BALLY, Pa. - Barbara Santangelo has been a parishioner at Most Blessed Sacrament Church in Bally, Berks County, for 24 years.
"It is very moving," she said. "The whole atmosphere gets to you, and you feel like you're in a sacred place. Yet it's very friendly."
The church's beginning goes back 275 years and is linked to a Jesuit priest named Father Theodore Schneider.
"He came here in 1741, and to put it in perspective, George Washington was only nine years old at the time," Santangelo explained.
Father Schneider, who also studied medicine, established a Catholic mission in the area. It was only the third in the original 13 colonies and the church is the oldest existing Catholic place of worship in Pennsylvania. Santangelo said. "Thank goodness, the people around here didn't throw things away, because we now have things to show our history."
Our guided tour began with the Stations of the Cross. At first, the church thought the stations were original oil paintings, but they are copies of oils in a church in Vienna, Austria. There are details you might miss that our guide pointed out, like little faces painted on the soldier's arms.
Another German artist, Count Berthold Von Imhoff of Reading, painted the scenes on the ceiling in the 1930s.
The stained-glass windows were also made in Reading in 1937.
Santangelo referred to a painting next to the altar as the piece de resistance. It's a vertical representation of the Last Supper, with Jesus and Peter sitting in front of the table instead of behind it.
"Then there's one hidden face here way in the back that's probably Judas," Santangelo explained. "This man in the back, people think he's a 13th apostle, but he's not. He's a waiter."
To see the original chapel, you have to go behind the altar, through a door. It's only 1/8 of the current space. At the time it was built, it was considered quite large.
"Remember 1741, we're in the middle of a forest really, and this building goes up and they just were astounded that this would be so beautiful, Santangelo said.
It was called St. Paul's Chapel then. The floorboards, altar and tabernacle are all original.
Next to it, there is a small museum. It is home to the original chapel bell, which was cast in France in 1704. There are also old vestments of the men who started the ministry.
Mass is still celebrated at the church, and sometimes the Krauss organ will play. It has pipes made of tin.
"When they made it, they said these pipes will shine for hundreds of years. Little did they know, and we still play this organ. It's really amazing," Santangelo said.
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