I finally made a visit to the Museum of Divine Statues a few weeks ago. It is located right in my own backyard in the city of Lakewood, OH. Over the past few years in Cleveland a plethora of Catholic churches have been shut down because many are considered redundant. The Museum of Divine Statues made one of these churches, St. Hedwig, its home. Its creative reuse of the building is especially appropriate because the museum houses statues from other churches in the Cleveland area that have been closed. In this way the museum not only preserves one particular church, but has also saved many beloved statues that would otherwise be lost.
St. Hedwig historically had a primarily Polish congregation, as did many of the other churches in the area due to the large number of immigrants from Eastern and Central Europe that came to Cleveland. In addition to St. Hedwig, other closed Polish churches include St. Adalbert, St. Casimir, St. Hyacinth, and St. Stanislaus. Note that there are multiple saints with the same names and that there were even several churches in Cleveland named after the same saints that were closed. In the end, 29 total parishes were closed and there were 18 different mergers. For pictures of specific churches that were closed, visit Patrick Richard’s blog Closing Catholic Churches in Cleveland or search the Cleveland Memory Project. For the complete list of churches affected by the closings and mergers, click here.
Beyond the museum’s connections with the extensive church closings, it is a great space in its own right. One of the most interesting things about the museum to me was the opportunity it gave visitors to see many different versions of the same saints at the same time. I was especially struck by the vast number of Mary figures I got to see in one place. Because there are so many different aspects of or titles for Mary, having numerous statues of her is a great way to compare these various aspects. There were also at least three different statues of the Child of Prague, who is a very common representation of Jesus in Cleveland due to the large Czech population in the city and suburbs.
Mary - Our Lady of Perpetual Help (St. Margaret of Hungary - Chagrins Falls)
The museum was also fun to visit because it includes statues of several less common saints. Saint Lucy, Saint Barbara, and Saint Hedwig were some of the saints that were least familiar to me that were represented in the museum. The objects associated with all three saints are a bit unusual. Saint Lucy, pictured below, is depicted holding a plate with eyes to show that her eyes were gouged out prior to her execution. Saint Hedwig is typically shown holding a monastery or a pair of shoes while Saint Barbara wields a sword. Since visiting the museum, I actually came across Saint Barbara in my summer course on African-American art. I learned that Saint Barbara is often associated with the African orisa Ogun in the religious tradition of Candomblé. Ogun is the god of iron and war and therefore is visually connected to Saint Barbara because of her sword.
St. Lucy (Our Lady of Mount Carmel - Cleveland)
Of all the statues, my favorite was the one of Joan of Arc. The statue was so well done and the marble eyes had a deepness to them that the other statues did not. Compositionally the statue was engaging because of the sculpture’s sensitive tilting head and the presence of the banner and the sword. I’ve also always simply loved Joan of Arc and her story and took her name for my confirmation name.
If you live in Northeast Ohio, I would highly recommend that you visit the Museum of Divine Statues. Lou McClung, the founder of the museum who restores many of the statues, seems genuinely passionate about Cleveland religious history. His mother, who you’ll likely meet when you buy your ticket ($8), is also deeply invested in the museum and extremely friendly. My only complaint about the museum is that its hours are too short, though I understand that being open more would be costly. The museum is only open from noon until four on Sundays. If you have a Sunday afternoon free though, you should take the time to stop by.
St. Christopher - "Christ-bearer"