St. Joseph’s (St. Paul’s) Church

The Slovenians that immigrated to the Copper Country in the mid to late 19th century hailed from the South Slavic Region previously ruled by Austria before the first World War. One of the first Slovenians to call the Keweenaw home was Frederick Baraga (the Snowshoe Priest, as he’s often called) who arrived to the area to convert native peoples to Christianity around 1843. With the rise of the C&H empire, hundreds more quickly arrived to work the mines. At first the Slovenians worshipped at the Sacred Heart Church, but as their numbers grew they broke off and started their own church around 1883. This was the first incarnation of St. Josephs, the simple wood structure seen in the photo above. This would be a far cry from the towering masterpiece they would replace it with.

With a fire in 1902 destroying the wood-framed church, the congregation quickly raised the necessary funds to build a replacement. But not any simple church would do. Plans were put in place to erect the largest and grandest structure – church or otherwise – in all of Calumet. Construction of the new church began in 1903, and five years and nearly $100,000 later (some $2.4 million if built today) it was finally completed. The result was a magnificent Romanesque Revival structure built from rough-faced Jacobsville sandstone. Its most prominent feature was the twin-spires rising over 150 feet over the surrounding skyline. It was the tallest structure in Calumet – and continues to be still today.

This sandstone incarnation of St. Joseph’s was the last Catholic church to have been built in Calumet, and marks a major shift in church architecture for the region. The Gothic Revival movement that had influenced all previous church construction in the region had come to a close, replaced by the stewards of St. Joseph’s design – the Romanesque Revival style. The style choose to return (thus the “revival” term) to the Roman inspired (thus “Romanesque”) architectural style used predominantly during the middle ages in Europe.

Romanesque Architecture is most recognizable by its use of round arches, as seen here along St. Joseph’s south facade. While the Gothic style emphasized the vertical, the Romanesque persuasion preferred more broad horizontal strokes reminiscent of the Roman Aqueducts. At St. Joseph’s the round arches over the windows physically join up with the church’s buttresses (the protruding supports along the wall) to create a string of arches known as an Arcade.

Roman architecture relied heavily on the use of columns, and the Romanesque style emphasized them as well even when an actually column wasn’t used. At the point where the round arches over the windows join up with the buttresses are a series of faux capitals similar to what you would find atop a real column.

As the Romanesque style attempted to mimic classical Roman architecture, the Romanesque Revival style attempts to mimic the church style prevalent during the Middle Ages – when the original Romanesque style was in heavy use. At that time many Catholic churches were built along a floor plan known as the “Cruxiform” – which is shown in the diagram above.

At that times churches were often laid out west to east, with the “west wall” serving as the church’s main facade with the “east wall” backing the altar. From the “west wall” would stretch a long high-ceiling room known as the nave. This is where the congregation would sit. Crossing perpendicular to the nave is the transept which was were many services were performed. Backing the transept would be the chancel, which housed the alter.

While not laid out traditionally in terms of compass directions (the “east wall” is actually to the west), St. Joseph’s is the only Catholic church to feature a transept that protrudes from the church walls – as seen here. The transept facade here features yet another Roman inspired detail – this time in the form of the roundel near the roof peak. Sitting over the massive stained glass window is a half-circle protrusion of sandstone known as a drip stone. It was more decorative then practical.

Sitting at the church’s corners are two towering spires, one of which is seen here form its base. While the towers tend to create a vertical feel, that tendency is damped somewhat by the use of several belt courses. These layers of protruding sandstone help to stretch the building’s form further in the horizontal.

Moving to St. Joseph’s “west wall” (which in reality is its east wall) we find a very detailed and sprawling front facade. Most notable is the large stained glass window centered between the towers. This window is one of several which grace the building, constructed by the Ford Brothers Glass Company out of Minneapolis for a cost of over $4,000 dollars (some $90,000 today). This particular window depicts the church’s namesake and foster father of Jesus – Saint Joseph.

Flanking the center window are two statues which are yet another Roman influence. This statue I believe depicts Joseph with Jesus as a child.

On the other side of the window is this second statue. I think this one depicts Joseph with a carpentry square, or a sword. The square makes more sense.

Under the window and statues are a line of round-arched entranceways. The arches are once again connected in a series to create the impression of an arcade – stretching the building’s horizontal lines.

A closer look of one of the entrance ways reveals the heavily roman influenced use of columns – more specifically marble columns. Although this detail seems out of place for a sandstone building, its actually very common to the Romanesque Revival style.

A closer look at the column capitals. These appear to be carved sandstone, but in reality they are most likely Terra Cotta painted to look like sandstone.

Another interesting detail is the use of not only more drip stones above the window, but the addition of this small stone “spigot” as well to drain the water that collects atop the drip stone.

Above the church’s main entrance is this pediment which is ablaze with the church’s name and its date of construction. The date is the year it was started, not the year it was finished.

Looking up at the soaring spires one last time we notice more roundels atop the belfry. I had always thought that these were filled in later in the building’s life, but it appears that this was the building’s original appearance according to many old photos taken after its construction.

With an example of Romanesque Revival now under our belts, its time to compare and contrast with the city’s crowning example of the Gothic Revival style – St. Anne’s.

4 comments

  1. Jeremiah….
    Thanks for the info! When I looked around for typical St. Joseph statues I found two basic types – the one with Jesus with a child and another with his carpenter square. That second statue (which now I know is St. Paul) looked similar to the St. Joseph / carpenter square one but wasn’t quite right. Old photos showed the statues intact, but I couldn’t get a good enough look to see if they were the same as the current ones. Interesting stuff!

  2. Hey, thanks for the great post and the beautiful photos, as always.

    Just a note about the center window at the front and the statues flanking it – the window is “The Confession of St. Peter,” when Peter identifies Jesus as the Christ, and Christ, in response, gives him the keys to the kingdom of heaven. The window was very consciously placed there, representing the authority of the Church to the world outside. (The biggest window, in the south transept, is the St. Joseph window.) The statues outside on the front of the building were historically Sts. Cyril and Methodius, Thessalonian brothers honored as the patron saints of the Slavic peoples. At some point, the statues were removed, probably due to deterioration/safety concerns. In 1999 the present statues were installed – the one with the child Jesus, holding the lilies, is St. Joseph, in recognition of the building’s history, and the one with the sword is St. Paul, in recognition of the new name of the parish.

  3. That really does look like a sword in Joseph’s hand — look at how the guard curls downward just below his hand. No carpenter’s square would do that!

    As to why Joseph would appear with a sword, I have no clue. However I’m pretty sure I’ve seen statues like that before, so it must be some standard symbol.

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