A church is first and foremost a place where the community of the faithful gathers to worship the Father through participation in the saving actions of Jesus, his life, death and resurrection celebrated in the Eucharistic Liturgy. A church tells the story of how a people feel about themselves and their God, how they view this action in their lives and in the history of their world. It is a lasting tribute to their faith and desire that things beautiful and precious surround their celebration of his mysteries, and that fitting remembrance be made of all those saints of God, known and unknown, who have preceded us in our journey to the eternal kingdom.
The Shrine of St. Therese is not only a fit monument to the Presence of God in our midst and a commemoration of a great woman whose very being sang God’s song of love to us once more, but it is also an enduring tribute to the lives of quiet heroism among Christians of our own time and place striving to set aside a space dedicated to the sacred in their world. The Shrine of St. Therese is a shrine built on a foundation of reverence and joy for the reality of God incarnate in our times.
The church building, regardless of its beauty and perfection, is never the most important reality in a parish; we,the people,are the Church’s greatest treasure. Yet, from the earliest times, we have attempted to express our love, respect, and devotion to the Eucharist,by adorning places where the Liturgy will be celebrated and where God will be uniquely honored; so it is in the parish of St. Therese.
The edifice of the Shrine of St. Therese is a beautiful, prayerful, sacred space set aside for the worship of God. The building is a Romanesque-Mission style structure of reinforced steel and concrete with a Mission Tile roof. The architect was Vincent Buckley of San Francisco,and the construction was carried out by the company of Long and Needham. An interior designer from Los Angeles, Richard W. Jung employed an artist from New York to plan the church interior.
The structure has a seating capacity of 500 and additional seating for 200 persons is obtained by combining the areas of the two side chapels and the gallery situated over the main doors of the Shrine.Fifty thousand pounds of marble was used to decorate the building. All of the stone, in many types and colors, was shipped from Italy,and arrived in huge blocks. A marble setter from New York worked carefully for three months to install the colorful stone. The altar rail is red Verona and Bottocino Oniciato Marble planked with three foot high Carrara marble angels.
The altar table is the focus of the congregation’s attention. It is here that the priest celebrates the Eucharist for and with the people. The altar table is the reason for the building itself. In the Shrine the altar is decorated with a carving which depicts two peacocks drinking from a chalice. That design is based on two beliefs,one pagan and one Christian. The ancient pagans believed that peacocks were immortal. Since we, as Catholics, believe that sharing the Eucharist is a promise of immortality, the peacocks, in the Christian eyes, become a sign of the faithful sharing the cup of salvation.
The wooden crucifix to the right of the altar is from the old church building which served the parish from 1919 until 1956.
In the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, the pelican, another symbol also both pagan and Christian, is carved into the altar. In ancient mythology it was believed that in time of famine the pelican, willing to sacrifice itself for its young, would pierce its own breast with its sharp bill and allow its young to feed upon the life-giving blood that flowed freely from the wound. Early Christians saw this as a fitting image of Christ and the Eucharist, for Jesus willingly bled for all of us and continues to feed us with His very self in the Blessed Sacrament.
ReredosThe great bas-relief on the reredos, or backdrop, behind the main altar contains a 15 foot statue of St Therese constructed from white Carrara marble with an ivory finish. The design honors her by depicting St Therese, the “Little Flower,” showering roses upon earth, a symbol common in representations of the Saint who promised that she would spend her heaven “doing good upon earth”. St Therese of Lisieux was proclaimed a Saint by the Church in 1925.
Marble statues in the church include the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary on either side of the sanctuary. There is a small replica of Michelangelo’s Pieta in the vestibule.
Two hand-carved wooden statues are in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel –St. Joseph, the Patron of the Universal Church and St. Pope Pius X, whose pontificate initiated the canonization process of St. Therese.
Paintings and Stations
The large paintings at the rear of the church’s nave represent St. Anne and St. Joachim, the traditional names given to the parents of Mary, the Mother of Jesus. It is for St. Joachim, of course, that the San JoaquinValley is named.
In the Shrine, the Stations of the Cross are painted in oils, the work of artist Von Meier. This series of fourteen episodes in the last day of Christ’s life are a reminder of His love and forgiveness.
The image of our Lady of Perpetual Help, in the chapel called by that name, to the left of the altar, is a mosaic, or picture composed of thousands of small colored tiles. The picture was prepared by artists in the Vatican in Rome as a copy of a beloved ancient image.
The pipe organ that adds so much to the celebration of the liturgies that take place in the Shrine of St. Therese was installed in 1958. The instrument has 1,500 pipes. Above the organ pipes is a small round window of St. Cecelia, the patroness of music.
The glass mosaic windows showing events in the life of Jesus and representation of Old and New Testament Saints, were made by the family of Gabriel Loire in Chartres, France. Only eight of the windows were delivered and installed at the time of the building’s first Mass; the other windows were aboard ships delayed in 1956 through the Suez Canal. Unlike ordinary stained glass, the windows are made of pieces of glass one and one half inches thick, cut like gems to give depth and a variety of shades to the colors as sunlight moves through the panes. Bariel Loire designed the windows himself, and the largest of them is the beautiful rose window over the main entrance of the church.
Inside the Chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help are three windows depicting various apparitions of the Virgin Mary, including, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel (also patroness of the Carmelites, St Therese’s religious community),Our Lady of Lourdes, and Our Lady of Fatima.
In the Blessed Sacrament Chapel there are three windows: Abraham, Father of the Old Covenant contemplating the sacrifice of his son Isaac; Melchizek, symbol of the king and high priest, offering sacrifice of bread and wine at the gates of Jerusalem; and, Jesus Christ, The Sacrament of the New Covenant, Our Bread of Life.
There are two windows in the choir loft, St. Peter, first visible head of the Christian Church and St. Paul, Apostle of the Gentiles.
The subjects of the windows in the main body or nave of the Church highlight the major mysteries in the life of Christ and his Church along with depictions of two Saints representing the Shrine as well as the Diocese of Fresno.
Beginning on the right of the church,as one looks toward the altar: (Be sure to view our slideshow from the home page.)
(In the sanctuary) St. Therese of the Child Jesus
The Birth of Christ
The Presentation in the Temple
Finding the Child Jesus in the Temple at the age of twelve
The Wedding Feast at Cana
Jesus with Peter in his fishing boat
The Institution of the Eucharist
On the left hand side of the church, named from the main entrance and working forward towards the altar:
The Last Supper and twelve Apostles
The Agony in the Garden
The great rose window is in the extreme center of the Church’s main entrance wall, and unites with color and size the entire collection of windows.
In the vestibule on the south side is depicted St. Columba, Co-patron of the diocese with St. Therese and St. John the Evangelist, with the Eagle which symbolizes the spiritual heights to which his Gospel attains.
Behind the statue of the Pieta are instruments from the story of the Passion of Christ. In what was once the Baptismal area, the three windows depict St. John the Baptist and Jesus at the Jordan River for the baptism of Christ; the Holy Spirit, represented as a dove above the waters of Baptism in which a fish swims, symbol of the Christian alive in the Spirit; and, the three great theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity.