The Vagabond Glovers hit the road for a day of utility driving yesterday, and clicked back into true road trip mode today as we approached Cincinnati, our old homeland.
Just over the river in Northern Kentucky lie two Catholic churches that are scant miles apart geographically, but unfathomably distant from each other in every other way. And, until today, we had not visited either one, although we passed within less than a mile of each one hundreds of times over the twenty some years we called Cincinnati home.
Our first stop is the tiny Monte Casino Chapel, built by Benedictine monks in 1878. Measuring a mere six by nine feet, it was declared the world’s smallest church by Ripley’s back in 1922. Sadly, the monks abandoned the monastery after Prohibition’s passage in 1920 eliminated their livelihood of maintaining vineyards and making wine here. The chapel fell into disrepair, and thieves and vandals took their toll.
Nearby Thomas More College (which was established by Benedictine sisters in 1921) moved the petite chapel to the College campus in 1965, where it was restored and rededicated in 1971. Now the cycle continues, and it is falling back into ruin again. Saplings have taken root in the roof. The front door and stained glass windows are long gone--a padlocked gate in the doorframe prohibits entry, but allows a view of the sad state of this little chapel that no longer welcomes the faithful. Inside two grey plastic trash cans sit amidst plaster that has fallen from the cracked and moldy walls. A hammer lies on the altar. Yet, somehow, despite its decay, the chapel retains an aura of grace and beauty--at least when viewed from afar.
We resume our notable religious architecture pilgrimage, and within five minutes are standing awestruck within St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, dwarfed by its 81 foot high arched ceiling, transfixed by the glowing stained glass windows which comprise over 80 percent of the side and front walls of the sanctuary.
The cornerstone was laid in 1895, and the church as we see it today was completed in 1915. Its blown stained glass windows are intricate and exquisite. The north transept window remains today the world’s largest blown stained glass window--67 feet by 24 feet.
The rose windows are immense jewels, 26 feet in diameter. The stations of the cross are highly detailed Venetian mosaic masterpieces of ceramic and mother of pearl tile. Outside, the façade is a replica of the façade of Notre Dame Cathedral (albeit in about one third scale, and without the bell towers and all the carved detail--numerous portals and niches “await the creative genius of the next generation,” in the words of the Cathedral’s walking tour).
In other words, they ran out of money before it was finished. A deacon volunteering at the church while we were there told me that someone donated enough money to carve one more saint into the façade, but he is sure it will not happen in his lifetime, due to the complicated church politics of deciding which saint would be carved and which niche filled.
How little blue collar Covington managed to become the home of this extraordinary religious treasure remains a mystery beyond our comprehension--like so much related to religion.