WEYMOUTH — Even as the charred remains of Sacred Heart church smoldered, a team of firefighters from the Weymouth Fire Department reentered the building to retrieve the Body of Christ.
Firefighter Tim Bailey, one of the members of the five-person team, described the scene.
"The church was a total loss. There was no floor left around the altar," he said, "but there was debris from the roof that had fallen and had created a place where it was safe to walk on."
"It really was the only area around the altar that was stable enough to walk on," he added.
Bailey cautiously approached the high altar, and with the key that had been given to him by Father Daniel Riley, pastor of Sacred Heart parish, opened the tabernacle.
The Blessed Sacrament was still in the ciboria, he recalled.
He took all the contents of the tabernacle, and finally the tabernacle itself, and presented them to Father Riley.
In addition, Bailey also “climbed on top of the altar and reached up and grabbed the cross that was still intact,” he said.
"I think we all were happy to be able to give Father something that was not destroyed by the fire," he added.
According to Deputy Chief Thomas Aniolowski, very few items in the church were not ruined in the fire. However, Aniolowski pointed to another “unusual” discovery made by the firefighters on Sunday. As workers began to remove the rubble, firefighters were able to salvage the cross which stood atop the church’s steeple.
"That was highly unusual since the cross itself was made of wood and, as we all know, wood burns," Aniolowski said.
The deputy chief said that, although the wood of the cross was somewhat burned, “it was saved because the cross was encased in bronze.”
According to parish historian Ray Dibonna, several of the stations of the cross, two bronze plaques with the names of parishioners who served in both World Wars, two marble holy water fonts, and a few statues have also been retrieved from the remains of the church.
However, Dibonna said that many historically significant items were lost in the fire, including stained glass windows, a marble high altar and a Woodbury tracker pipe organ.
"The significance of the organ is that it's one of the few remaining mechanical or tracker action organs in the south shore area of that era, the turn of the 19th century," he said. "For being 107 years old it was in very, very fine shape."
Christine Tolfree contributed to this report.