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Explore Buffalo Building Profile: Blessed Trinity Roman Catholic Church

When the Blessed Trinity parish was established in 1906, few would have imagined that just 22 years later the parish would complete one of the most extraordinary religious buildings ever constructed in Buffalo. In 1906, the area of Buffalo around LeRoy Avenue was still mostly farmland and quarries. The first building was completed in 1907 as a combination church, school, and social hall (it still stands next to the church on LeRoy). As the parish grew rapidly, a larger church became necessary.

Father Albert Fritton led the process of constructing the new church, starting with the hiring of local architects Chester Oakley and Albert Schallmo. Oakley and Schallmo were also the architects of St. Casimir’s in Kaisertown, St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy on Sycamore, and St. John the Baptist in Black Rock. Father Fritton predicted the new church “will be one of the finest in Buffalo. We shall be proud of it, the city will be proud of it, and God will be proud of it.”

The cornerstone was laid on August 7, 1923 and the completed church was dedicated by Bishop Turner on June 3, 1928. While the cost was originally estimated at $225,000, the final cost was more than double that at $513,000. On September 26, 1953, a five-hour consecration Mass celebrated that the building debt had been paid off.

While the cost was originally estimated at $225,000, the final cost was more than double that at $513,000.

The construction of Blessed Trinity made Buffalo the home of one of the purest examples of Lombard Romanesque style in the United States. While studying for the priesthood in Innsbruck, Austria, Father Fritton had visited churches in Lombardy and was inspired to bring that style to Buffalo. Some of the noteworthy features of the Lombard Romanesque style at Blessed Trinity include the exterior bricks, the use of terra cotta, and the interior barrel vaulting and dome. Architect Chester Oakley noted that the plan of Blessed Trinity “adhered in the general outline to the beautiful church of S. Teodoro in Pavia (Italy) which dates from the twelfth century.” It’s easy to see the similarities of Pavia’s San Teodoro to Blessed Trinity in a quick Google Image search.

The construction of Blessed Trinity made Buffalo the home of one of the purest examples of Lombard Romanesque style in the United States.

One of the most extraordinary features of the Lombard Romanesque style at Blessed Trinity is the use of handmade bricks. In medieval times, bricks were made by hand without molds, and then arranged in stacks surrounded by piles of firewood. As the firewood burned, the bricks would be baked, with the bricks closest to the heat turning black.

Many bricks would be unusual shapes and sizes – but all would be used. Blessed Trinity’s bricks were made in this way in Exeter, New Hampshire and brought to Buffalo to be used in the creation of the church’s two-foot thick walls. While the church is based on designs from churches in Italy, all the materials and craftsmen used when constructing Blessed Trinity were American.

One of the most extraordinary features of the Lombard Romanesque style at Blessed Trinity is the use of handmade bricks.

Blessed Trinity’s exterior features an extraordinary array of detailed terra cotta symbolism – which can be enjoyed even while the church is closed. One could easily spend hours spotting various details, from eye level all the way up to the 615 corbels that project under the roofline – 338 of which have symbols on them. The use of symbolism at Blessed Trinity was planned by Rev. Thomas Plassman, then president of St. Bonaventure College, who realized his vision of combining Christian symbols in one church to create “a Bible in stone.”

The most richly decorated portion of the exterior is the front (north) façade that faces Leroy Avenue. While the exterior is mostly based on Lombard design, the inspiration for the portico came from the Church of St. Trophime in Arles, France, also a Romanesque church from the 12th century (again, do a quick Google Image search to see the similarities). The main portico that surrounds the center doors depicts in terra cotta:

  • The Blessed Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, surrounded by angels in the tympanum (semi-circular shaped area) above the door.
  • The Lord’s Prayer: Eight symbols between the tympanum and the door
  • The Zodiac: The 12 signs are found in the first compound arch molding closest to the tympanum (a compound arch is a series of narrow arches set within one another to form a larger arch).
  • The Ten Commandments: The corbels below the portico’s gable.
  • The Apostle’s Creed: 12 symbols, six on either side of the door.
  • Symbols of the 12 Apostles: in the capitals and bases of the three columns on either side of the portico.
  • The Hail Mary: 10 symbols, five on each side, in the lintel above the column capital.

Similar to the exterior, the interior of Blessed Trinity is richly detailed with terra cotta iconography. Symbols can be found on every interior surface: the walls, arches, and even the floor. The interior uses barrel vaulting, similar to early Lombard churches (for details and Buffalo examples of any architectural term, go to: buffaloah.com). Fine woodwork can also be found, such as in the confessionals that feature the faces of King David, well known for his sins and later repentance, and John the Baptist, who called people to repent.

Blessed Trinity’s dome is also reminiscent of Lombard churches, as it features a round interior surrounded by an octagonal exterior. The interior of the dome was painted by Buffalo artist Joseph Mazur, with two rings depicting a total of 118 full-length figures, including Old Testament Saints, the Apostles, and nine choirs of angels. When you visit, make use of the mirrors the church provides to examine these figures without having to strain your neck.

Most of Blessed Trinity’s windows are still the original light amber glass. In 1952-53, the three rose windows and the skylight above the altar were replaced with stained glass by the local Frohe Studio. Each rose window shows one of the Three Mysteries of the Rosary: the Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries. The three rose windows each weigh nearly 500 pounds and contain approximately 6,000 pieces of glass with 250 shades of color, and cost $2,900 per window in 1952 (equivalent to about $28,000 in 2020). The skylight above the altar is the most valuable of the windows in Blessed Trinity. With a theme of Christ the King, it is made up of 15 panes, each 10 feet in length, with a total of 20,000 small pieces of glass and over 300 shades of color.

While membership has declined since its mid-century peak, Blessed Trinity continues to be a vibrant parish on Buffalo’s East Side. Blessed Trinity regularly hosts concerts, as well as opens for Explore Buffalo tours and events like NY Landmarks Conservancy’s Sacred Sites Open House Weekend. The church was recognized as a City Landmark in 1977 and was accepted to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979. When you visit, be sure to bring your camera!

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Explore Buffalo is a nonprofit organization with a mission of promoting Buffalo and Western New York history, architecture, and neighborhoods through quality education to learners of all ages. Explore Buffalo’s volunteer docents lead a wide range of guided tours by foot, bike, bus, kayak, and boat to explore our city’s history and architecture; in 2019, more than 25,000 people participated in an Explore Buffalo tour or program. Learn more at explorebuffalo.org


Also see Explore Buffalo Building Profiles:

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Written by Explore Buffalo

Explore Buffalo

Explore Buffalo is a nonprofit organization with a mission of promoting Buffalo and Western New York history, architecture, and neighborhoods through quality education to learners of all ages. Explore Buffalo's volunteer docents lead a wide range of guided tours by foot, bike, bus, kayak, and boat to explore our city's history and architecture; in 2019, more than 25,000 people participated in an Explore Buffalo tour or program. Learn more at explorebuffalo.org

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