Explore Buffalo’s Sacred Spaces tour series began in January of 2020. Supported by the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Legacy Fund at the Community Foundation of Greater Buffalo, these tours offered an in depth look at many of Buffalo’s extraordinary houses of worship. Explore Buffalo docent Trish Kenyon wrote and led the tour of the Hellenic Orthodox Church of the Annunciation. Here, she provides us with the history of the church, first known as the North Presbyterian Church and then as the Hellenic Orthodox Church.
As you approach the corner of Delaware Avenue and West Utica in the City of Buffalo, your eye is attracted to a striking building that resembles a medieval castle. This is the Hellenic Orthodox Church of the Annunciation which was built between 1904 to 1907 for the North Presbyterian Church. The building was designed by architect George Newton from Boston, Massachusetts in the English Country Gothic style. He was well known as a collegiate and church architect of the early Twentieth century and also designed Buffalo Seminary.
When you walk towards the front of the building from the parking lot, you see a tower attached to the building. It has crenelated moldings which are alternating indentations at the edge of the tower, first used for defense in medieval forts; now for decorative purposes. The front buttressed tower has a closed belfry where the North Presbyterian congregation placed the 3,500 pound bell from their original church. On the top of the tower is a delicate pattern of interlacing lines made of stone called tracery on the stone parapet. In an article written in 1907 for The Inland News and Architecture Record that described the new church, the author questioned the durability of tracery on a stone parapet in the Buffalo climate in such an exposed position. In the year 2020, we can answer that question!
In 1952, the North Presbyterian congregation built a new church in Amherst. The Orthodox congregation had outgrown their church on Oak Street and they made plans to either build or move to a larger church available at the time. The North Presbyterian Church was chosen and the Orthodox Congregation agreed to pay exactly what the building cost in 1907. The North Presbyterian congregation held their last service on the last Sunday of December in 1952 and the Greek Orthodox congregation held its first service that afternoon. The service was followed by a dinner where more than $100.00 was given to the visiting bishop as a down payment on the property.
Upon entering the church, you see the presence of rich colors intertwined with the beauty of art and design. This creates a distinctive atmosphere of worship associated with Orthodox Churches. Iconography, a distinctive art form of Orthodox churches includes icons or holy images. When the church was purchased by the Hellenic Church, some changes were made to accommodate Orthodox traditions. The sanctuary is the most sacred part of the church so the choir was moved to the loft area. The iconostasis was added which is a panel that separates the altar from the rest of the church. In the center of the iconostasis, there is a gate called the Royal Doors which represents the entrance from the earthly world to the spiritual world used by the Priest during services. The iconography of the Orthodox Church is clearly visible here with images of the Virgin Mary, Christ, church feasts, Archangel Gabriel and many others. There are four bas relief icons on either side of the iconostasis from their Oak Street church. They have silver covers with exposed hands and feet and have been restored. The pulpit with the four evangelists on it and the Bishop’s chair were added to the sanctuary as well.
The church is home to stained glass windows from well-known glass artists and studios. Windows in the north and south aisles were originally from the Harry E. Goodhue studio in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was known as one of three stained glass craftsmen to revive the art and craft of medieval glass making in the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. Harry Goodhue preferred the hand-blown antique glass effect. The windows originally produced by his studios include angels in the tracery, depictions of Jesus calling Andrew to become an Apostle and the Baptism of Jesus. The stained glass window in the area south of the sanctuary tells stories with old testament figures. In some of the windows you can see Harry E. Goodhue’s signature.
In the area north of the sanctuary is a stained glass window featuring New Testament figures. It was by John Hardman and Co., one of the world’s leading manufacturers of stained glass from Birmingham, England. There was an arson fire in the church in 2001 which heavily damaged the church including many of the stained glass windows. The restoration work for the stained glass was completed by the J & R Lamb Studios. Located in New Jersey, it is the oldest continuing studio in the U.S. You can see their signature in several of the windows along with the original stained glass manufacturers.
Close to the north stained glass window of New Testament figures, a new window was added by J &R Lamb studios depicting and honoring the fire fighters saving the church from flames.The Hellenic Church of the Annunciation is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and also a City of Buffalo landmark. A pamphlet the church provides for the public is entitled “Celebrating Our Jewel.” Annunciation Church is definitely a treasure and the Hellenic Orthodox congregation are excellent stewards of this jewel.
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Pamphlets: “Celebrating Our Jewel” and “What on Earth is the Orthodox Church” courtesy of the Hellenic Church of the Annunciation
Photo credit: Chuck LaChiusa/Buffaloah.com
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