As representatives of a a minority ethnicity, the Croatians first joined with the Slovenians to establish the St. Joseph’s parish in the late 1800′s. But as their numbers grew, the Croatians were able to leave St. Joseph’s and build their own church a block away named for the man who baptized Christ – St. John. The original church was wood-framed, and featured a soaring clock-faced steeple. The original church burned down in the late 30′s and was replaced by a more modest brick structure that sits on the site today.
While the original St. John’s may have been an illustration of the immense prosperity and optimism of the region at the turn of the century, its 1940′s replacement is the sober truth of an empire in decline. Here is a very subtle and restrained structure that hardly garners the same sense of awe as the grand cathedrals of St. Joseph’s or St. Anne’s. From its stubby tower to it’s narrow slit windows, the entire structure seems to be withdrawing into the residential houses that surround it.
The building’s most striking feature is the large white cross and checkered shield which adorn its front facade. The checkered shield is known as a šahovnica – which means “chessboard” in Croatian. It has served as the symbol of Croatian kings since the 10th century, and is currently a Croatian national symbol (it is also featured on the nation’s flag). Interestingly the current Croatian Coat of Arms starts with the red square, not the white as it does here. At some point since the 1940′s the pattern was switched to begin with red instead.
The only other embellishment on this church is a series of bulls-eye windows consisting of stained glass. There are two on the front and one more on the rear.
The church’s main entrance sits under a large rounded arch which features the faint impression of another cross just above the door. It looks as if the building originally had a covered entranceway over this door, as evident by the triangle outline over the door. At some point the main stairs were covered by the current wood platform as well.
Flanking the main entrance are a pair of very small windows – sans any stained glass. Their only decoration is a simple rounded arch which may have a Romanesque influence.
The church’s current belfry is very utilitarian, featuring a series of small openings along its four faces. Like the windows these openings are also topped by rounded brick arches. The windows themselves, however, are simple rectangles.
Looking at its nave wall, you can see just a simple series of brick pilasters in place of the more elaborate buttresses found in other Catholic churches. Most interesting about this photo to me is the sandstone foundation – a material that was far out of style by the time this church was built. (not to mention unavailable due to a lack of operating quarries). My theory is that this is the foundation to the original church. The blackened faces of the stones would also seem to suggest they were through a fire in their past.
Here’s a closer look at that sandstone foundation. The bricks were laid right atop of it and in the case of the far left of the picture – laid just to its side as well. I’m pretty sure that this foundation was the original St. John’s and that the current church was simply built atop of it.
Before moving on, I took a quick shot of this house that stands next to the old church. At the time I wasn’t sure if it related to the church at all but now I think it is in fact the church’s original rectory. It looks very similar to the house sitting next to the old wood-framed church seen in the first photo of this post.