The flaming church is within walking distance from my house, but farther away than the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Sacred Heart Chapel, a constant reminder of being raised Catholic. I have found unexpected comfort there, when the doors were propped open and the Pentecostal Spanish Catholics had seven hour services on Monday nights, and I wandered in, drawn by the music that floated past the parking lot, into my open kitchen windows. It was spring. It was summer. It was spiritual.
"Now there was a great wind, so strong it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks to pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence." I Kings 19:11b-12
However, the Episcopal church is on the other side of the tracks, originally commissioned for the Mountain People, wealthy New Yorkers who summered in Bernardsville, arrived by train then took horse-drawn carriages to their summer homes on the mountain. This church was designed by New York architect Napoleon LeBrun and formally dedicated on November 8, 1898. LeBron was the architect for other churches, as well as firehouses, in New York, notably St. Cecilia, Church of the Blessed Sacrament and the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul.
Napoleon LeBrun was also the architect for the Metropolitan Life Tower in 1909, the tallest building in the world at the time, which was inspired by the campanile of Piazza San Marco in Venice.
The church in question is St. Bernard's, located at the intersection of two roads. As you drive up from the historic train station, which is a masterpiece of a different aesthetic, by New York architect Bradford L. Gilbert for the Delaware and Lackawanna Railroad in 1899, the church that bursts into small and large burning spectacles, is on the left, up a long sloping road. The high nave and pitched slate roof, with stone from local quarries and details reminiscent of Gothic English country churches, seem incongruous with the surrounding homes and small businesses. The last major fire was in 2004, just after it had been renovated.
"At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless, Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is. Except for the still point, there would be no dance. And there is only the dance."
Quote from T.S. Eliot