Perched 200 feet above the floor of Tombstone Canyon in historic Bisbee,Arizona, St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Church stands as a monument to theexuberant determination of the town's early residents to transform a primitivemining camp into one of the largest commercial centers in early Arizona.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Gothic Revivalchurch is a copy of St. Mary's Catholic Church in the Irish district ofWhitehaven, England.

St. Patrick's 41 stained glass windows were designed and producedby Emil Frei, whose work is recognized as an unsurpassed example of Victorian-stylestained glass.

The Bavarian-born Frei (1869-1942) studied at the Munich Academy ofArt before immigrating to the United States in the late 1800s. In 1900 heopened the Emil Frei Art Glass Company in St. Louis, Missouri.

Quickly recognized for his talent and skill, Frei received commissionsfrom not only churches but also prominent St. Louis families, includingthe Busch family of Anheuser-Busch Brewery .

Windows Frei designed for the Holy Family Church in Watertown, NewYork, won Grand Prize at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition. In September1994, the Owensboro (Kentucky) Museum of Art established a permanent wingdisplaying 16 of Frei's stained glass windows.

Frei created his masterpieces from lead crystal glass painted, detailedand fired to create strong, vibrant, high translucency colors with subtlegradations of hues and textures.

Frei's windows for St. Patrick's Church were installed in 1916.

The 10 largest windows on both sides of the church show the life of Christ, beginning with a 25-foot high window depicting His birth (left of the altar) to a 25-foot high window depicting the Ascension (right of the altar.)

Beneath the eight windows on each side of the nave are eight smallerwindows depicting scenes from the Bible and scenes from what has been calledthe "private" life of Christ.

In the choir loft at the rear of the Church is a 25-foot high windowshowing the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. On each side of thiswindow are two "tapestry" windows.

(Binoculars can be used to explore Frei's fine, delicate strokes andexacting attention to artistic detail which give his faces lifelike skintextures and depths of emotional expression rarely found in stained glass.)

 

History of the Building of St. Patrick'sChurch

Many of the people streaming into the "Queen of the Copper Camps"at the turn of the century were of Welsh and Irish descent, and St. Patrick'sparish was quickly established.

Named for the patron saint of Ireland, the parish soon became knownas "St. Pat's," an affectionate nickname still used by local residents.

In 1913, French-born Father Constant Mandin arrived in Bisbee anddiscovered the growing congregation literally overflowing from a small,wooden church. Parishioners arriving late to Mass often found the buildingfilled, and ended up kneeling in the weeds outside. Fr. Mandin immediatelyorganized his flock to build a permanent structure not only large enoughto serve the parish but also worthy of being dedicated to the glory of God.

The site for the new building was donated by Thomas Higgins, a mineowner who held deed to all the land in the area still called Higgins Hill.

The generous mine owner made only one stipulation to his donation:The church must face the mountain peaks and Higgins' mine.

With land to build upon, Father Mandin traveled to Los Angeles andhired well-known architect Albert C. Martin to draw plans for the proposed$40,000 edifice.

But, the initial budget was too small to build the church Father Mandindreamed of raising, and parishioners decided to authorize a staggering debtof $150,000 to fulfill their pastor's vision.

On Labor Day 1915, members of the congregation began excavating thehill of rock where the new building would stand. After bone-chilling shiftsin the mines, parish men reported to Higgins Hill to work another four hourstransforming rock into level ground.

When construction began, Father Mandin often donned work clothes andlabored alongside his parishioners and non-Catholic supporters to completewhat had become a community project.

Finally, on Sunday, September 30, 1917, St. Patrick's Roman CatholicChurch held its first mass.

 

More of St. Patrick's Stained-Glass Treasures

 

 

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