South Buffalo church looks to restore ancient Celtic artwork

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Below layers of paint, the walls of a South Buffalo church hold a piece of local history.

The walls at Holy Family Church once held some of the country’s only ancient Celtic designs. 

The designs were placed in the interior of the church by Danish artist Frode Rambusch, who drew inspiration from hand-written Gospel books with Celtic art “The Book of Kells” and “The Book of Lindisfarne”. 

“Rambusch was brought in to decorate what was known as ‘The Mother Church’ to celebrate the heritage of the Celtic Irish people,” Father Bryan Zielenieski of Our Lady of Charity Parish said. 

The paintings earned Holy Family Church the designation of “Most Celtic Church in America” in 1935, Zielenieski said.

The depictions included Celtic knots. 

“Celtic knots were used by the monks in Ireland at the time to show how heaven and earth are interwoven- that the spiritual world is interwoven with the physical world,” Zielenieski said. 

Due to pollution from nearby steel mills, the interior of the church became very grimy in the last century, Zielenieski siad. 

“As I understand it, there was a call for renovation and the church couldn’t afford it at the time,” Zielenieski said. “They cleaned it the best they could, but ended up painting over it as a way to freshen it up.” 

Now, Our Lady of Charity Parish is looking to start the restoration process. 

“My dream would be to completely restore it back to its glory days,”  Zielenieski said. 

Restoration firm Swiatek Studios will begin stripping down the layers of paint on a section of the church’s wall to get down to the Celtic designs. 

They will uncover the original designs enough to create a pallette to use to replicate the design and replace it in the space it once covered, Zielenieski said. 

The restoration efforts will be a long-term plan, he added. 

“The parish has committed any donations that come in specifically for the restoration efforts to go to that project,” he said. 

A seminar on the Celtic art will be held at the church, 1901 South Park Ave., at 2 p.m. on Saturday. 

“I would say it’s a hidden gem,” Zielenieski said. “When I mentioned it to the parish, they were surprised- they’re inspired and excited by what’s there, and what we can do to bring that back.” 

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