Sunday, August 31, 2014

Solid, sturdy, calls to prayer photo showing late 1800s image of St. Mary Roman Catholic Church in Key West
St. Mary Star of the Sea, Key West.
In my research, I'm noticing that the pioneer Catholic churches in Florida seem to share a simplicity of style. That interests me, primarily because it magnifies the difference between the urban North and missionary territory of the rural South. Florida may be known today as New York South, but that wasn't the case when the area was being settled in the decades after statehood (1845). The missionary priests, religious sisters, and laity-settlers often formed minority enclaves in Protestant-majority communities. Did these Catholics build minimalist church structures because of financial constraints, supply limitations, or to refrain from calling attention to themselves? Maybe a combination of all three. 

As an example, look at this page's Florida Memory image of St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in Key West, one of Florida's largest cities during the pioneer era. The parish website says St. Mary's was the fifth Roman Catholic church built in Florida, and that it opened in 1852. This photo pre-dates 1901, when the structure burned down. The basic shape, unassuming steeple, and restrained adornment remind me of photos of other Roman Catholic churches established in other Florida towns in the 1880s and even into the early 1900s. 

Key West was a population center in the 1800s, and at one point had more residents than any other city in Florida. That's relative, I know. The 18,000 people in Key West about 1890 are a blip compared to, say, the 500,000 +/-  in New York City when the neo-Gothic grandeur of St. Patrick's Cathedral started to rise in the late 1850s. But the distance between the architectural styles of the cities' prominent Roman Catholic presences is far more than miles or an imbalance in resident populations. To me, the sturdy Florida churches reflect the faithful themselves, at least those brave enough to help settle a new land: plain, solid, and sturdy, and ready to get a job done.

No comments:

Post a Comment