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Seeing The “Little Cathedral” Up Close
As The First Parishioners Did 75 Years Ago
(Click on linked reference numbers to view images)

Can you imagine how those first parishioners must have felt when they first toured their newly built Church of St. Bartholomew the Apostle for the very first time? This was the day, the dream, they had worked, sacrificed and prayed for since the very beginning of their parish in 1919. Their "Little Cathedral" was a long cry from the humble beginnings on Birdsall Street. How thrilled and reverently curious they must have been to see it all come true. (1)

Making a similar mini-pilgrimage today, you might try to share some of their reverent excitement, step by step, realizing that over those fruitful 75 years there have been some innovations. Approaching from the parking lot, one of those additions is the shrine of Our Lady of Fatima, Mother of God, who in 1917 appeared in Portugal to three shepherd children, Lucia, who is living to this day in a Carmelite convent in Coimbra, and her younger cousins Jacinta and Francesco. (2) Our Lady asked them to say the Rosary, to do penance, and make sacrifices daily for peace in the world, a message still urgent and vital today. Dedicated on Veterans' Day 1956 by Bishop Walter A. Forey the shrine is a prayerful tribute to the servicemen from the parish who performed military service for their country during World War II including those who "made the supreme sacrifice." Handsome evergreens and beautiful flowers embrace the shrine, years past the work of Charles Magistro who kept the grounds and nurtured the plants. Also of interest are those parishioners who apparently posed for the figures depicted on the shrine: Our Lady of Fatima, Frances Sidote; Lucia, Vincenzo Mirabito; Jacinta, Catherine Beninato; and Lamb, Salvatore Mirabito. As our pilgrimage approaches the main entrance of St. Bartholomew's. Our Mother Mary seems to beckon us to first view the exterior of our magnificent edifice. The meditation bench at the Fatima Shrine was given in memory of Onofrio and Margaret Favorito.

At the corner of the church on East Main and Silver Streets you will notice the Wayside Crucifix (3) that was blessed in October 1933 to commemorate the 1900th anniversary of the Crucifixion of Jesus.

Viewing the facade of the building, visitors today can only imagine the awe, amazement, and satisfaction of those first parishioners on their first visit to the completed church. Framed by trees and evergreens and manicured hedges, the Romanesque-styled church bears a double cross beamed crucifix at its peak. Beyond it, a portion of its sturdy and attractive tall tower looms in the background as does part of the charming red tiled roof which adds to the church's "Old World" charm. Below the cross, a majestic stone statue of St. Bartholomew the Apostle, greets the passerby. The saint stands on a pedestal in an alcove centered over a large circular stained glass rose window (4), surrounded past Christmases by a large lighted wreath, installed with the help of the Norwich Fire Department's aerial ladder and parishioner Al Wehrli.

As we view the main entrance with its pillared vestibule leading to the three-door main entrance, we might ponder over the work of those first parishioners, many of them immigrants and recent citizens. Most of them came from Lipari or Aeolian Islands. Those pioneers wanted a house of worship that would endure the ages. Every right, after a hard day's labor on the railroad or in other occupations, many of these dedicated men used pick and shovel to make way for a rugged foundation. Then handsome bluestone was hauled from Norwich and Oxford quarries for the walls and Indiana limestone combined for the graceful trim.

Ascending the few steps to the vestibule, observant visitors will discover three linettes (5) above the three main doors. From the left, these scenes of carved stone are of the Birth of Christ, the Comforting of the Afflicted, and the Burial of Christ.

On the wall of the vestibule is a large bronze tablet (6) recording the founding of the church. It was dedicated on Thanksgiving Day, November 26, 1927, and the inscription reminds visitors that "as long as this church stands, the prayers of priest and people will be offered for those whose names are inscribed in loving memory on this tablet, who by their generosity built this Temple to the greater glory of God."

Entering the nave of St. Bartholomew's, the eyes of visitors are drawn to the gold tabernacle in the center of the pristine white altar which is covered by a marble canopy supported by four large black and white marble pillars imported from Italy. The pointed apex of the canopy bears the church symbol for peace and is bordered by a beautiful mosaic design of blue and gold. Beyond a tall gold and silver crucifix above the tabernacle, is a handsome statue of St. Bartholomew the Apostle whose left hand holds a dagger and whose right bears a realistic model of St. Bartholomew's Church. Our patron saint looks down in welcome on those gathered in the pews providing seating for 360. (7)

Across the semicircular background of the sanctuary wall is a colorful array of favorite saints, depictions painted on a heavenly blue firmament with subtle rays of sunshine or grace. However, the first saint on either side is done in relief, their images protruding from the wall. On the left is St. Therese of the Child Jesus, and on the right, St. Anthony of Padua, holding the Child Jesus. (8) The two saints are followed by paintings of six other saints. These renderings were brought in on canvas by artists and affixed to the sanctuary wall and have remained ever since. They include: St. Nicholas; St. Thomas Aquinas; St. Christopher bearing the Child; then, Saints Cosmas arid Damian flanking the statue of the church patron, followed by St. John the Baptist with banner announcing 'this is the Lamb of God'; St. Lucy, patroness of sight; and St. Calogero accompanied by a young deer.

At the apex of the sanctuary background is a large rendering of Christ the King reigning on his heavenly throne. He is surrounded by four doctors of the church, from left: St. Jerome with a lion; St. Ambrose with a beehive; St. Augustine with arrow; and St. Gregory, the pope known for the Gregorian chant. (9) Directly below these images  are four Archangels, Michael, Raphael, Urlel, and Gabriel dressed hi red garments holding symbols representing the four evangelists: St. Matthew, a human being, representing wisest; St. Mark, a lion, representing nobility; St. Luke, an ox meaning strongest; and St. John, an eagle, meaning swiftest.

A realistic three dimensional work of the Crucified Christ looks down on the congregation from the highest point just in front of the sanctuary. (10) The rich brown supporting beams frame the cream colored high ceiling over the nave. The ceiling beams were enhanced with 24-karat gold leaf when Msgr. Festa was pastor.

The stained glass windows of 15th century glass along the skies of the church proper depict the 15 decades of the Holy Rosary starting at the left front with the Joyful Mysteries – the Annunciation, the Visitation, the Birth of Our Lord, the Presentation of the Child Jesus, and Finding in the Temple. Proceeding to the back and then sequentially on the opposite side to the front with the Sorrowful Mysteries –the Agony in the Garden, the Scourging, the Crowning with Thorns, the Carrying of the Cross, and the Crucifixion; and Glorious Mysteries, the Resurrection, the Ascension of Jesus, the Descent of the Holy Spirit, the Assumption of Our Blessed Mother, and the Crowning of Mary, Queen of Heaven and Earth. Each window contains a medallion symbolizing each meditation. The last of the sixteen windows at the right front honors the Most Holy Trinity. (11)

A unique statue of St. Joseph with the Child Jesus looks out at the congregation from a former side altar to the right of the main altar. The foster father of Our Lord, as if in presentation, is holding out a smiling Child Jesus with his small arms outstretched toward visitors.

A large image of Mary Immaculate stands on a similar pedestal at the left side of the sanctuary. Wearing a large gold crown surrounded by twelve stars and dressed in a regal robe of gold and blue, her image symbolizes her triumph over evil.

Appropriately, at Our Lady's right, a black wrought iron gate, hand-designed by New York artist Robert Robbins, leads to the shrine of Mater Dolorosa. (12) It awaits visitors wishing to pray as she must have when Our Lord was taken down from the Cross. Here, a statue modeled after Michelangelo's Pieta shows Our Mother of Sorrows holding the body of her Crucified Son. (13)

The chapel is partly lighted by a stained glass window showing St. John the Baptist (14) at the time of Christ's baptism n the River Jordan with a Dove representing the Holy Spirit. A Mosaic over the Silver Street door is of our patron, St. Bartholomew. (15) The Baptistry also contains several statues, Risen Christ, Mary, Mother of God, and St. Bartholomew, including St. Anthony and Our Lady of Grace or Blue Madonna from the original mission church on Birdsall Street, along with the Mother of Pearl Crucifix (16) given to the people of St. Bartholomew by their first pastor, Father Sinnott in remembrance of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

As our pilgrimage turns towards the main entrance to leave, the Stations of the Cross (17) face us from each side. They trace the steps of the Passion and are made of marble.

Before reaching the main doors, our pilgrimage must stop to observe the choir loft overhead and, particularly the spectacular scene of happy young minstrels and dancers. Called "The Singing Boys" it is a copy of one of the masterpieces done by the Della Robbia family of Florence. (18) The parade of celebration adorns the railing along the choir loft and joins the sidewalk of the nave and apparently is sculpted from white marble.

Upon leaving the church and strolling the grounds you will notice a statue of St. Bartholomew on the front lawn of the Rectory. (19) This was given to the church in memory of Antonio Paino. The statue of St. Joseph between the church and the convent was given in memory of Joseph and Nunziata Biviano. (20) The convent which houses Sisters of St. Joseph Carondelet was dedicated on October 22, 1966. (21) In the front of the parish center is a fountain honoring our Blessed Mother and was given in memory of Antonio and Catherine Zieno. The parish center was dedicated originally on February 15, 1970, and rededicated St. Bartholomew's Rev. Msgr. Guy A. Festa Parish Center on July 27, 1986. (22)

As our pilgrimage concludes, we cannot help but join those wonderful founders of St. Bartholomew's and the priests who guided the parish during those first 75 years by shouting joyfully to the Lord: "Thanks be to God!' It is a time for rejoicing!

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