This is a blog about our visiting and learning about sacred spaces, but if you don’t know us personally you may not know that we actually have a tendency to geek out on all types of different places. History, Roadside Americana, architectural curiosities, historical landmarker signs…for whatever reason we each celebrate a quirk in our personalities that make us wonder about all these things (Have me tell you sometime about how I drove over an hour just to find some trees that people had thrown their shoes in to. And yes, it was worth the drive). Admittedly, I had never explored much of the intricacies of Buffalo until we started this blog and began visiting sacred spots around the city. Luke had always wanted to go in to the Buffalo Central Terminal, and we found on the website that they often offer tours, so he bought us tickets for June 2nd (Luke would want me to make sure you all know that it was my birthday that day). When we plan something that includes a bit of a commute, we usually try to plan a couple things to see so we get to spend the day exploring. Getting sacred spaces to open their doors to two random guys who are interested in visiting and learning a bit isn’t as easy as it may seem. We spend a lot of time writing emails that don’t get returned or playing phone tag with people to explain what it is we hope to do during our visit. The other method we use is to scour the internet searching for events or tours already scheduled–which isn’t exactly as common as we’d like. Sometime around mid-May Luke shot me a message with ‘Check this out!!’ and the announcement of the Greek Festival at the Hellenic Orthodox Church of the Annunciation on Delaware Street that would be held on June 2. If you’re not aware, I’m a big fan of food, and also Orthodox art, so Luke knew even before he sent it to me that I’d want to spend the afternoon there. Just like the Greek Festival here in Rochester, the fest in Buffalo features regularly scheduled on-the-hour tours of the church so the decision wasn’t a tough one.
We often get asked if we ever let anyone come along on our adventures, and admittedly it’s a rare occasion. It’s not because we are stingy, it’s because we know few people would be able to put up with us for an entire day and really want to read every little sign and take photos of every angle of everything we see. You’d have to be someone who would be at least somewhat remotely interested in where we go, and be someone who could put up with us (that alone is a big hurdle!), and in the event that you get sick of us, be able to go off on your own and just wait until we had seen and done enough to be satisfied. It’s probably no coincidence that Tom has been a close mutual friend of ours for the last 15 years because he has all of those qualities! The three of us hadn’t hung out in a long time and we knew he would be just as stoked as we were to see the terminal. After a quick stop at Starbucks the three of us ventured Westward.
I won’t spend much time talking about the terminal but I still want to mention it because it was such a cool visit. The Buffalo Central Terminal was one of the major railroad stations of its time, and was active from 1929 through 1979. Its 17 stories cast a shadow over the Broadway Fillmore Neighborhood, the same section of Buffalo that is home to St. Adalbert’s Basilica and formerly known as Polonia. Architects Fellheimer & Wagner were commissioned for the project, and if the Art Deco style building looks even vaguely familiar, it’s because Fellheimer was the lead architect on NYC’s famous Grand Central Station (1903). We joined a tour of about 20 other people and walked around a few levels of the terminal for about an hour and a half. It’s been owned a few times since going out of commission, but the most recent owner is an organization dedicated to its preservation and reuse. They have a monumental task on their hands. If you’re at all interested in architecture or history, I’d strongly recommend checking out one of the tours for only $12. You get an opportunity to see some pretty incredible pieces (in fact, much of it is quite literally in pieces!) of Upstate NY’s history, and unlike some other Buffalo History tours, they are photo friendly!
After walking around the Terminal, we were all pretty hungry for baklava, spanakopita, souvlaki and all the other Greek cuisine we knew was waiting for us. We made our way over to the church and found a parking spot. Normally we like to get some photos for you guys that are somewhat uninhibited, it’s not uncommon to hear Luke say, “dude, you’re in my shot” and so I move. With the crowds of people walking in and cars parked everywhere, we did the best we could with what we had. The festival cost $2 to get in, and then you purchase food tickets to buy things with. So, souvlaki on a stick was 4 tickets, a soda was 3 tickets, etc. The food was fantastic, and we each ate many tickets worth. We walked around a bit and checked out the booths of things for sale, the baked goods section in particular, while we waited for the next scheduled tour to begin.
There were signs indicating that a tour would begin at 2pm, and for anyone interested to meet at that spot. We are fairly good at understanding instructions (following them is another story), so we gathered near the door with the sign. Then we realized people were seated in the sanctuary, and we figured since there would be a tour of the sanctuary we might as well just go sit in there. Right at 2pm, the choir up in the loft began to sing–which was a surprise since we hadn’t noticed them when we walked in. We sat and listened, admittedly though, we were a bit confused. After about ten minutes of the choir they thanked us for listening and everyone sort of looked at one another wondering if that was the tour. We sat for a minute looking around, until a man entered the room holding some papers and went to the alter and introduced himself to announce the tour would begin. Phew. There really WAS going to be a tour.
Actually, what happened was more of a lecture. Our guide was a volunteer of some sort at the festival and told a brief history of the church, but focused primarily on Orthodox Christianity as a whole and the different aspects of what makes an Orthodox church different from any other. He then opened the floor for questions, and someone asked “Can you explain what happened during The Great Schism?” All in all the tour was about an hour, and the last twenty minutes focused a lot on the split in to Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity. Telling the story of a historical account is tricky, and depending on what your beliefs are, you may or may not disagree with how the whole split went and how it came about–I’m not going to get in to it here, but I always enjoy hearing the story from different people and it was an interesting part to the lecture.
The church itself is why we were there though. The Hellenic Orthodox Church of the Annunciation was actually originally dedicated in 1907 after three years of construction. It was dedicated as The North Presbyterian Church, and designed by famed Boston architect George F. Newton in the common Gothic Revival style. The Presbyterians and Newton weren’t going for the large, jaw-dropping cathedrals, they wanted to capture the charm of the smaller parish churches of Old England. A number of stained glass windows grace the grey stone outside wall, and create the harmonious feel of the sanctuary when you’re standing inside. Our docent indicated that the North transept windows were Tiffany, but while looking at them from afar, it was obvious they weren’t Tiffany at all, and up close you can see a signature of Hardmans, a stained glass window company from England. The chancel windows looked very Tiffany, but because of the iconostasis in Orthodox churches, there was no way to see them up close. Later, I would read they were done by J. & R. Lamb Company–so I have no idea if there are any Tiffany windows there or not. The artwork that spanned the iconostasis is really what I enjoy seeing the most in Orthodox churches. This one featured four silver icons that had been brought from the Orthodox group’s previous church on Elm St.
There were a few icons situated about the altar, but they seemed to be temporarily on display, like they had been taken from someplace else and placed there for the purposes of instruction during the lectures. Really what held my attention visually in the entire sanctuary was the iconostasis, and the ceiling. The ceiling was separate panels of a deep blue that made me feel like I was sitting under a sky just before nighttime would be arriving, and the contrast between the blues and the dark woods really was a neat look.
The blog is littered here and there with mentions of people we’ve encountered and connected with and how important that has been to our experience of visiting. Last December we visited another Buffalo church, Blessed Trinity. While we were there and poking around a gentleman by the name of Jerry was kind enough to pick us out of a crowd as visitors, and then walked us around the church and chatted and shared info with us. Church had ended, and it was time for him to leave and go home and do whatever he does on a Sunday, but instead he took his personal time to hang with these two guys from Rochester for a while. It may not seem like a huge gesture, but it was! Now, fast forward to June 2nd again…while Luke was standing near an aisle taking a picture of a window, Jerry looked up from the pew and recognized him right away. I’d like to think we don’t stick out in a crowd, but that the little connections we make along the way on this journey are the things that stick. In a huge crowd in a festival in a different city we had a familiar and unexpected face saying hello. Having so many friends in so many sacred places is beginning to be pretty darn cool.