Friday, January 15, 2010

St. Peter's, Harpers Ferry

Not wanting my fellow Rochesterian seminarian Peter VanLieshout to be the only one blogging about visiting beautiful old churches, I share with you today the historic chapel of St. Peter in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.

Built in the 1830s, this church was one of the few buildings in the area to survive the Civil War. During Stonewall Jackson's attack on Harpers Ferry in September of 1862 the young pastor, Fr. Michael Costello, flew the British Union Jack from the steeple so as to discourage the Confederates from firing on his parish. One imagines this must have wounded the pride of the good Irishman, but it saved his church from destruction!
In 1896 the original church was torn down and a slightly larger one was built atop the old foundation. If you look at the left part of the above image, you can see that the original brickwork was incorporated into the new edifice.
The approach to St. Peter's is a set of 44 stairs carved from the rock in 1810. (The handrail was not added until the 20th century.) When the church was used as a makeshift hospital during the war, these steps acquired the name "the bloody stairs" from the sanguineous trails leading to the doors of St. Peter's. (Having walked up them myself, I can imagine there might be another reason they acquired this name: they're downright treacherous!)

The interior of St. Peter's is quite beautiful. Here you can see the high altar and some of the stained glass. The freestanding wooden altar is moved aside when Mass is said in the Extraordinary Form.
Detail of the Carrera marble altar carved in Italy.

Located in the baptistery of the church is a rather memorable crucifix based on Italian original which was made to match the wounds found on the Shroud of Turin. I'm not a huge fan of artist Sharon Garvey's calligraphy for the Greek (does that look a little odd to anyone besides me?) but it is nice to see the full title on the cross once in a while.
Nearby St. Peter's is Jefferson Rock, where Thomas Jefferson once stood and proclaimed, "this scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic." How much more, then, was it worth a stop on the way back to Washington!

Image of crucifix © ptpFlickr. Other images used under creative commons license from Teak's Pics or used by permission from Thomas Eichwald, seminarian for the Archdiocese of St. Louis


  1. nice pics and info - quite uplifting.

  2. Excellent and beautiful.

    ~Dr. K

  3. The altar looks like a cross between OLV and St. Stanislaus. Beautiful!

  4. It also looks like a cross between the altars at the former Ss. Peter & Paul and St. Patrick Cathedral in the city.

    ~Dr. K