Landmark Cross Removed from HolyLand

by Christopher O'Brien
Pine Hill's bare top is missing the landmark Cross area residents are used to.

Pine Hill’s bare top is missing the landmark Cross area residents are used to. Photo taken from Baldwin St. by Chris O’Brien

By Chris O’Brien

It was Halloween morning when many of the City’s residents drove past I-84 and the mall, glancing upwards towards the familiar landmark seen throughout town as a sign of hope, faith, and comfort.

Mayor O'Leary looks on; photo: Jennifer Rose

Mayor O’Leary looks on; photo: Jennifer Rose

The large cross that beckoned travelers passing through Greater Waterbury or just running an errand or two that Thursday morning was just absent, giving way to a grey overcast sky.

It just wasn’t there.

“Let’s do it Thursday,” Neil O’Leary told several board members of the non-profit charity working to reinvigorate one of Waterbury’s most reognizable landmarks.There wasn’t any notice given that the cross would disappear. Indeed, many thought it was a hoax or work of vandals when told that morning. “We just told folks this morning,” said Rose. She didn’t say why. And I forgot to ask. It was just fitting, I guess.

CIMG9240“The pagans are coming” said one Facebook user at the news. Indeed, the old holiday – inspired on the eve of a Christian feast day for mischief and in modern times being associated with ghosts and fallen angels brought some sadness to the missing beacon.

“He didn’t realize it was Halloween when he made the decision,” board member Jennifer Rose told the Whisper at the HolyLand gate around noontime. Perhaps, but the odd timing was fitting for many in the area as the 50 foot high illuminted cross was removed from its base, leaving only a tree covered hill in the middle of a cityscape of brick, wood, and asphalt.

While Jennifer and I chatted, we noticed something colorful coming up the hill. Capes, sweatpants and baseball hats – what’s going on? Were these vandals that have plagued the landmark in the past coming to leave a mark on Halloween? Nope. Just a bunch of runners carrying out a fun tradition. “This is our first stop for our annual Halloween run!” The group planned to stop at several cemetaries after catching their breath at the top of Slocum St.

CIMG9242On this day they were part of the unique and spirited culture of the Brass City.

After chatting, I decided to climb into HolyLand to take a look at the barren top of Pine Hill.

Climbing up the hill to the base of the cross was eery itself. First, I made my way up a gradual path behind the miniature replica of Holy Land. There wasn’t much left of that, it seemed. But the widened path lined with tree-cuts and sawdust on the ground indicated recent activity, as if a crowd ready to crucify Christ himself had made their way just hours before my arrival. The climb is easy enough and peaceful. One could imagine that the gradient could have been a challenge to bring across to the top – perhaps even befalling Christ three times. Sweeping views through the thinning autumn trees CIMG9245are breathtaking. And just as in Christ’s day, rounding the top curve doesn’t quite prepare the visitor for the sadness that must have befallen His disciples. And yet, how fitting this hill was chosen as a recreation of the real holyland site. The damp overcast morning contributed to the mood.

On this day it wasn’t the resurrection though that could be viewed for miles around –but the emptiness without it.  Its ironic htat the Romans crucified thousands of Jews during the political uprisings of Jesus’ life. And for the last 2000 years a symbol of persecution is now largely a symbol of hope for billions around the world.

photo: Chris O'Brien

photo: Chris O’Brien

It didn’t take long to get to the top – maybe fifteen minutes. Rounding a bend to the top, I saw the hulking steel monument, set back along some dense brush, almost thrown to the side. I saw it from the end of the base. The monument is over 50 feet tall and two feet wide. A set of supports is what I saw first though – settled within some low trees with nothing to support any longer.  The cement base is just a little further. The former cement and metal base is sheared off where the cross once stood.A strange site gave me pause as I walked towards it. I stopped in my tracks and nearly shuddered. A chalk outline of a small person in the middle of the blacktop trail just below the summit was placed their by vandals. Christ wasn’t murdered here – but a young girl was. In 2010, sixteen year old Chloe Ottman was raped and killed at the hands of another young man in a lustful rage. Perhaps the neglect of the park and

Vandals have left their mark, smashing the spotlights that illuminated the cross. On the lower right is the chalk marking another left.

Vandals have left their mark, smashing the spotlights that illuminated the cross. On the lower right is the chalk marking another left.

her death was the last straw for the Sisters of Fillippini and several community members intent on restoring the site.An inspiration to more than 40,000 visitors every year, the creation of local attorney John Greco during the 1950s included village landsapes of Bethlehem and Jerusalem, arched walkways and a chapel that until recently was used by the Sisters of Filipi. Thousands of miles away from the real Holyland was the attaction that replicated the original.

It felt like Good Friday. The large hill with distant views of the Brass City could have been that of Mount Carmel in Judea. The ragged metamorphic rocks beneath the base could have been where crowds gathered for the crucifiction. And the long path could have been that which Christ walked himself.In March of 2012, Jennifer Rose wanted to do something with the site. She asked her local church if they were interested. Certainly, the interest was there, but it was too large a task for a small Bible church to purchase 17 acres. But something still guided the most recent of several attempts to restore the park.Another local resident went to the top of Pine Hill to think and ponder for some time. Asking what could be done, or how it could be done, was Neil O’Leary. Weeks later, he and Rose separately started on missions to see if something could be done with the park. At the same time, the Sisters, who had rebuffed numerous efforts to restore the park in the past were ready to move themselves to New Jersey and

Industrial Riggers guide the cross to th ground. Photo: Jennifer Rose

Industrial Riggers guide the cross to th ground. Photo: Jennifer Rose

part with the property. Was God playing choreographer?Rose is convinced.  The hand of Providence, has led to the formation of the HolyLand Waterbury – a group that has since purchased Pine Hill and removed the cross Halloween morning. Over time, the organization plans on organizing volunteers to restore other facets of the religious attraction.In 2008 a new cross replaced the old deteriorating one that had been a beacon for miles. The new cross 50 feet tall and two feet wife was instead lit from spotlights instead of inside. Many residents were unhappy with the smaller cross. Over the past five years, though, those lights were broken by vandals one by one, slowly dimming the landmark. Over time, the cross became only a sillouhete – while faint, it was still a comforting site on the hill.

CIMG9250On Halloween though, it disappeared from view. Laying on its side, it had little of its symbolic life standing tall for all below to see. It looked… tired. Worn. Defeated. When Christ died on Good Friday, His disciples felt despair and emptiness knowing their friend and Son of God had left this earth for a time. They hadn’t yet realized that he would be back to fulfill scripture in three days. This morning was similarly overcast, damp, and cool. The air still. Only the distant white noise permeated from the highway below allowing one’s mind to appreciate the lonely silence with himself and God.

Its the tranquility and transplantation of the mind amidst the chaos of daily city life  that Greco envisioned.

Sweeping view of downtown Waterbury on an autumn day photo: Chris O'Brien

Sweeping view of downtown Waterbury on an autumn day photo: Chris O’Brien

Comments left on Holyland Waterbury’s facebook page have already reflected

The cross waits near a red maple tree with the base in the foreground. Long Hill is in the background.

The cross waits near a red maple tree with the base in the foreground. Long Hill is in the background.

the sadness. Kim Sokoloski wrote, “I’m so excited for the new one, but It’s going to be so weird not seeing a cross up there for the next month and a half.” Maria Guzman-Hulse wrote, “So sad to see it go down, even if it’s for a month.”

One of the Whisper’s friend’s once told us “Y’know, I always feel safe when I see that cross. Its like God is watching over us.”

019Its all too fitting that we’ll miss the solid steel cross for a time. But we look forward to it return – even brighter than before.

Industrial Riggers removed the cross on and are already at work building a structure for the new cross. And Pisani Steel is busy making the new one at their Waterbury shop. Giuseppe Pisani expects that will be installed by December 15th. The new cross will be 56-1/2 feet tall and six feet wide. Like the original, it will be illuminated from the center.

The next fundraiser for Holyland Waterbury will be on November 13h at the Ponte Club. Funds go towards restoration efforts. For more information, visit the group’s website or Facebook page.

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