Recquiscat in Pace Sts. Peters and Paul, Trenton Churches

Saints Peter & Paul

The Belles Heures of Jean, Duke of Berry

The Cloisters

My intention had been to finish the second installment of my Gems of the Centennial Exhibition.

In my research I stumbled upon some sad news. Sad on a personal, perhaps spiritual level.

My beloved little church in my hometown of Trenton, Sts. Peter and Paul, was on the auction block.

Peter and Paul’s as the natives referred to it as, was the home base for my paternal grandmother, a Slovak woman, born and raised in this industrial part of South Trenton. One of many little ethnic neighborhoods making a claim to the American Dream; establishing families, communities, and churches, wondrous churches. My ancestors poured , what seems from my perspective, ridiculous sums of money as donations to establish churches that would represent their particular ethnic interests. This was happening all over the East coast, Trenton has it’s share of really lovely churches, Italian, Slovak, and Pole. So many folks built so many impressive churches, sacrificing effort, time, and hard earned cash.

Unfortunately neighborhoods change, the factory worker’s children become middle class, leaving behind charming neighborhoods, shops, and sadly these really lovely churches and the communities built around them.

Peter and Paul’s was one such church.

Sts. Peter and Paul

395 -403 Second Street

Trenton, N.J.

Although possessing a modest exterior, a dour grey stone, softened only by our Blessed Mother gazing down upon her faithful, I quickly grew to love  this church.

When I was nineteen my first partner Douglas and I purchased a charming little rowhouse around the corner from the church, in the late 80’s, we paid $5000.00, cash.

The neighborhood had fallen terribly, gangs, welfare folks, illegals. I didn’t notice the squalor, it was a delightful little house to claim as my own, with a teeny patch of land in which to plant radishes. When we told my Grandmother where we had moved she was delighted and startled. I hadn’t known my new neighborhood had been  where she was raised; she regaled me with neighborhood tales, but her spirit was dampened by her fear for my personal safety. She took comfort in that we were “two boys”.

I discovered Peters and Paul’s through her stories. I was looking for a church, looking for something, I’m still looking. Peters and Paul’s seemed like an opportunity.

It was. They had an early Mass, 5:30 am, I would stumble out of bed, slip through the alley between my street and the Church, and enter the rear side door, past the altar to the Blessed Virgin Mary. I quickly secured my own pew and my own position in this odd ball little congregation. The last few Slovaks left, loyal to the neighborhood, it’s traditions, and this church.

Or they were just broke.

I was enchanted time and again. In May, the month devoted to our Blessed Mother, homemade bouquets, often sweet blue hydrangeas from their gardens, were gathered by the Altar Guild. They were adorable in their coffee cans decorated by tin foil and ribbons. So much more wonderful then the costly spiritless arrangements made by the local florists. These tender bouquets, modest and sweet against the faded grandeur of this really magnificent neo-Romanesque interior really touched my personally, spiritually, and aesthetically.

If the exterior was essentially un-inspired, the interior compensated for the modesty. Romanesque influences abounded, a magnificent painted ceiling complete with strangely large Archangels. A very impressive High Altar ,resplendent in it’s polychromed marbles, intricate carvings, ignoring  Romanesque archetypes but delighting this particular peasant’s eye. Early electrical fixtures, elaborately fashioned Seraphs from which one bare little electric bulb offered illumination.

Amidst this splendor, were water stains, broken pipes, and neglect due to lack of funds.

But certain traditions were not to be ignored, finances be damned.

The front doors, which in the sad photo show as an unfortunate dingy white, were initially finished in a vernacular form of  faux bois. A curious finish which included adding beer to the paint, the result, an almost alarming orange-ish “oak”. I spoke to the artisan, he lived in the neighborhood, had been taught his craft as an apprentice, finishes such as this were mandatory if you were to be a reputable painter. He bemoaned the fact that cheap latex paints and a desire for economy had all but eliminated the use of his talents. He donated his services to the church. God love him.

Secular maintenance, though important, was not as valued as sacred tradition. The Sacristan’s duties were stringently enforced, Vatican II be damned.

Statuary was draped in purple during Holy Week, the Blessed Sacrament interred in a mock Sepulcher, the ceremonial procession making theatric use of the thurible (censor) and patent sprinkler. Our Lord protected under the umbraculum, a strange handheld umrella, ornamental in it’s swags, tassels, and embroidery. Charming, emotionally touching, and doomed. I knew, as a very young man, that these traditions were coming to an end. No more would our Virgin receive her purple shroud to signify Her, and our heart’s mourning for the dead Lord. The “ombrellino” would go into storage as an artifact of a primitive faith.

#1-holy water pot

#2 patent sprinkler

#3 thurible

#5 baldacchina

#6 umbraculum, “ombrellino”

And so it happened.

As I was moving away to brighter happier places, Peter and Paul’s was in the process of  it’s own changes. To accomadate the evergrowing Hispanic flock, Spanish masses were added. Initially there was some Slovak grumbling, but the transition went surprisingly well. The new members were dutiful, sincere, and frankly young, with children, energy ,and joy. The mutual love both communities shared for the Holy Mother smoothed the way.

I had hoped that would ensure the  future of Sts. Peter and Paul.

I guess not. The auction  sheet states that the sacred elements will be removed prior to closing.

But what about the devotional window of St. Anne, donated through sacrifice by some long dead parishioner. What about the crumbling fresco of St. John in the Baptistry? Will he be primed out and given a fresh coat of Contactor’s white?

My heart breaks at these changes.

I treasure my being able to witness the last moments of this one little sweet church.

I close with a few of the churches that seem to still thrive in the Capital City of Trenton.

Basillica Church of the Sacred Heart

founded 1819

Final construction, 3rd, as shown, 1899

another view of Sacred Heart

St. Hedwigs

A thriving church, popular with the Polish community

Interior of St. Hedwigs

This particular type of splendor, is frankly quite typical of so many Trenton churches. The desire to outshine Rome apparent.

Again, the strangely large painted Archangels.

Detail of St. Hedwig’s interior.

The light Rococo coloring, lovely and fresh.

Church coloring has always influenced my own work. The altar angels are wonderful, I covet them.

A procession at St. Hedwig’s making happy use of the Baldacchina.

The Umbraculum apparently wouldn’t have been sufficient to protect our Lord from the noonday sun.

Immaculate Conception

built 1888

This church, built and loved by Trenton’s  Italian community, was my father’s church. As a boy I looked up with  wonder at  the Neo Gothic architecture, it’s rich carvings, and it’s paintings, endless painting.

Immaculate  Conception inspired me to be an artist. I will never forget this church.

To indulge our Protestant brothers I include a few beauties.

St. Michaels Episcopal

established 1703

Last major alteration 1870, in the Fantasy Gothic style, after Lambeth Palace, the residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

I close with this country church, outside of urban Trenton. This Methodist church is in Groveville, where I was raised. Groveville is an early little town, rural in nature, mid-19th century  architecture, as far away from the Sopranos, Jersey Shore, and Real Housewives as you can get. It is my particular understanding of  what being from “Jersey” is all about.

Groveville Methodist Church

established 1837

built 1887 in the vernacular Methodist “plan-book” style.

Sts. Peter and Paul

chromolithograph 19th cent.

Have a great day.

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10 Responses to “Recquiscat in Pace Sts. Peters and Paul, Trenton Churches”

  1. Keith & Jennifer Bezek Hrabchak Says:

    Thank you! Sts. Peter and Paul was our Parish. We also went to school there and so did out parents. We now live in California but keep in touch with most of classmates. We are very family with all the Churchs on your web page. You brought back many memories. Peace, Keith & Jenn

    • babylonbaroque Says:

      Oh I’m so pleased, I too live in CA, LA specifically, where are you?
      Any images you may wish to share on Trenton churches i would be most interested in seeing.
      Take care,
      Leonard

  2. Cynthia Rodeawald-Grove Says:

    Looking at the picture of Sts. Peter and Paul in Trenton draws me back to so many memories. My mother’s family was of Slovak/Hungarian descent. We lived in South Trenton on Lamberton St., then a mixture of Polish, Hungarian and Slovak families. I was baptized, made communion and confirmation at Sts Peter and Paul and attended their grammar school. (with Keith Hrabchack and his sister by the way – we were neighbors on Lamberton St.) My two brothers and sister got married there and my parents and grandparents are buried in Sts. Peter and Paul’s cemetary. The street would be blocked off during the May procession every May and we walked in our white dresses and veils. At lunchtime they roped off the street so the kids at our school could play outside. It was right across from the State Prison and we thought nothing of it.
    Sacred Heart was also a staple in the area. On a holy day we would sometimes walk to downtown Trenton and attend Mass before we ventured onto shopping.
    Such memories! Thank you for letting me relive my childhood and the fond memories of growing up in that church and neighborhood.

    • babylonbaroque Says:

      My first house which I purchased @ 19 for 6000.00 dollars was on Lamberton St., a sweet ramshackle house. My paternal grandmother (Slovak) attended Peter and Paul, your memories fill in the blank for the parish’s heyday; the church was running on steam when I joined. Thank you for your memories!
      Leonard in far from Trenton LA

  3. Cynthia Rodeawald-Grove Says:

    PS I remember someone telling me the Harcar family who lived on Adeleine St near Holy Cross (now Divine Mercy) helped build Sts. Peter and Paul. They were responsible for bringing my mother’s ancestors (Harcars) over to America. These poor immigrants gave all they could to their faith and their Church. Four of their children entered the priesthood and convent.

    • babylonbaroque Says:

      They did give their all, i have distinct memories of sitting at my favorite pew with my favorite elderly lady friends admiring the stained glass and marveling at families ,probably struggling ,who donated such wonders. There was one window of Moses which was entitled St. Moses which i always thought odd and charming.
      It saddens me deeply that the Church does not honor the sacrifice.
      Leonard

  4. Jim Bodnar Says:

    I was in the class of 59.Lived on Center Street.Walked to and from school every day(unheard of now) also remember the street being roped off every day. It was a big deal if you were selected to put up the ropes. Played on the street while the prisoner trustees cut grass and worked a few feet away.Now and then a softball would come over prison wall and we would try to throw back.All horrible by todays standards but great memories to those who survived it.

  5. Faith Marsh Says:

    Wow, In 1973 I purchased a home one door from the school for $9500. I also remember SS Peter &Pauls parish. I remember the procession down Second St. In honor of the Blessed Mother May crowning. The street being roped off. Cynthia and I were in the same class. I remember walking 2 miles to and from school (Lalor &Dayton) as a child it was a long walk. I also remember walking to the hall where we had school activities,bingo etc. Actually, it was the original Ss Peter and Paul’s church. As stated many people of the parish my dad being one donated and worked hard to get the church built where it stands now. The memories of the beautiful high mass and the choir singing resonates with me. The mass seemed so long then. today, I appreciate it so much more. We all had a beautiful up bringing and so blessed to have lived during those years and have fond memories.
    Faith

  6. Hi Leonard,
    I stumbled across this blog post hoping to find more information about Sts Peter and Paul Church on 2nd St in Trenton. Many of the stained glass windows had my family’s names inscribed on them as they were parishioners (from Slovakia!) and lived there in that neighborhood for some time. I have photos of the stained glass windows and was wondering if anyone knew where they went. Even if you don’t know…I’m now wondering if we are possibly related!
    Please let me know at your earliest convenience. Thank you!

    • babylonbaroque Says:

      Dear Sue,
      Pardon my delay. I fear I’m not much help . I’m in LA and found out about the sale several years ago via friends in Trenton. I would think the sale would have included the windows in spite of the personal connections which is very sad. Check the diocese , they might have stored them. Also images you have would be of interest to the Trentoniana collection at the main public library . I’m blanking on the contact person but I think it is Sally Lane. I would be very interested in seeing them out of personal curiosity as it was my church for several years- it would be nice to see them again. My email is neobaroque@mac.com
      My grandmothers family name was Basovny, I think that is how it was spelled , sadly we were estranged and she has now passed on. Good hearing from you, this blog is now closed but my new studio blog is up and running , feel free to keep in touch @ http://www.boondocksbabylon.com
      Be well,
      Leonard

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