Thursday, October 14, 2010

St. Agnes, Cleveland, Ohio (1914, demolished 1975), John T. Comes

John Theodore Comes was born in 1873 and educated in St. Paul, Minnesota. After moving to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1897, he set up an architectural practice revolving around the construction of Roman Catholic churches. In 1920 Comes published the influential book Catholic Art and Architecture which featured many of his designs. He died in 1922.

St. Agnes' Church in Cleveland was one of Comes' finest works, a Romanesque revival pile in gray stone roofed in terracotta tiles. Its interior was truly glorious, decked with marbles and frescoes and lit by glittering stained-glass windows. The apse fresco in particular stood out as being of the very finest quality. Painted by Felix Lieftuchter of Cincinnati it featured an enthroned Christ in white backed by God the Father robed in purple and the dove representing the Holy Spirit, all surrounded by saints and angels on a deep blue ground. Green and orange and gold accents made for a strikingly modern color palette. The apses of the two side chapels also contained frescoes and were lined with marble.

According to a 1920 publication, "The best time to see the interior of the Church of Saint Agnes is when it is the scene of some great ceremonial, the setting for the joy of some high festival. Stand at the end of the nave during the solemn Mass on Christmas, or Easter, or the Feast of Saint Agnes, when the place is crowded with kneeling worshippers. Watch the choir boys singing their way down the aisle, the figures of priests and acolytes moving across the chancel and up the altar steps, the glowing color of lamps and vestments and windows under the bending Christ, the cloudy incense sifting through the gold meshes of the baldacchino, and you will get the thrill of the most stupendous drama ever enacted before human eyes. See the church as the background for this great drama, as painted and gilded and carved and jewelled for the incredible coming of the Son of God, and you will understand what churches are made for, and why, in the days when there were no unbelievers and the House of God had no rival in men's hearts, all the riches and color and splendor of the world were gathered up to prepare the scene for this daily miracle."

St. Agnes' Church was demolished on November 24, 1975 after it was decided necessary repairs after a fire would be too expensive. The parish was combined with Our lady of Fatima. All that remains of Comes' church is its belltower, rising alone from a weed-choked lot.


  1. Thank you for posting this information. My grandparents were married in this church May 17, 1924. With my genealogy research, I now have photos of the church to go along with the image of their marriage license! I went on Google Maps and I see there's a CVS pharmacy on the site now, but the bell tower is still standing in the lot next door.

  2. This church was, truly, one of Comes' gems. It is a shame no color pictures of the santuary decoration are extant.

    1. Actually, I do have a color rendering of the sanctuary decoration. However the book containing it is in another country at the moment so I can't post it. If you want to get a sense of the color palette have a look at some photos of St. Joseph's Cathedral in Wheeling, WV.

  3. John T. Comes will be remembered with a PA State Historical Marker in front of the St. Agnes Church,Fifth Avenue, Oakland section, Pittsburgh, PA