Compass seeks to highlight unique local church art

GREEN BAY — Do you have a favorite piece of local church history?

The churches in the Diocese of Green Bay are unique — each holding artwork seen nowhere else. It might be a stained glass window made in the 1800s, or a mid-20th century crucifix or even a handmade, silk-embroidered vestment or altar cloth.

A wood carving over the Doty Street entrance of St. Francis Xavier Cathedral, titled “Sermon on the Mount,” was carved from oak in the late 1880s. The Compass is inviting other parishes with unique artwork to submit a photo and description, which will be published in 2018, the diocese’s Jubilee Year. (Sam Lucero | The Compass)

During this upcoming 150-year celebration of the jubilee of the Diocese of Green Bay, The Compass wants to share the stories of some of these artworks.

We ask parishes to pick their own unique work of art, gather some information about it and share it with The Compass.

For example, as we celebrate the renovations at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in this issue, you will see photos of some unique artworks from this 1881 Romanesque-style cathedral.

It’s hard to miss the 28-foot by 40-foot Crucifixion mural on the cathedral’s west wall. It was completed in 1881, painted by the artist Johann Schmitt, a German immigrant. It is said that the scene is based on a vision by Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich.

Also eye-catching is the rose window over the east wall, with its more than 4,500 pieces of glass. This 1954 Liebmann Memorial Rose Window is title the “Mystical Body of Christ.”

However, a prize-winner among the art of the cathedral is the wood carving over the south entrance, the Doty Street entrance.

This “Sermon on the Mount” was carved from oak for the church in the late 1880s by the E. Hackner Altar Company of La Crosse. The same carvers made the pews and other woodwork in the Mary of the Angels Chapel (adoration chapel) of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in La Crosse.

The Sermon on the Mount carving was entered in the 1893 Columbia Exposition (World’s Fair) in Chicago, where it received an award.

The carving ties in well with eight of the 10 canvas paintings in the upper part of the nave. These oil paintings depict the Eight Beatitudes, which Jesus taught on the Sermon on the Mount.

The eight paintings are the work of Josef Albrecht, a Vienna artist who did the paintings for the cathedral in the early 1900s. The first one arrived around 1904 and the others followed as they were completed. They arrived rolled inside mead tubes for shipping. Each painting cost $300 at the time. Albrecht also painted the two canvases of St. Francis Xavier that adorn the upper nave, near the altar.

The shape of the carved oak frame around the Sermon on the Mount artwork was carried into the cathedral for the 2005 renovations done under Bishop David Zubik. Resin casts were made of the carving of the frame and then used to make new oak frames around the tabernacle and the cathedra (the bishop’s chair), both in the sanctuary.

Opposite the Sermon on the Mount carving, across the transept and over the entry to the Wycislo Center, is another carving of Christ. This depicts Christ Blessing the Children, and is also listed as done by the E. Hackner Company (though there is some question as to whether another local company carved it). While the two carvings appear similar, Christ Blessing the Children was carved at least 60 years later, in the 1950s. This was done when an entrance to the cathedral was added on the north side, where a parking lot had been added. The 1950s carving is over what was once the “parents’ room,” or what was sometimes called “the crying room.” Here, children were allowed more freedom to move around during Masses.

These are just five of the many unique artworks in one church of the Diocese of Green Bay.

Parishes who want to share their church’s unique artwork should send a photo and information about the art to The Compass, P.O. Box 23825, Green Bay, WI 54305, attn. “Church Art.” Information can also be sent to [email protected] List “Church art for 150th” in the title line.