As houses of God, church buildings are meant to represent the heavenly kingdom; they should lift our minds and hearts to heavenly realities – leading us to meditate on our Lord. Thus, church buildings should be marked by a certain sense of grandeur, and they should be built with an eye toward beauty, symmetry, proportion, and a verticality that draws us upward. A church building should in some way make present the mysteries of our faith.
Much of Catholic Church architecture finds its roots in the architecture of the Jewish Temple. The Holy of Holies, which is represented in Catholic architecture by our sanctuary, is the most important part of the Temple. The various transitions that we find as we move from the profane to this most sacred part of the church are reminiscent of the various precincts found within the Jewish Temple that also built upon a hierarchy of spaces. Moreover, the particular sections or portions of churches should be built with a certain hierarchy, climaxing with the sanctuary, which properly defined, is only the area around the altar that contains the pulpit, tabernacle, and presider’s chair – and does not include the nave (where the pews are). The finishes and materials used in each section of the church should reflect their relative importance as compared to the sanctuary. Thus, the richest finishes in the church are in the sanctuary. Moreover, Catholic churches are not meant to be innovative, but should draw upon the architectural history and tradition of our faith. Thus, many Catholic churches incorporate architectural elements that were incorporated in the principal churches of our Faith (major basilicas in Rome, etc.), or in the Jewish Temple.
The fountain (yet to be purchased) will be a reminder of our baptism; originally baptisteries were located outside the main doors of the church as baptism symbolizes our entrance into the Church. As a more practical matter, fountains were used by pilgrims to cleanse their hands and feet prior to entering the house of God.
The statue niches flanking the porch area will be for St. Peter and St. Paul, the “Princes of the Apostles.”
The plaza area outside: is the first transitional space where we begin our journey toward Heaven. Historically, the plazas outside of civic buildings have served as public gathering places. The 3 arches of the porch are common for Catholic churches and are reminiscent of Constantine’s Arch in Rome, which was built as a symbol of victory. In Catholic churches arches like this represent the victory of Jesus over sin and death; they also symbolize hands clasped in prayer. Just as armies of old marched underneath these arches to symbolize their victory over a foe, so too do we now enter the church through the arches in order to proclaim Christ’s victory over sin and death.
The porch is a semi-public space that marks the first formal transition from the public plaza and the profane world into the private space and the heavenly world of the building.
The main entrance doors are noble in design and made of fine materials to illustrate the importance of the place. The doors are solid to protect the contents inside and opaque to maintain the mystery of the pilgrim’s journey to the sanctuary.
The narthex represents another transitional space from the profane. Beautiful terrazzo tile has been used to underscore the importance of this space. This room is meant to help us ready ourselves for worship, and therefore the distractions of advertisements and announcements are kept to a minimum. The nice fixtures and finishes remind us that we’re moving toward the heavenly realities. The green walls symbolize the color of life and the triumph of life over death (just as the green of spring triumphs over winter). Arches are again used here to remind us of Christ’s victory and to draw our minds to prayer. Cry rooms flank both sides of the narthex to provide a place for families with crying children.
The narthex is adorned with two major pieces of art. First is a replica of the Divine Mercy image found in Cracow, Poland, to remind us once again of the great mercy of God that is to be found in His presence. There is also an authentic 19th c. Russian icon of the Presentation of Mary in the Temple by Sts. Joachim and Ann that was purchased in Estonia by Father Reid in 2010.
The nave is the central area of the church where worshippers are seated. It’s another transition from the profane to the heavenly reality, so again the finishes here are of good quality and the entire space is imbued with beauty. The noteworthy terrazzo floor is original to the church, as are the solid oak pews. The arch theme is carried on in the nave through the stained glass windows and statue niches.
The central aisle of the nave represents a Christian’s journey through life toward God. The Baptismal font is the first feature. It’s located near the door of the church (and near the central aisle) because it is the sacrament that opens the Church to us. It is through baptism that we become members of the Church, which is Christ’s Body, and thereby begin our journey toward God. It is 8-sided as a reminder that baptism makes us a new creation and prepares us for eternity (Our Lord created the world in 7 days, and the 8th day of creation is eternity). 8-sided fonts are also a connection to the fact that Jews circumcised their sons on the 8th day, marking the formation of a covenant with the Lord.
The Baptismal font is made of the same marble as the altar to highlight the connection between these two sacraments. Both of them along, with Confirmation, are sacraments of initiation. And we can only participate at the altar once we have been baptized. The baptismal font is covered in a colorful mosaic designed by artist, Mateo Randi, from Ravenna, Italy – the city where this particular form of art flourishes. The inscription comes from the baptistery of St. John Lateran in Rome, the Cathedral of Rome and the “mother church” of all Christendom.
Confessionals are near the back of the nave, too, reminding us that we must reconcile with God and one another before approaching the altar. The confessional walls are painted gray because gray is the color of ashes and symbolizes the death of the body, repentance and humility. The paintings in the Confessionals are Rembrandt's Prodigal Son (to remind us of God’s mercy) and Bouguereau's Pieta (to remind us of our Lord’s sacrifice).
The back walls of the nave house statutes of St. Jude (Patron Saint of Lost Causes) and St. Thérèse of Lisieux (Patroness of Missions), both of which are original to the church. The marble holy water stoups (also original to the church) remind us of our baptism as we enter the church. We mark ourselves with the sign of the cross knowing that it is through the cross that we are saved.
Pews are relatively new in church history, only coming after the Protestant revolution. It used to be that people would stand or sit near columns in the nave. Pews were installed when Protestants began emphasizing the importance of sermons, and were meant to help people rest so they could concentrate. Our pews are solid oak and are original to the church.
The nave is flanked by columns, which draw us upward and give us a sense of verticality, but also draw our eyes forward toward the altar. In Catholic tradition they often represent the saints, most especially the apostles, who are the foundation upon which the Church is built. There are 3 main types of Greek columns: Doric (most simple), Ionic (scrolled), and Corinthian (most ornate; often used in churches dedicated to Mary). Our nave columns are Doric, symbolizing strength.
The ceiling is coffered and painted blue to symbolize the heavens. Because our church is dedicated to St. Ann, the Mother of Mary, our parish has a Marian character. Blue is the color associated with our Lady; it also symbolizes heavenly love. Blue ceilings in the south are often thought to drive away evil spirits (and mosquitoes). In the center coffer is the Auspice, which places our church under the guidance of Mary. The interlocking “A” and “M” stand for “Ave Maria”, and the vining and flowers remind us that our Lady’s womb was fruitful even though she was a virgin. The 40 beads that encircle the symbol represent the 40 weeks Mary spent in the womb of St. Ann.
The nave walls are painted gold and white. Both of these colors represent purity and innocence, and as such they are a reminder of our call to strive to be pure of heart. The arched niches on either side of the upper windows hold 12 life-sized saint statues carved by Studio DeMetz in Ortisei, Italy. Each is an original work of art carved from wood. The saints represent every period in Church history from the 2nd – 20th centuries, as well as all vocations within the church (mother, father, deacon, priest, religious sister, and bishop).
The saints (from the front right corner and proceeding clockwise around the church) are:
St. Benedict, St. Augustine, St. Lawrence, St. Thomas More, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. John Vianney, St. Lucy, St. Maria Goretti, St. Rose of Lima, St. Clare, St. Teresa of Avila, and St. Rita. The stencil work behind each statue is a flower and vine motif that is symbolic of the Garden of Eden and the original innocence mankind enjoyed before the Fall.
Our lower windows are original to the church and contain various biblical symbols. The upper stained glass windows were created by the Emil Frei Co. and originally installed in Holy Rosary Slovak Catholic Church in Ashley, PA. That church closed in 2007, and St. Ann’s purchased them in 2008. They represent various saints and moments in the life of Jesus and Mary.
Stained glass has a couple of purposes. In addition to providing beauty, they refract and change sunlight entering into the church, giving it more of a celestial feel. Stained glass has also been used to teach the mysteries of the faith, sort of a “catechism by art.” In times when many people were illiterate, churches used their stained glass windows as a way to teach them about the Faith. Stained glass also drowns out the outside world so that worshippers can better focus on the things of Heaven!
From the back of the nave on the left side of the church, and going clockwise around, the windows are:
- Holy Rosary (Jesus is seated on Mary’s lap; they are handing the rosary to St. Dominic and St. Catherine of Siena).
- The Annunciation (Archangel Gabriel appearing to Mary to tell her she will become the Mother of God).
- St. Cyril and St. Methodius (dedicated to all the immigrants that have come to St. Ann’s over the years, as the holy brothers Cyril and Methodius left their homeland to spread the Gospel).
- Mother of Sorrows (dedicated to the victims of abortion)
- Ecce Homo (“Behold the man” – the Latin words used by Pontius Pilate to present Jesus, crowned with thorns, to the angry mob after He had been scourged.)
- The Holy Family in Nazareth
- The Birth of Jesus
- Mary, Queen of Virgins
- Suffer the Children
- The Apparition of Jesus to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, revealing His Sacred Heart.
- St. Mary Magdalene embracing the Crucifix with St. Vincent de Paul in the background
- St. Ann
- The Assumption of Mary
- St. Andrew
- St. Joseph
- The Baptism of Jesus
- St. Martha and St. Mary with Jesus
Choirs have traditionally sung in choir lofts in order to maximize a church's natural acoustics. In recent years some choirs have moved into the sanctuary of the Church, but the sanctuary is really meant to be reserved for the ministers, i.e., bishop, priest, deacon, altar boys and lectors. Moreover, having the choir in the loft cuts down on the amount of distraction they might cause the congregation, and having them in the loft also helps to create a heavenly effect with liturgical music, as if it is being sung by angels.
The round stained glass window in the choir loft is of St. Cecilia, the patroness of music.
This is the “Holy of Holies,” the most sacred and important place of the entire church, for it is here that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass takes place, and it is here that our Lord dwells in the tabernacle.
In the Jewish temple, the Holy of Holies was set off by a massive veil. That veil was a 60 foot tall, 4 inch thick piece of material that hung as a barrier between the Holy of Holies (which was the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant and thus, the dwelling place of God) and the rest of the Temple, the place where man dwelt. It was made in such a way that two horses tied on either end of it and running in opposite directions could not pull it apart. The veil was meant not only to demarcate the holiest place of the Temple, but also, in a sense, to symbolically demonstrate the utter separateness between God and man – that sinful man was unfit for the presence of God. Thus the veil was the symbol of man’s separation from God because of sin. And only the high priest was permitted to pass beyond the temple veil on behalf of all Jews in order to make atonement for their sins – and this only once a year.
We don’t set off the sanctuary, our “Holy of Holies” with a veil, but we do demarcate it from the nave. This is done here by steps, a change of building materials, and the altar rail.
The altar rail is the Catholic representation of the veil that separated the profane world from the Holy of Holies in the Jewish Temple. The altar rail not only demarcates the area of the sanctuary, but it also reminds us very clearly that the Sanctuary, because it is the very dwelling place of God, is not a place that we should feel free to enter. We should only enter it if we have reason to do so. Our altar rail is made of oak and was designed and created by Stephen Kuhn, who grew up in St. Ann’s Parish.
The flooring in the Sanctuary is Jerusalem Marble and comes from a quarry in the south of Israel. It is a noticeably nicer material than the terrazzo found in the nave.
The central aspect of the sanctuary is the altar. The altar is constructed of Vermont marble, the same marble used throughout the Supreme Court Building in Washington. The altar mosaic is composed of a field of blue with stars to remind us of heaven and, indirectly, our Lady, and it shows a cross, overlaid with an alpha and omega symbol and a Eucharistic Host. The five wounds of Christ are also represented.
Altars carry many symbolic meanings, and as they are the heart of any Catholic church, it is important that they be well constructed and of the finest materials. In the first place, the altar is an altar of sacrifice. In Jesus’ day the Jews performed animal sacrifice as a means of atoning for sin. In our Catholic tradition we know that Jesus became the paschal lamb, perfect and without blemish, who became the victim for our sins. It is upon the altar that the sacrifice of the Mass occurs, and thus it reminds us as well of Jesus’ death. The altar is also the table for a communal meal, remembering and repeating the Last Supper. Our altar has been constructed so that it is representative of an altar of sacrifice, a meal table, as well as a tomb.
Catholic altars historically have had relics of saints placed within them. Our altar will contain relics of Pope St. Pius X (who was especially devoted to the Eucharist) and St. Rita of Cascia (known as the Patroness of the Impossible). The brass crucifix standing on the altar is 18th c. French baroque. The golden altar candlesticks, along with the large candlesticks in front of the ambo, are from Fatima.
The next major feature of the Sanctuary is the ambo. The ambo's size and beautiful design is meant to convey the great reverence we have for the Word of God. Its "commanding" or authoritative presence reminds us that we are to be commanded by the Word of God. The ambo’s height reminds us that the Word of God comes down to us from on high, as well as facilitating the amplification and carrying of the voice of those who speak from it.
Our ambo was originally constructed in England in the mid-1700s. It is solid oak and is hand-carved with an arch motif that is reminiscent of the other archways in the church building. It stands 81” tall.
On the right side of the sanctuary, affixed to the altar rail, is the lectern. It is hand-carved oak, and its eagle design is in homage to St. John the Evangelist, whose Gospel is often represented by an eagle. In addition to interest in beauty to the church, the eagle design reminds us of the soaring and majestic power of the Word of God. It was designed and created by local artist and parishioner, Jacob Wolfe.
The rounded apse wall in the back of the sanctuary, traditionally speaking, symbolizes an opening in the Kingdom of God. In churches apses are often richly decorated with scenes of Heaven, or depictions of our Lord reigning in splendor. In ancient times, large church buildings were modeled after a type of Roman public building that had such a wall. Presently, work in progressing on a mural that will fill the apse wall. The mural, which is scheduled to be completed by June 2015, will depict a scene of Heaven. The apse arches are set off by ionic style columns (as a symbol of feminine grace and beauty).
At the top of the apse are mosaics representing the 4 Evangelists: St. Mathew (represented by an angel), St. Mark (represented by a lion), St. Luke (represented by an ox) and St. John (represented by an eagle). These mosaics were created by the same artist who completed the altar and baptismal font mosaics.
Situated in the middle of the apse is the crucifix, which is directly above the tabernacle. The crucifix was purchased by Msgr. Allen in Oberammergau, Germany, the site of the Passion Play that is held every 10 years. The tabernacle is the original tabernacle for the parish.
The lower half of the apse is stenciled with a lacey fleur-de-lis and star design, using the same red and gold colors found in the stenciling behind the statues.
On the far sides of the Sanctuary are statues of Jesus and Mary. These statues are mid-20th c. Spanish art. The stencil work behind the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary has an Immaculate Heart of Mary motif, bordered by flowers. The stencil work behind the statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus features a Sacred Heart motif bordered by the nails that crucified Him and the crown of thorns.
The hallway from the sanctuary to the priest sacristy preserves the original brick walls of the building. The floor is covered with wood planks from an oak tree that had to be cut down during the renovation. The stairs leading to the mechanical rooms will eventually be re-covered with terrazzo tile.
The priest’s sacristy is the place where the priest prayerfully prepares himself for Mass. While this is the place where he puts on his vestments, it serves very much like a chapel. It has the same terrazzo floor as the nave, underscoring the importance of this room. The cabinets and the coffers
in the ceiling are made out of cherry wood. The coffered ceiling associates this room with the coffered ceiling of the nave, reminding us that this room is primarily a place of prayer.
There are two notable works of art in the priest’s sacristy. The large painting on the east wall is the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary and serves as an acknowledgment that St. Ann’s Parish was founded on the Solemnity of Our Lady of the Assumption (August 15) in 1955. The 18th c. Russian icon on the south wall of the sacristy is a depiction of The Resurrection. In it Jesus is breaking forth from the tomb, rescuing the souls of the just who died before Heaven was opened by our Lord’s death and resurrection. Fr. Reid purchased it in Bethlehem in 2013.However, a darker blue paint has been used on the ceiling to match the color of the ceiling in the confessionals. Moreover, the walls of the sacristy are the same gray color as the confessionals to remind the priest preparing for Mass that he must seek to be truly contrite for his sins and ask for the Lord’s mercy before going to the altar.
The long hall-like room is the sacristy for the altar servers. It also has the same terrazzo floor and gray walls, marking this room as a place for humble preparation for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The vestments and books used for Mass are found in this room.
The final sacristy is the working sacristy. This is where the vessels and other items needed for Mass are prepared and stored. As this is strictly a workspace, the floor is a simple tile rather than terrazzo.
The Chapel of the Immaculate Conception
The chapel is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception. The Marian painting above the tabernacle features all of the traditional iconography of the Immaculate Conception: Mary is clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of 12 stars (Rev. 12), and she has satan (holding the fruit of temptation) under her feet (Gen 3:15). She is surrounded by a choir of angels who venerate her for this unique gift God has bestowed upon her. The painting was painted by Louis Guidetti, an artist from Winston-Salem, who studied in Florence, Italy, for 6 years.
The mid-19th century altar is from Canada; it is hand-carved marble with a floral motif. The medallion features an intertwined "A" and "M" that stand for Ave Maria, and it is the same design found on the ceiling in the nave of the main church. The altar contains 2 fleurs-de-lis, which is a traditional Marian symbol.
The walls and ceiling were painted by a local artist, Lisa Autry, who also studied in Italy. The ceiling pattern is based on the ceiling of Santa Maria sopra Minerva, a church in Rome that houses the relics of St. Catherine of Siena. Our chapel houses relics of St. Ann, St. Gregory the Great, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, St. Lawrence, St. Martin de Porres, St. Philip Neri, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Agnes, St. Rose of Lima, St. Lucy, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Nicholas, St. Gemma Galgani, St. Maria Goretti, St. Albert the Great, St. Raymond of Capua, and St. Benedict.
Flanking the altar are statues of St. Joseph (holding the Child Jesus) and St. Ann, with a youthful Mary. Like the statues of Jesus and Mary found in the main sanctuary, these statues are 20th c. Spanish artwork, and they are original to the parish.
The chandelier and wall sconces are crafted out of wrought iron. The sconces are designed with a fleur-de-lis motif, while the chandelier employ both fleurs-de-lis and flowers to add a Marian touch to these fixtures. The delicate lines of the chandelier, Marian symbols, and use of wrought iron remind us that while delicate and beautiful, the Blessed Virgin Mary is also strong and persevering.
The chapel ambo is an American design from the late 19th - early 20th century. It was originally installed in a Catholic church in Minnesota, but we were able to purchase it in 2009 when the church was remodeled. It is decorated with a wheat leaf and grape design.
The chapel also contains a Russian icon painted between 1780 and 1800. It depicts the Birth of Our Lady.
The stained glass windows that adorn the chapel tell the story of the Immaculate Conception. The first window on the left side of the chapel shows us, in the story of Adam and Eve, why mankind needs a Savior, thus necessitating the Immaculate Conception. In the upper portion of that first window, Adam is being tempted to eat of the forbidden fruit being offered by the serpent and by Eve, as he sits amongst the beauty and harmony of Eden symbolized by various animals gathered around. The animals depicted are those mentioned in Isaiah 11:6: “Then the wolf shall be a guest of the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat; the calf and the young lion shall browse together.” They remind us of the order the world knew before the Fall. But there is one other animal depicted as well, a rooster, that reminds us of St. Peter’s denial of Christ during His passion, and who is therefore a foreshadowing of not only Adam’s sin, but of all human sin (For at its heart, all sin is a denial of Christ.) In the lower half of the window, Adam and Eve are forced from the Garden by the angel after committing the original sin that introduced the chaos into our human nature, and thus into our world as well, that too many of us understand as normal. They are clothed in animal skins, and Adam is now bearded – both signs of lost innocence.
The 2nd window dedicated to St. Ann and St. Joachim reminds us of their central role in bringing about the Immaculate Conception. In short, there can be no beautiful flower without a sturdy soil to nourish it! While St. Ann is not mentioned in the Gospels, our Catholic tradition tells us that St. Ann was childless even after many years of marriage to St. Joachim. One feast day St. Joachim went to the Temple to make a sacrifice, but he was denied entrance because he did not have children and was therefore considered unworthy. Grief-stricken, St. Joachim went to the hills near Jericho to pray and tend sheep. Learning what happened to her husband, our dear patroness raised her voice in faithful prayer to our Lord, begging Him to relieve her from the scourge of sterility, and promising that any child borne of her would be placed in His service. Their prayers were heard, and both Ann and Joachim were visited by an angel, who told them that they would conceive and bear a child who would be blessed by all the earth, as is shown in the upper portion of the window. St. Joachim returned home quickly, where he was met and embraced by St. Ann outside the Golden Gate of Jerusalem, as is depicted in the lower half of the 2nd window. Throughout the centuries artists have often used the image of Sts. Ann and Joachim embracing outside the Golden Gate as a means of symbolically depicting Mary’s Immaculate Conception within St. Ann’s womb. Our window does the same.
In the upper section of the 3rd window is the beautiful birth of Immaculate Mary. As the Immaculate One is brought forth into this world, a new day dawns that will lead to the overcoming of the night of sin and death, as is evidenced by the rising sun and the fleeing of the serpent away from Mary. On the right side peering through the window is a deer, which symbolizes a soul longing for God (cf. Psalm 42:1) and confidence in God’s care (cf. Psalm 18:33). Hovering above the infant Mary is her divine Spouse, the Holy Spirit, as an angel proclaims that Mary’s birth brings joy to the whole world. The lower half of the 3rd window depicts the birth of Jesus, Whom Mary alone was worthy to bear because she was immaculately conceived and sinless throughout the entire course of her life. As is customary, an ox and ass give witness to the birth of our Savior. The Blessed Mother adores her infant Son and Lord as St. Joseph holds aloft the Christ Child in the same manner that priests offer up the host that will become the Eucharist at the Offertory of the Mass. Lilies surround St. Joseph, the symbol of his purity, while irises, which symbolize her fidelity, surround our Lady.
The 4th window depicts the triumphal proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854 by Pope Pius IX in the upper portion, and it’s confirmation by Mary as she appeared in Lourdes just 4 years later, proclaiming: “I am the Immaculate Conception” in the lower portion. Again in this window Mary is seen with the Holy Spirit hovering above her to show her profound union with Him, Who is the conception of love shared by the Father and the Son.
Other Interesting Facts
Previous Capacity: 483
Current Seating (with Cry Rooms): 570
Original Ceiling Height: 12 ft
Current Ceiling Height: 27 ft