Chapter 4,  p. 3

 

   One of the most impressive, surviving murals in the city of Cincinnati may be admired in the chapel of the College of St. Joseph Motherhouse. Here Wilhelm Figure 53 Lamprecht painted a sixty-five foot wide depiction of The Immaculate Conception (Figure 53).  This extremely popular image in religious art is based on a passage from the Book of Revelation, Chapter 12, verse 1, where the New Testament cites 'a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars'. It is astounding how drastically Lamprecht's style differs from that of Gerhard Lamers: In place of the disembodied figures in strict alignment, without any indication of spatial depth, by Lamers at the Annunciation Church, Lamprecht introduces a vibrant, deep arena of heaven, where the principal figure of the mysterious woman emerges from the shadows in a burst of supernatural light. The variety of nineteenth century German-American church art still overwhelms the senses. One needs to be grateful for such surviving treasures.

    Apart from the wealth of religious art in Cincinnati, small rural areas in northwestern Ohio still contain some impressive works of art in German-American churches of the nineteenth century. One such church is St. John the Baptist in Glandorf, Putnam County. The church had been built by German Catholic immigrants, who had founded  Neu Glandorf in 1834. The German village of Glandorf they had left behind, is located near Osnabrueck in Lower Saxony. Its Roman Catholic inhabitants worshiped at their Sankt Johannis Kirche. Father Johann Horstmann, the local priest who was a native of Glandorf, persuaded a small group of followers to sail to America and settle in the Midwest. [16] In a recently published Sesquicentennial History of the Ohio Glandorf parish, the hardships facing the small group of German immigrants is described in great detail. Their new land had been part of the Old Indian Territory and was inexpensive, but it presented great challenges. Impenetrable woods needed to be cleared; the drinking water was not safe; and most of the area was still swampland. Upon the arrival of the first group of German immigrants in 1834, Father Horstmann had a log cabin constructed to serve as the church, school, and house for himself. [17] A brick church was erected Figure 54 between 1846 and 1848. In 1874 the congregation had become too large for this church and the present edifice was built and consecrated in 1878 (Figure 54). The beautiful Neo-Gothic St. John the Baptist church of Glandorf still contains a wealth of art by nineteenth century German-American artists. Their names have appeared in preceding pages: Wenceslaus Thien of Covington, Kentucky, contributed the decorative frescoes on the interior columns and arches, just as he had done in numerous other churches of the era. The Schroeder Brothers of Cincinnati carved the wooden pulpit, which won a gold medal at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition for its Figure 55 exquisite artistry[18] (Figure 55). Johann Schmitt painted images of the twelve apostles on the church vault, and in addition created two circular murals for the transept. One of them depicts Christ as the Good Shepherd and the second one Christ handing the keys of the Kingdom to St. Peter. Schmitt's paintings in the vault have been whitewashed. The stained glass windows had been designed by the Munich Mayer Company, which in 1882 sent a set of Stations of the Cross for which the Schroeder Brothers fashioned wood-carved frames. The church records at Glandorf's St. John the Baptist Church list the prices paid for commissioned art works. We read that the frescoing cost twenty-five hundred dollars; the pulpit cost fourteen hundred dollars; the communion rail five hundred, and the plastering and plaster ornaments cost the parish two thousand eight hundred twenty-eight dollars.[19]

   This information testifies to the modesty exhibited by the German artists decorating new churches in North America. Johann Schmitt's biographer had a chance to examine the painter's financial records and the letters from church officials who employed his services. He discovered that Schmitt charged from five hundred to eight hundred dollars for his massive murals and one hundred to two hundred dollars for his smaller murals. The size of the paintings and the number of faces in them determined the exact price. The artist donated many altarpieces to poor churches.[20]

    It is astounding how closely the histories of many nineteenth century German-American churches resembled each other. St. John the Baptist church at Glandorf, Ohio, resembles the Mother of God Church in Covington, Kentucky, inasmuch as the same artists worked on the interior decoration of the sanctuary: Thien, Schmitt, and the Schroeder Brothers shared the same tasks and beautified these churches, each in his own incomparable way.

    Both churches were remodeled after Vatican II in the 1960's. During that decade much simplification in church interiors was promoted and prompted local officials to remove and/or paint over much of the nineteenth century art. Both Glandorf's St. John the Baptist church and Covington's Mother of God church suffered fire damage in recent years. The Covington fire happened on the 25th of September in 1986; the Glandorf Figure 56 blaze occurred in 1992. The small, rural Ohio parish raised sufficient funds to have their church interior restored by the German-American Conrad Schmitt Studios of Milwaukee. At that time an easel painting by Johann Schmitt, which had been privately owned since the church was built, was installed in the sanctuary. It represents Christ with the Crown of Thorns  (Figure 56).

   In West Central Ohio, especially in Mercer County, a number of German Catholic churches still dominate the local landscape. In this densely German Catholic settlement the villages have names like Muenster, St. Mary, St. Henry, and Maria Stein. Mercer and its neighboring counties are dotted with the spires of German nineteenth century churches. A quote of John Baskin describes this rural Ohio landscape best: "The villages the German immigrants established then are similar now: two dozen houses, a grocery, a hardware store, maybe a small branch bank and a library, all huddled against an amazing Catholic church of Gothic or Romanesque design with a towering steeple, some of them over a hundred feet high and visible for miles across the flatness... there are dozens of them, strung magnificently across the prairie, something like an ecclesiastical version of the modern landscape's utility tower, transmitting the ethereal."[21]

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Notes:

[16]  Michael E. Leach, Laborers in the Vineyard, Precious Blood Ministry in Glandorf, Putnam County, Ohio, Defiance, OH: The Hubbard Company (2000)  pp. 3-6.

[17]  Michael E. Leach, Laborers in the Vineyard,  p. 15.

[18]  Michael E. Leach,  p. 58.

[19]  Michael E. Leach,  p. 69.

[20]  Diomede Pohlkamp, O.F.M., "A Franciscan Artist of Kentucky,"  p. 167.

[21]  John Baskin, "God's Country," Ohio vol. 15, no. 5 (August 1992)  pp. 114-121, 137.