Saturday, August 16, 2008

Heather and Mark Do Buffalo: Our Lady of Victory Basilica

Again, without Mark. He's been dropped to a guest-starring role due to contract issues.

(But first! I was playing No Stress Chess with one my kids on Friday and when I made a move that took his rook and blocked the move he was planning, he called me a dirty knave. A dirty knave! A seven-year-old called me a dirty knave! I think that leap-frogged him over everyone else in the class as my favorite.)

Yesterday I made my annual visit to one of my very favorite places in the Buffalo area, the Our Lady of Victory Basilica. I'll hit you with some pictures and facts in a minute but first a very quick history lesson.

The Basilica was a dream of Monsignor Nelson Henry Baker. Father Baker was born in Buffalo in 1841 (he was one of the first students at nearby Canisius College) and worked in the area in various capacities before being appointed Superintendent of what would become Our Lady of Victory Homes of Charity in Lackawanna, NY in 1882. The Homes of Charity would come to include an orphanage, an industrial school, a home for infants and unwed mothers, a maternity hospital and a protectory for young boys who were "inclined to truancy and willfulness." Even though Father Baker is no longer with us, his work with orphaned and abandoned children lives on today through Baker Victory Services which, among many other things, provides foster care, adoption programs, residential homes for troubled kids, and various counseling programs for children and families. BVS also runs a few different school programs including the one I work for so it's pretty near and dear to my heart.

At age 79, Father Baker announced that he wanted to build a church that would rival any church in the country, a tribute to the Blessed Mother who he felt had provided him with so much through the years. Father Baker hadn't set aside any money for the building but he had faith that it would be provided. And it was. When the church opened in 1926 the cost of $3.2 million - a whole lot of money back then - had been paid in full through donations from around the country.

The building I work in is right down the street from the Basilica so I drive past it at least a couple of times a day. A few years ago, I found myself really drawn there on the last day of school. I have no idea why. I'd been inside it a few times with kids but I'd never been down there by myself. The kids have always been remarkably well-behaved there but when I take them in I do spend most of my time making sure they're not climbing on altars or tipping statues - that would be bad - so I'd never really examined it closely.

Anyway, it turned out to be just what I needed on that particular day. It had been a tough year with a group of kids - the only one so far, thankfully - that I'd really struggled to like at times and never felt as attached to as my previous classes. It was also a year where I really struggled to leave work at work because the kids were in some seriously messed up situations. Over the past few years I've gotten better at realizing I can only worry about the seven hours I have the kids at school and have to let go of the things I can't control but that wasn't always easy to do. The half hour or so I spent wandering around the Basilica that afternoon was like a balm to my sad, beat-up soul. Since then I've made it a tradition to stop in on the last day of summer school and take a stroll through the church and the surrounding garden, think about the previous year (trying to focus on the good stuff), and say some prayers for all the kids I worked with that year and any other kids that come to mind, current students or past ones. It's my way of putting my kids in the hands of someone who actually can help them while also decompressing before I head off to vacation and then the new school year. I'm not Catholic so I don't get everything in the church - I don't recognize all the various saints and some of the Mary stuff seems a little intense since she's not as revered in the Protestant religion (though obviously important) - but I did grow up Christian and I don't know, I find being in a church a really peaceful, comfortable thing.

All right I'm done navel-gazing. On with the pictures! I didn't re-size any of the photos so if you want to see more detail you can click on the image to get a full-size version.

The view from the front.

And the view from the back.

When the Basilica was built, the dome was the second largest in the U.S. Only the Capitol Builiding's was larger. It's made of copper and over the years the weather has dulled it to its greenish hue which is the same weathering process the Statue of Liberty has experienced. The two spires you can see in the front were originally taller but they were damaged during a lightning storm in 1941 and shortened when rebuilt to avoid any future problems.

Father Baker once said, "There are thousands of angels in the Basilica." Estimates place the number at somewhere between 1,500 and 2,000 but no two counts have ever resulted in the same number. Father Baker's plan was to have at least one angel in every possible sight line in the church. This one was outside in the little garden off to the side.

My favorite parts of the church are the statues on top of the two colonnades in the front. They both show a group of children with an angel hovering over them. On one of them, the children are huddled around a nun which was done in tribute to the order that worked for OLV during Father Baker's tenure and still works in certain areas of OLV today. On the other statute, the children are huddled around Father Baker himself. That statue was ordered and sculpted by Father Baker's assistants and the primary architect and the first time Father Baker saw it, it has been installed on the church. He was really upset and embarrassed about being singled out from the other people who worked with him and he insisted that it be taken down. After a lot of heated debated he finally relented and it's still there today. I really like those statutes because it's a great reflection how important helping children in need was and is to OLV/BVS.

Here's the front entryway. The picture didn't completely capture it but the way the light was falling through the windows was really beautiful.

And here's your first look at the church when you enter from the main doors at the back. The lighting is pretty dark and I just had my automatic camera with me - not that it would've mattered since I've pretty much forgotten everything I ever learned about f-stops and shutter speeds - so the quality of some of the interior pictures isn't great.

The architecture includes 46 different kinds of marble and the pews are made of African mahogany.

This is my favorite corner on the inside of the church. The grotto is cut out of lava rock from Mount Vesuvius in Italy. Father Baker used it to honor the vision of the Blessed Mother to St. Bernadette at Lourdes, France. I don't really know what that means since I have no idea who St. Bernadette is and I know Lourdes as the daughter of Madonna the singer but I really, really like the way the lava rock looks. Oh, the casket at the bottom of the first picture contains the remains of Father Baker.

This is the underside of the dome. It's 80 feet in diameter and 120 feet from the floor. The theme is the Assumption and Coronation of Mary. Around the edge, the 12 apostles and three archangels are shown and another angel carries Mary to heaven. (I admit, I'd really never examined it that closely. I got all that info from the Basilica's online tour.) This is the one part of the church that every kid I've ever taken in there goes crazy about. A few years ago I had one kid who literally lay on the floor of the middle aisle and stared up at it for a good five minutes before he finally said, in awe, "HOW did they DO that?"

All right, this is getting long so let me just hit you with a few more pictures.

Oooh, preeetty.

That's the pipe organ in the back.

The Basilica is open to the public free of charge from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m every day. They also offer tours between 1 and 3 on Sundays. I've never taken one but I've heard the woman who does most of them does a wonderful job.

(Coming up next: A post about hockey! Really!)


LeeAndrew said...

Uh oh, contract issues? Did Mark want top billing? At least he got the coveted last "and so-and-so" spot. I mean if it was good enough for Victor Garber in Alias then it should be good enough for Mark.

amy said...

I still can't get over the detail on the painting on the underside of the dome. I've seen it before, but it still takes my breath away.

About the Lourdes apparition of Mary appeared 18 times in a 6 month period to Bernadette, who was a 14-year-old. After some hard core Church investigation, Bernadette's claims of seeing Mary were validated. Bernadette became a saint upon her passing, and her body has not decayed despite it being over 130 years since her death. Its on display in Lourdes, and the town is a large pilgrimage site for Catholics.

Life_As_A_Redhead said...

This was really awsome, thanks.

We have to fill our hockey off-seasons somehow. lol

S.A.M. said...

great post Heather. I went for a tour of the Basilica years ago and it was super neat. But I don't remember much of the details, so it was good to get a refesher.

Heather B. said...

Amy, thanks so much for the Lourdes/Bernadette explanation! I'm curious as to how exactly you verify a vision but I'm glad to know the story behind my favorite part of the church.

Redhead, this off-season is beginning to feel never-ending. Seriously.

Becky said...

I was there with a church group as a teenager (a long time ago) touring local fantastic churches, and I've meant to get back. Your post and pictures sort of provide an extra push!

Patty (in Dallas) said...

Don't sell yourself short, Heather. Those are beautiful pictures. It looks like a beautiful church.

Morgaine said...

my Other Half and i took a walk around the basilica a few years ago on a trip back home for me, and although i no longer am a Christian, i was raised as a Catholic and share your sense of calm in a place of worship - especially one as breathtaking as the basilica. i mean, just because that's not the place or the way in which i worship doesn't mean that i can't appreciate the devotion and passion put into such a building and all that goes with it. thank you for a gorgeous post, Heather!