From the early to mid nineteenth century, various religious denominations within Onondaga County organized to build houses of worship after years of services held in shops, stores and barns. The Baptists, Presbyterians, Protestants, Methodists, Roman Catholics, and Jewish Orthodox are among the groups to form congregations in Onondaga County. Framed Faith: Churches of Onondaga County in Artwork is a collection of the depictions of the buildings that were central to these religious communities as they made their homes in Onondaga County, and left their mark on its history.
The religious and architectural diversity that these groups worked to establish is still present in Onondaga County today. Unusual stained glass windows, as well as Gothic and Byzantine architecture, all contribute to Onondaga County’s visual diversity. The array of churches of different faiths also allows for diversity in the county’s religious composition.
Beyond beauty, these buildings facilitated worship and noteworthy moments in the community’s history. The Wesleyan Church on East Onondaga Street, for example, was an Underground Railroad stop. Its members helped escaping slaves flee to Canada. The bell of the First Congressional Church alerted the community to the arrest of Jerry Henry, a fugitive slave. Jerry’s eventual rescue was organized by a Syracuse minister, Samuel J. May, who was an abolitionist and reverend at the Church of Messiah. Churches also played an important role in profoundly shaping the community. St. Mary’s, a Roman Catholic Church, assisted with founding St. Joseph’s Hospital, while the Methodist Episcopal Church helped found Syracuse University.
These houses of worship vary in appearance, religious denomination, and purpose, yet Onondaga County congregations have and, continue to, impact the community through organization and service. Our Framed Faith exhibit showcases artwork featuring these influential buildings, both as records of artistic and architectural achievement, and as historic touchstones emblematic of the communities and events that they helped facilitate.