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  The Burning of St. Joseph's Cathedral  
     
  St. Joseph's Cathedral
150 Farmington Ave.
Hartford, CT

Copyright, January 2010

It was a cold, dark winter morning fifty years ago on Monday, December 31, 1956, when the engineer entered the lower sacristy door at 5:00 a.m. to start the boilers that would heat the vast Cathedral of St. Joseph. Patrick Keely's St Patrick's Church at Ann & High Streets, Hartford, had burned just after midnight the previous morning. St. Joseph's Cathedral had been searched Sunday night to make sure it was secure. Nothing appeared amiss and the Cathedral had been locked for the night.

At 6:00 a.m., the sacristan entered, smelled smoke, but found nothing. Fire Department Chaplain Fr. Francis O'Neill entered for Mass just before 7:00 a.m. Both he and the sacristan searched again. Finding nothing, they decided it was a boiler smell.

As the early morning Mass was being said, smoke began to drift across the recessed side Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament. After Communion, smoke became more visible. Mrs. Frances Devine, who was attending Mass that morning, approached Deputy Fire Chief McSweegan, also attending Mass, and notified him of what she was observing. Chief McSweegan dashed to the sacristy and with Fr. O'Neill went to the Lower Cathedral worship space. An acrid smell and the crackling of flames was heard in the basement ceiling above. This was below the main altar and caused the first alarm to be pulled. The following photos illustrate the end of this noble gothic structure:

Patrick Keely's plan for the pulpit at St. Joseph's

Patrick C. Keely's design for the twenty-eight-foot-high oak and walnut pulpit. The pulpit was topped by a walnut-carved figure of Christ Teaching. The Four Evangelists and Two Great Apostles were placed along the lower edge of the canopy. (Keely Society Archives)





This pulpit photo also shows Joseph Sibbel's sculpture of St. Jerome and his Stations of the Cross which were unique to St. Joseph's Cathedral. Keely's ornate plaster designs and triforium gallery areas are also visible. (Dedication Book)





P.C. Keely's design for the grand Hook & Hastings Cathedral organ. Additions were made in 1917 and the organ was enlarged in 1939 by the Austin Organ Company of Hartford. (Dedication Book)





Interior of the Hartford Cathedral with its richly patterned wood ceiling. The noted German eccesiastical painter, William Lamprecht, created the transept crossing ceiling painting, "The Sermon on the Mount."(Keely Society Archives)





Firemen ventilate the Cathedral Sacristy roof around 8:30 a.m., seeking the source of the fire. At this time fire was traveling up through the interior wood and plaster lathe partitions.





This west view, from over a quarter mile away, shows the Cathedral towers shrouded in thick billowing smoke as the fire seethes under the great slate roof.





Flames leap from the roof of the Chancel. The Tyrolean Art Glass Company's stained glass treasures begin to burst from the intense heat.





The Cathedral explodes in flames and, moves toward the Farmington Avenue facade. Fire soared over 100 feet into the air, according to Fire Chief Henry. The matching twin towers had ornate finnials added in the 1939 renovation. Keely's spires were never added. Originally, a valuable set of chimes were housed in the western tower. When flames shot up the tower, which acted like a chimney, the supports burned through. The chimes were sent crashing down through the floors of the tower to land in the vestibule.





The facade of the Cathedral shows flames bursting from the Rose Window over the main entrance. Its central roundel depicted St. Cecilia and the sixteen pentafoils held depictions of angels playing various instruments. The Hook & Hastings organ has been consumed.





January 1, 1957, dawned cold, brisk, but sunny as the majestic ruins of St. Joseph's Cathedral tower over Farmington Avenue. New York Engineers presented three scenarios for the rebuilding of the Cathedral. The Archives document that the walls were structurally sound. While it could have been repaired, Archdiocesean officials chose to demolish the Portland brown structure, and replace it with a 1960s design. A New York Engineering firm submitted three scenerios for rebuilding





A view of the interior ruins from the east side doorway. It was through this door that many of the Cathedral staff entered the Cathedral from the Keely designed rectory. Joseph Sibbel's damaged figure of St. Gregory the Great is seen at the transept crossing pillar. Beneath the western rose window can be seen the remains of Sibbel's monumental bas-relief of "Christ teaching the Doctors in the Temple." Joseph Sibbel, noted German sculptor, collaborted with Patrick C. Keely, on many church and cathedral projects. The eight arcade openings of the western rose window presented life scenes of the Patriarch Joseph, of the Old Testament. The sixteen pentafoil openings illustrated scenes from the life of St. Joseph, the Cathedral's patron. For more information on Joseph Sibbel, sculptor, please contact the expert at www.josephsibbelofny.com





Copyright, January 2010

St. James Pro-Cathedral on Jay Street in Brooklyn, whose enlargement was superintended by Keely around 1845. In July of 1889, during a summer thunderstorm, lightning struck the steeple, and the structure was lost. Patrick Keely was living not far away on Cleremont Avenue, and would have been keenly aware of its destruction.



The interior of St. James Pro-Cathedral taken about 1888, illustrating the monumental wood reredos, carved by Keely. The candleholders on the main altar were carved from his daughter, Sarah's cradle, according to the family.



SAINTS PETER AND PAUL, WILLIAMSBURG, BROOKLYN, NY NY

This was Patrick C. Keely's first designed ecclesiastical edifice. Dedicated in 1848, it had been begun in 1847, and with the mild winter of 1847-1848, construction was able to continue. It was ready for dedication by May of 1848. During the time of the, "No-Nothing's" anti-immigrant resentment, the Mayor of Brooklyn, prevented its destruction by fire. Later the Keely steeple was removed, and also, a bow-bay facde was constructed. Facing declining parish enrollment in the 1950's the structure was demolished in February of 1957. Ironically, at the same time in Hartford, CT, Keely's "Completed Masterpiece," St. Joseph Cathedral, on Farmington Ave. was also being demolished as a result of the fire of December 31, 1956. By the mid-1960's immigrant groups from Central America, settled in Williamsburg, and a new Sts. Peter and Paul Church, was constructed. The sacristy case, and a pre-dieu from the original Keely edifice were placed in the new 1960's church.



ORIGINAL INTERIOR OF SAINTS PETER AND PAUL

This 1888, view of the interior of Sts. Peter and Paul, gives one an understanding of the detail in the great carved reredos, completed by Patrick Keely. The two stained glass windows in the sanctuary area, were crafted by the Morgan Brothers. Although members of the Dutch Reformed Church, this first installation began a relationship that would last for years, especially in Cathedral commissions that Keely received. Bishops and priests from far and wide attended the dedication of this gothic style church in Williamsburg. The result was that Patrick Keely's design services were sought immediately for Cleveland, and the new Cathedral at Albany, NY.



An article from the Irish World, September 19, 1896 entitled, "The Late Architect Keely," contains a description of a requiem Mass celebrated at Sts. Peter and Paul Church the month following Keely's death. It mentions the description of the decorations in Sts. Peter & Paul's Church for the requim Mass.



"The altar was draped in purple, and in front of the altar, in the centre aisle, stood a handsome catafalque and candelabra. Two palms surmounted the catafalque, while the candeabra contained twenty-six lights. A special musical programme was rendered under the direction of the organist, Frederick Bradles, and the choir of the church."



Piece submitted through the kindness of www.josephsibbelofny.com



KEELY'S, 1880, ST. PATRICK'S CHURCH, THOMPSONVILLE, (Enfield) CT

Copyright, January 2010



ST. PATRICK"S CHURCH, THOMPSONVILLE, (ENFIELD, CT)- PATRICK KEELY, 1880, 1888, cornerstones, 1904 Dedication

A view of the sanctuary ceiling, which was created by Mortensen & Holdensen, of Boston, MA, in 1904. Nine decorating firms vied for the contract to decorate the interior of this, 1888-1904, Keely edifice. Tiffany & Co.and Rambusch Decorators, of New York City, were two of the notable firms that submitted designs. On a background of rich cream and gold mosaic pattern, the central focus was a heavenly oval with God the Father surrounded by putti, and two heavenly angels. On the left side of the ceiling was depicted St. Patrick, and on the right was an image of St. Briget of Ireland, both life size depictions.



SANCTUARY CEILING DECORATED BY MORTENSEN & HOLDENSEN OF BOSTON< MA

A detail of St. Patrick and Angel of Praise, painted on the ceiling of the sanctuary by Mortensen and Holdensen of Boston, MA. At the lower left, St. Patrick, patron saint of Ireland, can be seen. What appeared to many as a palm tree next to the saint, was in actualaty a Monk Tree. The warm waters of the Gulf Stream circle near the lower tip of Ireland, and give rise to this type of palm looking tree.



DEDICATION TROWEL OF ST. PATRICK'S CHURCH

This ornate trowel was used at the laying of the front cornerstone of St. Patrick's Church. A first cornerstone was set when the basement Chapel of st. michael was begun in 1880. At the laying of the 1888 cornerstone a lottery was held to raise funds. Each partiocipant would pay $ 1.00. A Scotsman, who emigrated to work in the carpet mill of Thompsonville, was the winner. He eventually returned to his native home of Scotland. The trowel resides with the family today.



VIEW OF THE "BLANCO MARBLE," ALTAR BY CHARLES HALL OF BOSTON,MA

An altar of "blanco marble," from Italy, was installed in 1904, when the church was dedicted. Charles Hall of Boston, MA, brokered its execution and installation. Two Angels of Adoration flank the lower reredos, and were created by Joseph Sibbel, noted German sculptor. Sibbel created the seated Doctors of the Church, in the transepts of St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Ave., New York City.

Information on the decorating, and marble pieces, was supplied by Delma Tallerico, Keely Society Expert on Joseph Sibbel.



ST. ANN SHRINE IN THE REAR OF ST. PATRICK'S CHURCH

This vague photo illustrates the Shrine of St. Ann, in the rear of St. Patrick's Church. Short 4" candles were used in a stand before the figure of St. Ann & the Virgin Mary. The wainsoting around the church, and recessed wall shrines had been varnished just before Christmas 1948. On January 5, 1949, it is possible that one of the candles, which had not been secured tightly in its holder, tumbled to the floor. The candle probably did not extinguish as it fell . Melting wax caught fire, igniting the old lineolium. It then spread to the newly varnished wainscoting, and a disaster of major proportions brought about the end of the Keely designed, of St. Patrick's Church. Fire investigators pinpointed the Shrine of St. Ann, as the point of origin for the disastorius blaze.



JANUARY 5, 1949, BRINGS DISASTER TO ST. PATRICK'S CHURCH< THOMPSONVILLE, CT

The facade of St. Patrick's church is encircled with thick white smoke around 1 PM. Entrance into the structure was impossible without the aid of a air mask. At this point in time, the fire most likely had travelled up through the walls, and was involving the length of the blind attic. Within minutes after this photo was taken, fireman began placing a ladder up to the rose window, over the main entrance. Fireman William Mills clambered up the ladder, as the wood extension ladder bent under his weight. Smashing a hole in the rose window, it set up an explosion of flames which broke through the slate roof above.



THE TURRET STAIRWAY ON THE EAST SIDE OF ST. PATRICK's Church

White smoke issues from under the eaves of the turret roof. Fireman were able to climb the stairs to the organ gallery in this turret, but without hoses. When they returned to ascend the stairs intense heat, and upper flmaes blocked their path. During this time Fire Chief Thomas Furey donned a oxygen mask, and went through the sacristy door to reomve the Blessed Sacrament from the main altar. Some Firefighters and bystanders, including Cathedral Highschoolers, Francis J. Furey, and Red O'Malley, helped remove valuable vestments from the sacristy closets until it became unsafe.



ST. PATRICK'S CHURCH, ROARING IN FLAMES !

Fire has exploded up and out through the atiic area into a drizzily January day. The beautiful Mayer of Munich, stained glass windows brust in the intense heat. The three windows of the apse, left to right, depicted the Resurrection, the Crucifixion, and the Nativity of Jesus.

DEMOLITION LOOMS FOR KEELY'S SISTERS OF MERCY CONVENT IN BROOKLYN, NY

This close up view of the richly patterened brick facade, on the Sisters of Mercy Convent on Willobuoy Ave. in Brooklyn, NY, reveals brocklayers skill long gone into memory. Keely designed a number of similar looking structures for various branches of the Sisters of Mercy. This is probably the only survining example left.

Both the Sisters of Mercy Motherhouses in Hartford, CT, and Middletown, CT. have been demolished. The Middletown Ct, Convent demolished in July,2007.



A PRESERVATIONST GROUP IN BROOKLYN, NY, IS SEEKING LANDMARK STATUS, FOR THE STRUCTURE.

Keely's design for the brickwork and window frames,on the facade of the Brooklyn, NY, Sisters of Mercy Motherhouse.



INTERIOR VIEW OF THE SISTERS OF MERCY CONVENT, BROOKLYN, NY

A look into the stunning Chapel which is part of the monumental Sisters of Mercy Motherhouse on Willobuoy Ave. in Brooklyn, NY. The richness of design suggests that the Chapel might have been enlarged, and enhanced by Thomas Houghton, Patrick Keely's son-in-law. This treasure is one that cannot be duplicated today.