After standing outside in freezing temperatures watching Old St. George Church on Calhoun Avenue burn a few weeks ago, I felt it necessary to dedicate a second consecutive installation of Cincitecture to a local church. At this point, if you've watched the news or a read the local paper you've probably heard how the Feb. 1 fire devastated the church's architecture. You've heard the details: Completed in 1873, it was designed by Samuel Hannaford, the famous architect behind many of Cincinnati's landmarks, such as Music Hall and City Hall; it is Romanesque Revival in style and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places; its larger grounds include a Jacobethan-style school building on Scioto Street and an Italian Renaissance-style parsonage and monastery.
But I don't want to focus on architectural elements for this particular story. As people try to process the fire that ravaged the old church, I've noticed many forums encouraging individuals to share their memories of St. George. I have never been inside the church. This fact notwithstanding, I felt a profound sense of loss watching the fire, loss that stems from my family's Clifton roots and ties to this church in particular. This particular building has affected the people who have come in contact with it. St. George has always had an architectural presence, and this presence has resonated within the Corryville community, as well as Greater Cincinnati, for more than 130 years.
Instead of speaking in grand terms and larger pictures, the best way for me to tell this story is by breaking it down to the individual experience — more specifically, that of my grandmother, Mary, and her friend Janet.
The two met in grade school at St. George and have continued their friendship to this day. Their fondest memories of the church, however, have to do with their extensive careers in its "marvelous" choir. They reminisce about the powerful, achingly beautiful resonance that singing the masses of Schubert, Mozart and Gounod creates. Both women are accomplished vocalists who have spent nearly 30 years singing, first in Latin, then in English following Vatican II, at St. George every Sunday. I'm sure they would have made Nick Lachey proud.
In speaking of the physicality of the building, they default to virtually identical features: the spectacular, Cincinnati-made stained glass windows; the wood-carved altar; the marble statues scattered throughout; and the beautiful garden/courtyard area separating the rectory from the church. I've heard countless stories about how Janet would amuse my mother, aunts and uncles by telling them ghost stories in the choir loft. In fact, sometimes they would sneak to the sides of the choir loft during mass and stare up into dark, musty chasms of the spires, never brave enough to enter.
Following the conflagration and subsequent collapse of these spires, recent newspaper headlines have given us the impression that this landmark can still be saved, and I sincerely wish this notion true. For now, however, our local skyline contains a noticeable void.
Throughout the years, Old St. George has been many things to many people: a place of worship and song; a place to gather with friends; a community center; an arts venue; and even a coffee shop. I hope this fire will provide St. George with the renaissance it's been searching for the past few years, enabling it to continue evolving, playing a cherished role in the lives of generations to come.
CONTACT SARAH STEPHENS: [email protected]