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Buildings, blessed and beautiful

The hand-forged, irregular brickwork at Blessed Trinity Catholic Church, which offered a glimpse into the practices of 12th century Lombard artisans.

The monk-painted murals inside the former St. Francis Xavier, now the Buffalo Religious Arts Center, which blend Catholic and United States history and culture. (Where else can you see the Virgin Mary depicted with the U.S. Capitol building?)

And the 1920s-era windows at St. John's-Grace Episcopal on Colonial Circle, which were designed by J. Gordon Guthrie and showcase every imaginable shade of blue.

"These are beautiful buildings," said Bill Regan of Blasdell, who toured several of the churches on Saturday. "They don't really build churches like this anymore."

All these sights and more greeted viewers who toured landmark area churches Saturday as part of as "Sacred Sites Open House Weekend" that was a collaboration of the New York Landmarks Conservancy and local worship sites.

The event was a second-ever weekend of its kind, following the debut open house event last spring -- which also featured some Buffalo churches.

"It's a great opportunity for places like Buffalo, which has this network of these sites," said Ann-Isabel Friedman, director of the Sacred Sites Program of the New York Landmarks Conservancy.

"It's an opportunity to tell your story -- to showcase these beautiful buildings that people may walk by or drive by every day, and never go inside."

Some of the worship sites will also be open today for viewing.

"We're hoping that people will become acquainted with us, and word will get out," said William Koch, who was providing visitors with information about the St. Francis Xavier Church building and the religious artifacts collected inside the space.

"We have some magnificent churches in the City of Buffalo, and many people don't know about them," said Koch, who has toured churches in Europe and believes some Buffalo churches compare favorably to what can be found abroad.

Viewers inside the spaces on Saturday -- whether for the first time or not -- agreed.

"It's absolutely magnificent. Overwhelming," said Karen Walter of Rochester, who was touring Blessed Trinity and a handful of other churches with her friend Susan Gates.

"You know (how they say), the medium is the message?" Walter said. "This is the message. Right here. This is it, and it's so important."

Louis Kaminski of the Town of Tonawanda, was sitting quietly in a pew at the Buffalo Religious Arts Center, enjoying the spectacle. Kaminski and his wife, Audrey, had come to reconnect with the church where Kaminski was baptized 73 years ago. "It's peaceful," Audrey Kaminski said.

"I feel so calm when I come to a church like this," Louis Kaminski said. "I come for the solace. I look around, and I just feel a sense of calm."

Kaminski said for him, worship has always been heightened by being inside a beautiful church, where the architecture and art contribute to an adoration of the Divine. "You don't have to say a prayer," he said. "You just think it."

Open for viewing on Saturday or otherwise participating in the weekend's events were the following churches: Corpus Christi Catholic Church on Clark Street; Blessed Trinity Catholic Church on Leroy Avenue; the Buffalo Religious Arts Center, formerly St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, on East Street; St. John's-Grace Episcopal Church on Colonial Circle; and First Presbyterian Church on Symphony Circle.

Friedman, the New York City-based director of the program, said the goal will be to make the event an annual -- and a well-attended one.

"We go to Europe and and we tromp around cathedrals, and sometimes we neglect what we have here in our own neighborhoods," she said.

"You don't have to be religious to appreciate these buildings," she said. "These are some of our greatest cultural achievements as a people."

The Buffalo Religious Arts Center, or St. Francis Xavier, at 157 East St., will be open from noon to 3 p.m. today, as will Blessed Trinity at 317 Leroy Ave.

St. John's-Grace Episcopal Church at 51 Colonial Circle will be open from 2 to 4 p.m.

And First Presbyterian Church on Symphony Circle, which is also taking part in the open house weekend, will be holding events connected with the church's bicentennial.

For more information on the open house weekend, see