That the parish had two church buildings may seem odd. However:
- St. Joseph's was the largest of the church buildings and therefore was able to accommodate the three combined parishes.
- St. Bernard's was the oldest parish in this part of Pennsylvania, the "mother church" for all the rest, including St. Joseph's.
A farewell to old St. JosephSt. Joseph's formed up in 1852 when the Germans on the Lecha Anhoehe (Lehigh Heights) south of the river decided that it was too difficult to climb down the cliff on stairways, walk along the canal to the bridge, cross over to the north side and climb Gallows Hill, where St. Bernard's was.
The present building is the third church to have been built on that site, formerly called Mt. Tabor. It is visible on the clifftop from virtually everywhere in town.
Over the course of a century, the German content gradually was diluted. When my mother brought me in to be baptized, Fr. Fries refused because my name was Flynn. "Take him to St. Bernard's," he said. "That's the Irish parish."
My mother's mother. In the back, my
mother's uncles are building the church
Well, the Mut was 100% German and had the German stubbornness. Her uncles had helped to build the church, and they could take it down the same way. Either I would be baptized there or she would take me home and baptize me herself under the kitchen sink. She would have done it, too. So Fr. Fries gave in. He was the last native-born German to be pastor of St. Joseph's and was a liturgist of world renown. When the church building was refreshed for its 75th anniversary, he arranged the whole thing as a catechism, which we will note below.
A brief overview
|The first church on the site, 1852-1885|
with rectory and convent/school.
At the time it was built, the overwhelming majority of students in the Northampton County public schools spoke German only and most of the rest were bilingual. (German was still a required course when my mother attended the parish school, and, when I asked her, could still say the Vater Unser in badly accented Deutsch.)
For a while, Easton PA celebrated an annual parade and picnic called Schwabenfest to display the contributions of the Germans to the civic weal. This included not only sausages and pretzels, but also beer. At one time the city had three breweries; and there was a pretzel factory on my way home from school in which we would sometimes duck to acquire free scraps from the end of the baking line. And of course scrapple is still served in most diners hereabouts. Don't ask. But we never had to wonder what nanotech people meant when they spoke of "gray goo."
|Second church, 1890-1911|
The interior was done up in what might be called 19th century baroque, with a statue for every occasion.
The church my mother's uncles built
|Third church, dedicated in 1918. View of Westwerk,|
curiously on the east end of the building.
But a new building was immediately planned and erected in four years. First the school, then the church.
The new church was constructed entirely of Stockton granite and was considered to be practically fire proofed. It is 140.5 by 75 feet in size. Instead of a single, pointed spire, it bears twin towers capped with terra cotta domes modeled on the Munich Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady).
The arrangement of the sanctuary is deliberate. In the photo below, start with the Eye in the dome and drop a vertical line. The eye is God the Father. On the front of the canopy (and thus "proceeding outward") is a dove representing the Spirit. The canopy covers the Son on the cross. The line then drops through a bas relief of the Last Supper, the Tabernacle, and the altar. The theological point is hard to miss.
|Interior of third church after Fr. Fries remodeling. |
Vatican II did surprisingly little harm to the symbolism. The tabernacle was moved off to the right hand altar and the celebrant's chair was placed in-line. This is apropos given his role in loco Christi, but to my way of thinking less satisfactory. The Eye representing God the Father was removed later for unrelated reasons. (Some children said it scared them. The nuns in my day would have said, "Good. Keep that in mind." I was a kid once, but I just thought it was kool beans.) However, a blank dome is also a satisfactory representation of a being who cannot really be depicted. The dome has seven panels to represent creation. There ought to have been a Michelangelo to paint each day across it.
|Post Vatican II.|
|A 7-panel dome, a proceeding dove, and a saving victim opening wide,|
followed by the Last Supper, the celebrant's chair, and the altar
|Detail. Note the pelican on the altar front. Just barely visible above|
the last supper bas-relief is a platform for the monstrance during expositions.
This also preserved the meaning of the vertical line.
|Each sacrament is represented by an iconic figure: marriage, orders, extreme unction.|
On the left of the central bas relief (not shown) are baptism, penance, and confirmation.
|The snake offers an apple to Eve and she's thinking |
What could possibly go wrong?
|Another apple. Notice this one is ripe.|
(BTW, "aeppel" originally meant a generic fruit in English.)
|The corbels for the arches of the barrel vault.|
|The barrel vault over the nave. The arch |
into the sanctuary is Egyptian style.
|The Munich-made stained glass windows depict the life|
of St. Joseph. Here, the betrothal to Mary based on
a painting by Raphael.
|The Stations are high-relief, "emergent properties,"|
somewhat like medieval sculpture, which often
emerged from the wall.