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St. Francis Xavier Roman Catholic Church

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1867–1870, Patrick C. Keely, architect; Lysander Dudley, builder. 1915. 1978. 532 Market St. (south corner of Market and 6th sts.)

Saint X, as this large, vaguely Romanesqueinspired brick church is familiarly called, testifies to the large Catholic population that arrived during Parkersburg's oil and gas boom, to the city's post–Civil War prosperity, and to Patrick Keely's far-flung architectural career. The tower, projecting slightly from the center of the facade and containing the main entrance in its base, dominates both the facade and much of downtown Parkersburg. At its top, a ponderous square belfry tries unsuccessfully to become an octagon, while a truly octagonal domed cupola is curiously understated. These two features, dating from 1915, were built primarily to accommodate a 3,000-pound bell dedicated to St. Catherine.

Seven stunning murals decorating the polygonal apse and side altars provide a focal point for the basilica-plan, barrel-vaulted interior. Daniel Muller, an itinerant German artist with a remarkable talent for depth and perspective, painted the murals circa 1870. The creamy white figures and foreground objects appear to be bas-relief sculptures, while a pale blue background provides a grisaille effect. Above the apsidal murals, a stained glass semidome helps to light the altar.

Joseph Daris, a German woodcarver, fabricated most of the woodwork; his original confessionals, altar, and communion rail survive. Pews modeled on the originals were installed in an extensive restoration undertaken in 1978. The G. C. Riordan Company of Cincinnati provided most of the stained glass windows after an 1895 explosion of a riverboat carrying nitroglycerin destroyed the originals. Unlike many Roman Catholic churches, St. X has accommodated post–Vatican II revisions for worship with great sensitivity to the original design.

Patrick C. Keely (1816–1896), born in Kilkenny, Ireland, practiced with his architect father until age twenty-five, when he came to the United States, settling in Brooklyn. He is credited with designing more than six hundred Roman Catholic churches throughout the country. St. X is his only known West Virginia commission.

Writing Credits

Author: 
S. Allen Chambers Jr.

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