As you drive from West Portsmouth – toward downtown Portsmouth one thing that stands out – is the steeple of St. Mary of the Annunciation Catholic Church. The steeple has been a landmark for many years standing as a testament to the glory of God. Reminding us of the many faithful who have worshiped there for over a century. There are many beautiful and splendid churches in the west-end of Portsmouth – reminding us of the testament of the early pioneers. St. Mary’s in the beginning had a predominately German speaking congregation. There were German speaking Protestant churches also in the general vicinity.
The church archives tell of the most Reverend Rosecrans, Bishop of Columbus who laid the cornerstone of St. Mary of the Annunciation Church, on May 9, 1869. The church was dedicated on July 31, 1870 at a cost of $50,000 at that time. The gold cross at the top of the steeple is 8 feet in width x 10 feet in height. The clock was installed in 1909 in the four openings which were provided for when the structure was built.
The solid butternut main altar was imported from Germany about 1880. During the early years it was painted white. In 1962 Father Charles Jones organized a group of parishioners who with various tools dismantled the altar piece by piece and refinished it to its natural butternut color. The two side altars created from the old confessionals match the design of the main later. The altar of celebration was built from the base of one of the side altars.
The large painting in the center above the main altar depicts the annunciation to Mary by the Archangel Gabriel. The painting on the left is of the Immaculate Conception; the right one shows Mary’s assumption into Heaven. All the paintings are on canvas. The four circular pictures around the dome are frescoes of the four Evangelists – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – portrayed by the traditional symbol of the lamb. The lamb represents Christ – the Son of God.
The Fourteen Stations of the Cross, a lasting remembrance of the passion and death of Christ, were imported from Germany. The stations are molded in one piece of terra cotta and the frames match the design of the altar. The names of the original donors are carved at the bottom of each station and the description of the station is in German.
The Bells of St. Mary’s consist of a matched set or “peal” of three and were cast in Baltimore by the McShane – Bell Company in 1895. The largest bell, “St. Peter” measures 53 inches across the base and weighs 3000 pounds. Its principle or “Prime” tone is E and was a gift from the St. Peter’s benevolent society – an organization very active during the 1890’s and early in to the 19th century. The next is “St. George” weighing 1500 pounds and is 41 inches in diameter. Its prime tone is G and was donated by the Knights of St. George. The smallest, weighing 900 pounds with a diameter of 34 inches has a prime tone of B.
The stained glass windows were executed by Frank Zinser of Riordan Art Glass in Cincinnati and were installed around 1906. The inscriptions at the bottom note the contributions of societies and individuals toward these windows. The south side windows portray the engagement of Mary and Joseph, the annunciation, the visitation, the birth of Jesus and the presentation in the temple. The north side windows feature the holy family, the crowning of Mary, St. Dominic, St. Peter and the finding of Jesus in the temple. Above the main door one observes the baptism of Jesus; the disciples at Emmaus grace the north door; the window above the south door is a repentant sinner. (Compiled from the archives of St. Mary Church)
In recent times there has been debate as to the role of religion in the United States. The framers of the Constitution ensured our right to religious freedom. The early pioneers of Portsmouth were without doubt advocates of this invariable right. All one has to do is look around and see all the wonderful sanctuaries of worship that are about us. St. Mary of the Annunciation is one of those havens of worship.
Bob Boldman is a local historian. He can be reached by email: [email protected]