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Types of Stone Used for Sacred Structures in Northeastern Ohio

A wide variety of stone types have been used in the construction of houses of worship in Northeastern Ohio. Some of this stone is from this region, but other types are from various places around the world. Stone used in Northeastern Ohio's sacred structures includes examples of all three of the major rock types: igneous rocks, such as granite; sedimentary rocks, such as limestone and sandstone; and metamorphic rocks, such as marble and slate. These stones have been used in many different ways, ranging from exterior facing and columns to interior flooring and statuary.

Throughout the centuries and all over the world, exteriors of many types of sacred buildings have been made of stone. Due to the high cost of transporting stone, it usually came from nearby quarries, or from quarries located near bodies of water. In medieval times in Europe, transportation over long distances by land was extremely expensive. Transportation by water was preferred. Some cathedral authorities in western Europe had their own boats for stone transport (Coldstream, 1991, fig. 23).

In Northeastern Ohio, stone used for the major parts of the exterior of buildings was originally local. The Berea Sandstone was the most important of these stones, being used for Cleveland's St. John's Historic Episcopal Church (1838), Cleveland's Old Stone Church (1855), and many other structures. Berea Sandstone was quarried in a number of localities in northeastern Ohio, but the stone used for most houses of worship came from Berea or the South Amherst area quarries. Berea Sandstone, with its subtle stratification, also has a distinctive character. The Sharon Conglomerate, another local stone, was used for Akron's St. Vincent Church (1867). The stone for the church was quarried nearby, in Akron. Later, stone was brought to northeastern Ohio from western Ohio (Cleveland's St. Patrick Roman Catholic Church, 1870s) and northcentral Ohio (East Cleveland's Greater Friendship Baptist Church, 1926), as well as Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnequarry1.jpg (11129 bytes)sota, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Vermont. In the 20th century, Indiana limestone became the predominant stone used for sacred structures in this area. This stone was chosen because of its physical properties, including its crushing strength and lack of imperfections (see, for example, Schweinfurth in Perry (1967)). It was also known as a freestone, that is, it could be cut in any direction because of its uniformity. And because it was softer than sandstone, it could be cut and carved more easily.


Deep Lock Quarry, Peninsula. A source of Berea Sandstone for building purposes in the mid- and late-1800s. the stone used for Akron's St. Bernard Church came from Peninsula and resembles the stone that can be seen at this quarry.


Importation of stone from outside of northeastern Ohio relied on the development of suitable systems of transportation. Early on stone was transported via the Ohio & Erie Canal; later, stone was shipped via railroad (Hannibal, 1998). The canal stimulated the growth of Berea Sandstone quarries along the Cuyahoga Valley. The railroad was an even greater impetus to quarries both in Ohio and elsewhere. Much stone was shipped from northeast Ohio's Berea Sandstone quarries in the South Amherst area and elsewhere by railroad. In addition, the Salem Limestone quarries of southcentral Indiana expanded their production greatly when the railroads were developed.

Because far less stone was used for interior objects than for exterior walls, interior materials were more often obtained from distant locales. Even after steam and internal combustion engines replaced draft animals, this same pattern held. Stone used for interior objects and decoration of houses of worship in northeastern Ohio comes from North America, Europe, and Africa. The amount and variety of stone used in the interior of church structures can be roughly correlated to denomination, with those denominations preferring stark interiors or wood furniture having less stone than those with a tradition of interior ornamentation. Protestant churches are often in the former category, while Catholic churches are most often in the latter. Some of the stone types used in the interior of churches may well have been chosen because of a link with religious traditions. Roman travertine, quarried at Bagni di Tivoli just east of Rome, for instance, is the quintessential Roman stone used for the great churches of Rome including St. Peter's Basilica. The cost of importing this stone from Italy for exterior use, however, may have been prohibitive. Nor would travertine have stood up well in the moister and more extreme climate of northeastern Ohio. However, this travertine is used on the interior of several churches, including Cleveland's St. John's Cathedral.

Carrara marble likewise has a long tradition, being used for statuary and other fine uses dating back to the time of the ancient Romans. At that time it was known as Lunense. Its properties, including white color, lack of foliation ("flaws"), very fine grain size, and homogeneous nature, led to its being considered the finest stone for sculpture. It also did not hurt that Michelangelo used it for his Pieta. Carrara marble is widely used for interior objects in contemporary sacred structures, particularly altars and sculptures. The baptismal font of the Church of the Savior United Methodist Church (Cleveland Heights) is made of this stone as is the original main altar at St. Colman's Roman Catholic Church (Cleveland).

Many other types of stone used in the interior of these sacred structures are from Italy, partially because of Italy's strong tradition of stone use for interior ecclesiastical architecture. This prevalence is also due to the strength of the Italian stone trade and Italy's position in the Mediterranean, which allows ease of shipment of stone by water. Stone may also have a link to the ethnic group who founded a particular church. Connemara marble, a famous stone from Ireland, for example, is used in St. Colman's Church.

Some stone has a very special connotation. Porta Santa stone, used in St. James Roman Catholic Church (Lakewood), is a stone named for the Porta Santa (holy gate), a special doorway of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. Old Convent Siena, used in St. Michael the Archangel Church (Cleveland), is named for the Old Convent Quarry in Siena, which was owned by monks at Monterenti, Italy (McClymont, 1990). Jerusalem limestone used for the cornerstone of the Cquarry2.jpg (7419 bytes)hurch of the Saviour and the altar of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral reflects both ancient tradition and linkage with Solomon's temple, as well as more recent Masonic tradition.

Even faux stone (painted plaster and other types of imitation stone) used in ecclesiastical structures has a long tradition. Many famous European churches, especially those of the Baroque tradition, make use of faux stone for interior walls, pillars, and other features. These faux stone designs, in turn, are often based on real stones.


Pacifici Travertine Quarry. Bagni di Tivoli, Italy.  Much travertine from this quarry is used in the United States.


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The Center for Sacred Landmarks Monograph Series
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From the Center for Sacred Landmarks monograph: Guide To Stones Used for Houses of Worship in Northeastern Ohio (December, 1999) by . Joseph T. Hannibal. Published by the Sacred Landmarks Partnership of Northeast Ohio

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