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Issue Date: December 2006 Issue

Into The Light

An innovative Cleveland Restoration Society program has illuminated 11 of the city’s sacred landmarks, highlighting the beauty of the steeples, bell towers and domes, while creating beacons for our neighborhoods.

Tori Woods

“But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”
— John 3:21

The walls of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church are replete with stained glass. The windows’ biblical scenes, such as the Garden of Gethsemane and The Last Supper, almost overpower the stone.

But for the Rev. Michael Hageman, it is clear which window is the most powerful, the most symbolic of his parish and his neighborhood.

“There’s one particular window of Jesus holding a lamb,” he says. “It inspires people to know that Jesus is there, carrying us, even when we’re broken.”

From the serene jewel-box windows of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church to the awe-inspiring grandeur of the tower above St. Stephen Roman Catholic Church on West 54th Street, these treasures of the city are becoming beacons of their neighborhoods.

In partnership with the Cleveland Restoration Society’s Sacred Landmarks Assistance Program, 11 religious institutions have lighted their steeples, domes and bell towers. At least three more will soon follow.

“Cleveland sacred landmarks are really one of our signature architectural features as a city,” says Michael Fleenor, director of preservation programs for the Cleveland Restoration Society. “We have so many magnificent sacred landmarks, built by different ethnic groups that settled Cleveland.”

The Steeple Lighting Program, which began in 1995, offers consultations to eligible churches visible from the freeways. An architect, electrician and lighting designer provide an assessment of needed renovations and repairs as well as an illumination plan, often incorporating utility poles owned by Cleveland Public Power. Grants are available through the Cleveland Foundation for some repairs, and the full cost of the lighting installation is covered, up to $22,500.

“[Our church] is visible from I-90, and very many people comment on that fact that they see it at night, as they go to and fro,” says Sister Ann Kilbane of St. Colman Roman Catholic Church on West 65th Street. “There’s a sense of pride. Even people in the neighborhood who aren’t parishioners love seeing it. It’s a beacon.”

At night, when the carefully angled lights bathe the buildings just so, when stained glass demurely glows and steeples appear to rise out of darkness, it’s an arresting vision. Whether traversing Lincoln Park to get to that new restaurant or cruising downtown for a game, you can’t help but take a moment — whatever you believe — and appreciate the sight.

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