Many thanks to those who responded to the call for information on recently uncovered statues stored under the floor of our parish church. Positively identified as representations of the blessed mother, Mary and the disciple St. John, they once stood high above the floor of church’s sanctuary.
The figures were part of a traditional presentation of the crucifixion that would have been seen in the archway of the sanctuary, mounted on what is known as a rood or rood beam. The beam is a vestigial architectural feature copied from Gothic churches in Europe where the beam served as the upper support for a screen that would have separated the sanctuary from the nave where the laity gathered. These beams found in neo-Gothic churches built in the 19th century would never have held up a screen but rather were copies of what was seen in the older buildings in Europe where the screens had been long since removed but the beam left behind, it’s purpose forgotten by many.
A photograph in a parish history by Andrew F. Burghardt, and published in 1999 shows the statues in place on the beam in 1948. The rood beam, this history tells us, was installed in 1945 as part of a redecoration of the church interior begun in September of the previous year under the direction of the pastor, Msgr. W.C. Gehl. Newspaper used for packing of the statues point to their being put in the crawlspace some time in 1957, although the parish history dates the removal of the rood as occurring closer to 1960.