Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Bike Trip That Will Undoubtedly Live in Infamy

Living here in Upstate New York, we seem to take everything we have for granted. The Erie Canal is no different. However, unlike the hundreds of precious buildings that line the streets of Albion and surrounding towns and counties, the Erie Canal is not in imminent danger of having pink paint, neon signs and vinyl windows stuck all over it. Anyways, when a friend suggested that we do a bike trip on the Erie Canal, I was all for it.

I had little doubts about it until Brems said he wanted to go the entire length. The 300+ mile trip (one way) made me question whether or not I really wanted to go. I put some more thought into it and figured that this was going to be one of the (if not THE) most memorable experiences I could have. Being a history nut, I should have no objections to a cross-state trip on bike. So it was set, late May will be the time frame for our 8-14 day bike trip.

After browsing the length of the canal on Google Maps, it's amazing to see how many great towns are along the way, holding so much history within their limits. I am starting to think that 14 days would be too little to explore the length of the canal and everything each town has to offer along the way. We'll make it work I'm sure.

Somewhere along the way, we lost the main concept of the trip as it has now developed into a folk tour and living history trip. Mr. Brems has already purchased a Mountain Dulcimer and I have become proficient on spoons and will be working on the fife and tin whistle. It has also been decided that a simple outfit of 19th century pants and work shirt with straw hats will be the attire for evening festivities. We'll be sure to attract some attention while stealth camping along the canal trail.

It took a few days to realize that I didn't have a bike to travel on said bike tour with. So, I have decided to purchase a custom tadpole trike from Utah Trikes in Payson, Utah. A TerraTrike Rover X5, with some slight modifications to make it go a little faster :)

This baby will only set me back $1,200 but will be a worthwhile investment. Along with some necessary upgrades (panniers, rack, etc) I will be in the $1,500 range. At this point, it will be a great thing to live in a rural area.

So, what to do for the next 7 months. Well, recruit more bikers! If you're interested in going along for the 700+ mile bike tour, let me know. It's going to be a nice, easy paced trip. You just have to be able to carry your own gear (clothes, sleeping equipment, food, repair items, etc.) The more the merrier!

P.S. you might want to learn a folk instrument ;)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Closing of St. Mary's: The End of Important Religious Art?

Most are aware that the final mass was held at St. Mary's Assumption Church on Sunday, October 24th. The casting of lots and division of items both secular and sacred has started, as we have been assured that the building will be sold by mid-November (mind you we were told that the sale had went through already in early October and that we had to have a final mass before Nov. 1st, which wasn't the case, but that's another story). Some of the few items that have not been divided up include the murals and baptismal font. I believe it is safe to say that there is little concern for pieces that constitute a historical connection to St. Mary's Polish history based on the near neglect of these items. So, I figured I would do a short write up on two of the more significant murals and a very short bit on the baptismal font and my opinion on what should be done with it.

First I'll draw your attention to a short notice placed in the Am-Pol Eagle, a Buffalo newspaper serving the greater Polish-American population of Western New York. Here they note the significance of ALL murals in St. Mary's as being extremely significant works contributed by two of Polonia's well known mural artists.

The images below depicting The Binding of Isaac and The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek may be unique to St. Mary's but they are not unique pictures created by Jozef Mazur. Instead, they are adaptations of two works by another artist.

As you can clearly see, the positions of each character within the mural is depicted in the same position. However, there are some distinct differences. Specifically, the facial features of each character are much softer in those of Mazur's works. In the case of Melchizedek, the great number of Abraham's followers are not depicted in Mazur's mural, instead an altar is present. The above work does not include a chalice, which is present in the Mazur work. Mazur remains in line with the traditional depiction of this scene as The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek is considered the foreshadow of the Eucharist.

So, if Mazur didn't create these two scenes, who did?

The answer is Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld.

Julius Carolsfeld was born at Leipzig on March 26, 1794, the son of an engraver and painter named Johann Schnorr. Carolsfeld's work is often broken down into three periods, the first two concentrating on secular works while the third focused on biblical subjects. These specific works were woodcarvings, including the two used by Mazur for the murals in the sanctuary at St. Mary's. There is no need to go in depth at this point concerning Carolsfeld, but perhaps a section could be designated to him later describing his other works which cover both Old Testament and New Testament events.

The Binding of Isaac

The Binding of Isaac represents God's testing of Abraham's obedience; to make a burnt offering of his son Isaac. Upon reaching the place where Abraham was to make his sacrifice, Isaac carried the wood to make the altar fire.

This image depicts Abraham drawing his knife to sacrifice Isaac. The angels is moving to stop Abraham, his Biblical line, "Now I know that you are a God-fearing man. You have not withheld from me your son." Traditionally, the ram depicted here is usually stuck in the bush and the angel is pointing to the ram. Instead, this image shows the angel grabbing the ram by the horn, to show Abraham that he is to sacrifice the animal and not his son.

This image is in the likeness of traditional depictions.

The ultimate symbolism shown within this image is Obedience to God. It is not surprising that such an image, reflecting obedience to God would be located in a church. However, this painting is the last remaining mural of this subject painted by Jozef Mazur. Any other murals of a similar subject have been painted over or removed.

The Meeting of Abraham and Melchizedek

This mural is of a scene which is not frequently depicted in churches. After Lot and Abraham returned from Egypt, they parted ways and Lot settled in Sodom. When raiders attacked the Cities of the Plain, he was captured. Abraham armed three hundred men, attacked the raiders by night and defeated them. Abraham returned to Salem (Jerusalem) and was greeted by Melchizedek, the high priest and king. Melchizedek offered bread and wine in blessing of Abraham.

The traditional representation is similar to the image in St. Mary's. In the piece by Carolsfeld, there is the absence of the altar and chalice, while numerous men are visible around Abraham and Melchizedek. Here Melchizedek (left) holds his hands up in praise. In this image, his crown is absent but is present in the depiction by Carolsfeld. This most likely is to emphasise his role as the high priest and not so much as king.

The image clearly is a representation of the Eucharist. Medieval depictions of this scene were meant to foreshadow the Eucharist as this was an Old Testament event. However it can be, upon a closer look, a representation of the plight of the Polish Immigrants; welcomed from a long journey, blessed and welcome at the altar.

Baptismal Font: Medina Sandstone 1892

This piece always fascinated me since I was a young child. To me, a pedestal made of sandstone to support such a small statue, especially with a name carved in it, confused me. It was not until I started heavily researching the history of St. Mary's that I realized this was the original baptismal font. The early histories of the church stated that Joseph Cichocki carved a baptismal font out of sandstone.

Just by looking at it, you can see that it is 100% hand carved. It's unevenly carved with apparent, but minor mistakes. However, this piece is a clear representation of Mr. Cichocki's skill in stone carving.

Joseph was a 42 year old Quarry Laborer when he carved this piece. Little is known about his origins in Poland aside from what can be discerned from Census and Burial records here in the United States. A number of Cichocki names appear amongst the records of Wabcz, Kujawsko-Pomorskie, Poland. His wife's surname, Furmanski, also appears frequently in those records. Together, Joseph and his wife Jadwega had 16 children, 4 of whom were still living in 1900. It can be ascertained that a portion of those children died before the family arrived in America. Neither Joseph nor Jadwega have headstones at St. Joseph's Old Cemetery and only one of their children who is buried in the same cemetery has a stone.

That brings me to my next point. As items are divided up and decided where to be placed, it was mentioned that this "monument" would be placed at St. Joseph's Old Cemetery. The exact reason for this is unknown when the object could be placed in any number of places. However, if the piece HAS to go to the old cemetery, perhaps we should consider using it as a monument to the Polish families who could not afford headstones. By examining the church records, it is quite apparent that many families who had loved ones who passed away prior to 1900, could not afford a headstone. For one reason or another, many plots within the cemetery are marked "full, do not bury," "Single Graves," etc. The drawings within the plots that are to show where bodies have been placed within the plots show that several are filled only with the bodies of children, upwards of 30. Couldn't this once sacred piece be used to remember those who came before us but could not afford the simple luxury of a headstone?