25 September 2012

Beautiful altars, and another church website.

A few posts down I mentioned the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Formosa, Ontario.  The brief history I found of the church on Wikipedia mentioned the altars were built by a local craftsman by the name of Durrer.  Looking at the picture, I realized immediately that this could not possibly have been the first, or the only, altar built by this Durrer.

As it turns out, it wasn't the only one.  Nor was there only one Durrer, but a family.  I found another church website which also had altars by Durrer, this time Sacred Heart in Mildmay, Ontario.  So proud are they of their Durrer altars, they made a webpage to the makers.  I reproduce it here with some photos and my own comments added.

Nicholas SrBalthaser Josephus Nicholas Durrer (Nicholas Sr) was born in 1799 in Kerns Switzerland and died in 1822 in Formosa Ontario.His wife Anna Maria was born in 1809 in Kerns Switzerland died in 1891 in Formosa Ontario. Nicholas Sr. was a Papal Guard  in Rome before he married Anna Maria.He was an artist and woodcarver.Nicholas JrTheir son Joseph Nicholas Durrer (Nicholas Jr.) was born in Kerns Switzerland in 1833.Some dates are way off here.  I suspect Senior's date of death is the mistaken one. Nicholas Jr and his parents left Switzerland and immigrated to New York for a few years and built altars in churches. Unfortunately, they do not list any of the names nor have I been able to turn anything up on Google.

They then went to New Germany (Maryhill) Ontario. Many of the old towns in Ontario were named for other European cities or countries, often reflecting the ethnic groups that settled there.  We have London, Cambridge, Brooklyn, Athens, Sparta, Paris, Warsaw and so on.This place is not too far from Formosa, which, as I mentioned in the previous post, had a large German population, to the point that King Ludwig of Bavaria donated money for the building of the church in Formosa in order to help his distant people.  I can't say for certain, but I would guess that the town of New Germany changed its name to Maryhill around the First World War, the same time that Berlin changed its name to Kitchener, after the British general. German names fell out of popularity at that time, and many towns tried to hide their German origins.

Sometime before 1857 Nicholas Jr. married Mary Batte. (Born Sept 4, 1838 and died Oct 8, 1922 in Formosa Ont.)
In 1860 they moved to Formosa and settled on a farm on the Elora Road.Nicholas Jr was a wood carver by trade

He built altars at Formosa (intact), Walkerton (destroyed in the infamous 1970's) I love that phrase, but this may not be completely accurate.  The site of a restoration company has photographs of the restoration of the Walkerton sanctuary, complete with the removal of some statues from the cemetery to be installed on the new altar.  It is hard to say if these were the original statues, as they are clearly stone and the Durrers were woodcarvers, and the new altar is not as elaborate as the other samples of the Durrer's work, but the crucifixion group above the altar looks similar to the one below in Mildmay.  UPDATE:I'm wrong.  See first comment below.

, Mildmay (1912) (all 3 intact),

The statuary had been painted over, but the website details how they were restored to colour, with plentiful photographs.

The website for the church has a large number of photographs of their altars and the interior of the church, worthy of being perused.  There are also pages dedicated to events in the parish, including a page of photos entitled: "the restoration of the Tabernacle to its place of honour"  I am liking me this church, and it is now on my to visit list.

Teeswater  (destroyed in the infamous 1970's)

I can't find any photos of this one, although there is this drawing by a furniture company of the altars of Sacred Heart in Teeswater,  which might be of the Durrer altars.

I would find it hard to believe even the infamous seventies would rip up something like this, had I not seen such things happen with my own eyes. 

 and Dornoch (1890) (one is intact), and other churches. I can't find photos of this one either, although I did find a photo of one of the three churches on the St Peter and Missions Church website.  I can't tell which of the churches it is, but I thought some readers may be interested in the Benedictine altar arrangement.

In 1906 Nicholas Jr died.


Nicholas and Mary had a son Walter born in 1875 in Formosa.

Walter helped Nicholas Jr build the altar in the Carlsruhe church (1873) (intact but painted over) - the remnants of his business card are on the back of the altar

That website also has a page dedicated to its altar.

            Note: The Altar of Sacrifice was built in his style by Darryl Diemert in 2009 - a very talented young parishioner.
                        It took over 400 hours to build this one alone  - ask his children.

Walter also built the altar in Dornoch (1890) - a handwritten inscription on the back contains his name and his profession - Altar Builder and Photographer.

He was a photographer in Mildmay and Formosa.

In 1904 he moved to Didsbury, Alberta and set up his photography equipment in a studio.
In 1905 Walter bought a building on the main street of Didsbury and started a furniture studio.
At the same time he began a funeral home at the back of the building.
In 1906 Nicholas Jr died and the St. Mary’s Kitchener (1900) (intact) altar was not finished. 
Walter came home from Alberta and finished the altar in 1907.

Here is the altar Walter came back to complete.

He had rented out his building before he came to Ontario.

In the spring of 1909 he returned to Alberta and in 1910 he married Adella Hallet and remained in Alberta.

Walter died in September of 1964 in Calgary Alberta.

Many of his descendants still live in Carrick Township - aka Formosa, Mildmay, Carlsruhe - aka the Municipality of South Bruce.


            Formosa      Immaculate Conception

1873   Carlsruhe      St. Francis Xavier

          Teeswater      Sacred Heart

          Walkerton      Sacred Heart

1890   Dornoch      St. Paul

1900   Kitchener      Our Lady of the Seven Dolours (St. Mary's)

1912   Mildmay      Sacred Heart

1 comment:

WTS said...

Hi Bear-i-tone

Thanks for the information on the Durrer Altars.

Your surmise about Walkerton is a bit off - it was redone in the late 2000's to make it look like a Catholic Church again. The Crucifixion set is marble and was removed from the Cemetery (replaces with a large wood and steel Crucifix) where it had been for many years.

Formosa is called the Cathedral of the North (Diocese of Hamilton)and is in pristine condition with dozens of statues, decoration, windows, stations (in German).

In addition both Mildmay (the windows and staions are unique)and Carlsruhe (based on Munsterkirk in Roermund Holland) are worth the visit (call rectory to make sure they are unlocked 519-367-5304

There is the lower part of a Durrer left in Deemerton (St Ignatius (Church) Retreat Centre

Fr T Sehl (just retired pastor)of both