's, our sister parish, and Tony Packos share a parking lot. I was just there for supper. They have a secret recipe, and, all over the walls, on mounted plaques, hot dog buns signed by different celebrities.

"And, don't forget about Father Frank Eckart, our Pastor from 1996 to 2010, when he retired. You must talk to him!"

All are welcome at the manger — Kings of the East mingle with poor shepherds in this detail of the magnificent window of The Nativity, by Emil Frei, Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, Toledo, Ohio. 

The meaning of The Nativity

"Hello Alexis," says the Rev. Frank Eckart. "Mike Snyder mentioned you. You were photographing The Nativity window at Sacred Heart?"

I have reached Father Frank at his Toledo apartment, and am delighted to have him kindly take the time to share his thoughts about the sacred art of the church he served for fourteen years.

"There are statues of Mary and Joseph in the Holy Family Chapel, and Saints Peter and Paul in the vestibule," Father Frank says. "But The Nativity and other stained glass windows comprise the main iconography of the Sacred Heart Church.

"It's all about the life of Christ, throughout the windows, with the two main ones The Nativity and The Resurrection in the transepts."

Father Frank, I was surprised to find The Nativity in the East. I would have expected the Resurrection…

"Nothing is North, South, East, and West — everything's at an angle in Toledo!" Father Frank says with laughter.

A look at the Toledo map proves Father Frank's point. But I also offer another perspective, reciting a stanza from the Orthodox Hymn of The Nativity: I Gennisis Sou Christe o Theos, Aneteille to Kosmo to Fos to tis Gnoseos… (Thy Nativity, O Christ our God, Has illumined the world like the Light of Wisdom).

Emil Frei's artistry is on full display in this detail of the Archangel Gabriel, The Annunciation stained glass window, Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, Toledo, Ohio. 
Then I ask Father Frank about the meaning of The Nativity.

"The Gospels," he says, "have different significance for The Nativity.

Luke emphasizes — and I like Luke's Gospel — Jesus being born among the poor and the shepherds.

Matthew emphasizes Christ's Kingship with the Three Kings.

And John emphasizes the Incarnation: the Word became flesh.

"Three different approaches — and all reveal something unique of the richness of The Nativity. You can look at it from different angles.

"Birth is always the very human symbol of new life. Jesus chose to come as an infant, and a new life — a new age — begins with The Nativity. So it's significant in that way. Luke's Gospel, I think, sets the stage with his whole prologue — which is The Nativity and The Annunciation — really giving us insight into what the mission of Jesus is, as Mary's prayer says: to bring good news to the poor, lift up the lowly, bring down the haughty.

And her response is the response of all of us: 'Your Will Be Done.'

"The Nativity is really a miniature Gospel about who God is, what His mission is, what should the response be of people to Him.

"All of these things are found in The Nativity, but, unfortunately, in our culture, we sometimes get caught up with giving presents. And the true meaning of The Nativity gets somewhat overlooked."

Maybe the Greeks have the right idea of giving presents after Christmas?

"I have always liked that idea. And Christmas is really the first day of Christmas — not the last day of Christmas. The last day of Christmas is January 6th. But in our culture, by December 26th everything's over, and the stores move on to whatever's next.

"It's unfortunate that we don't see Christmas as a season, rather than a day. And all the Christmas parties are before Christmas, when they should be after Christmas Day.

"Of course, you're not going to change all that, but I do like the Orthodox thought that Christmas just begins the Christmas Season."

Father, as you know, in Byzantine iconography, the icon of The Nativity doesn't just represent the promise of salvation that Birth of Christ represents, but it also — with its tomb-like manger — presages His Passion.

"I'm not as versed in iconography, but I do know that it's all very symbolic, and imbued in the painting is not just the picture of the scene, but the mystery behind it.

"For example, I have an icon of The Trinity, that expresses the mystery of The Trinity."

Is it the Rublev Trinity?

"Yes, three angels around a table. I went to Russia a couple of years ago. We visited a lot of churches, and I was surprised how many people — old and young people — were praying in front of the icons. Really, it was a meditation: they'd be there for half-and-hour, forty-five minutes, praying in front of an icon. Beautiful.

"I realize iconography tries not to just show an image, but also to portray something deeper — the mystery. Sometimes, Western Art doesn't do that. In Renaissance art everyone is dressed up like Renaissance princes, and everyone is wearing fancy clothes."

Not to mention the princes themselves playing a part in the scene. Father, do you remember your reaction the first time you walked into the Sacred Heart for the first time?

Detail of the glorious window of The Resurrection, left transept, Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, Toledo, Ohio. 
"I served 14 years at Sacred Heart, and I was amazed. I had never been in The Sacred Heart until I was assigned as pastor. It was in rather poor condition when I came, and I loved putting the altar where the cruciform cross of the church meets.

"Facing out towards the people as you celebrate Mass, you see the windows, the life of Jesus: from His Birth, all the way around, reliving the life of Jesus, to The Resurrection. It's a very symbolic church that way, and perhaps one of the under-appreciated churches in Toledo."

The Centennial 1883-1983 booklet that Mike Snyder sent me states that the estimated value of the stained glass is in the millions. Even when they were ordered, in 1914, the cost was $12,000 — what must have been a princely sum then. What does that say about the faith of the immigrants who built Sacred Heart?

"You cannot build that church today. The craftsmanship, for one thing, isn't there anymore. But even if it were, the cost of building a church like Sacred Heart is not something that could be duplicated. You could, if you were building a cathedral and the whole diocese was behind it, but not with 60 to 100 families you couldn't do it.

"And you're amazed that people were able to do that in 1900, when they weren't that prosperous, were immigrants, didn't have a lot of wealth. It's so amazing, sometimes, the churches they built. I travel a lot and I always spend a lot of time visiting churches. And I'm always inspired by these buildings that — like these European churches — took 100 years to build.

"It's the kind of faith that says, 'I won't see the end of it, but maybe my great-, great-, great-grandchildren will. But I'll do whatever I can now, even though I won't see it finished.' I think that is indicative of great faith. Because, nowadays, we want something done right away."

"And I must tell you about the last renovation of the Sacred Heart, that you saw. I was so happy, because it was the people of the Parish who did most of the work. We hired someone whom we knew was a good carpenter, but a lot of the work — like refinishing the pews and painting — was done by the parishioners. It was a wonderful experience renovating the church.

"Some people think when you renovate you destroy, but that wasn't the case at Sacred Heart at all. The fire caused a lot of destruction, but people have a great appreciation for the church because they worked on it.
I'm glad to do it.

"I'm now retired, but I sometimes say Mass at different parishes, and it gives me the chance to visit a new church almost every weekend, which I find interesting. I like the chance to go out and visit different communities, different parishes.

I have just visited and blogged about the Cathedral Christ the Light, in Oakland? Light creates the principal iconography in the church.

"I'll have to check that. I am not one who wants us to keep building Romanesque churches: there's good modern art. Especially in Europe, you see some very interesting churches which are pretty modern. Sometimes the use of glass is very impressive.

"Have you seen Quigley seminary, near the Cathedral, in Chicago? They have a chapel that's an exact duplicate of Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. It's amazing, unbelievable. If you get to Chicago again, you must go there."

I've just added Quigley seminary to the itinerary of my trip East later this summer. I look forward to visiting Toledo again, meeting Mike Snyder, and sharing a hot dog with him and Royce Wicks. And, who knows? Perhaps even Father Frank Eckart may be a Tony Packos fan — I would love to talk with him about the churches he has visited.

In Toledo? Visit the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church, 6th and Oswald, Toledo, Ohio 43605; 419-698-1664.

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