About the Chapels
Romanesque in style with its great round arches and barrel vaults, these two small chapels are real jewels. Several unique features distinguish each of them.
Mary, Help of Christians Adoration Chapel. Built as the Sisters’ chapel, this sacred space is marked by its simplicity (compare, for example, the stained glass windows and the wood carvings with those in the relic chapel).
The most striking features about this chapel include the double vault (highlighted by two shades of blue) and the ceiling oil painting of the chapel titular, Mary under the title Help of Christians. This painting is signed by P. Trost (Father Trost was a Missionary of the Precious Blood) and dated 1924; he included in his signature the Latin inscription Ut in omnibus hononficetur Deus! (“so that God may be glorified in all things”; 1 Peter 4:11).
The German and Latin inscription painted on the arch is translated “St. Anthony, pray for us” (St. Anthony is one of the Precious Blood Congregations’ patrons) and “the blood of Jesus, [God's] son, cleanses us” (l John 1:7).
Notice how the main altar in this chapel looks cut off. The story handed down is that the altar arrived before the workers were ready to place it in chapel and the weather ruined it! These altars and the ones in the relic chapel were crafted by Schroeder Bros. of Cincinnati and are made of native quarter-cut white oak.
Color for the rose window comes from an outside window constructed behind it. The shades of yellow/gold are highlighted by the light that streams through on a bright, sunny day and reminds one of the Son of Justice to whom the adorers give honor.
The fleur-de-lis motif in the windows was chosen for the stenciling which was added below the ceiling molding during the 2002 restoration. Literally translated as “flower of the lily,” it is a traditional symbol for Mary. All chapels of the Sisters of the Precious Blood have been dedicated to Mary under one of her many titles.
Some of the original double-seat pews have been maintained for their historical value. The decision to furnish with chairs rather than the pews was a practical one: because of the increased number of people using the chapels the Sisters needed to increase the seating capacity.
The original balcony/choir loft has been walled in and is now a conference room named “Sr. M. Cordelia Gast Gallery”; visitors are invited to go to the second floor to see it.
The Sacred Heart Relic Chapel. Many outstanding features contribute to the awesome beauty of this chapel, the most striking of which are its central dome with the Holy Spirit stained glass window, ornate wood carving, stained glass windows (from Munich, Germany), and, of course, the beauty of the reliquaries which bring all who come to a hushed reverence.
The oil painting on the back wall of Maria-im-Stein (Mary of the Rock) is believed to be the one the Abbot of the Benedictine Klostermariastein in Switzerland gave to Fr. Brunner before his first trip to America.
In the 2002 restoration the Fr. Brunner Collection was fittingly moved into this chapel and represents the oldest and first collection of relics placed in the Sisters’ care. The three altars were constructed specifically to house the Fr. Gartner collection entrusted to the Sisters in 1875. Most striking is the glass enclosure beneath the Sacred Heart altar which contains the body of the martyr St. Victoria. The Sisters fashioned the wax body and the bejewelled clothes before the case was sealed in 1892. The rings on her fingers were placed there as acts of piety. The position of the right hand is a typical one used in ancient burial customs denoting a person of nobility; martyrs join the ranks of Christ’s noble company of saints.
The red and gold stenciling in the side St. Gaspar Shrine was discovered during the 2002 restoration process when the panel of relics was removed; it is believed to be original stenciling. Conservators replicated the pattern and colors and added stenciling around the lower part of the chapel. Conservators also carefully stripped away layer upon layer of paint to discover the grapevine pattern around the windows and so this stenciling was added.
Since all the relics were removed, catalogued, cleaned, and repaired during the restoration, this was an opportune time to make some choices about the placement of relics. Matching reliquaries were placed in the altars and are believed to be the original collection. Central in this collection is the beautiful reliquary above the main altar tabernacle which contains a relic of Our Lord’s true cross. The tabernacle contains two relics: one of the true cross which is used to bless pilgrims and one of St. Peregrine who is the patron of cancer patients (this latter relic is often requested by pilgrims so it is kept in the tabernacle to be handy). The relics on either side of the St. Gaspar statue are of Precious Blood patrons. The panel to the right of the center, St. Gaspar panel contains relics of beloved saints (e.g., Sts. Theresa of the Child Jesus and St. Margaret Mary Alacoque) and the large cross contains a relic of the true cross. The far right panel includes reliquaries with multiple relics. The panel immediately to the left of the center, St. Gaspar panel includes saints of the Americas.
Because of the addition of the Fr. Brunner Collection, a new relic directory had to be made because the old Directory of Relics on the back wall was not large enough to list the 600 + relics that were added. The case became the ideal place to include a brief explanation of under what circumstances relics maybe venerated and enable pilgrims to see up close documentation and seals.