Fragments indicating that a window had been donated as a memorial have been set aside and will be given to the donor's relatives.
The biggest pieces, measuring three feet by four feet, are segments taken
from the large decorative windows that once lined each church's walls.
"These pieces are of enormous interest to anyone who cares about church glass," said Robert Jaeger, an expert on church restoration. "If it's glass
from Europe, parts of it will be very beautifully painted. They may be small pieces, with pictures of saints, and those should be very nice.
"Some of it, and I think this is the case with St. Henry, may come from France, and that's very rare and could be very valuable."
All five of the churches were built around the turn of the century or before. The oldest, St. Edward, dates to 1865. St. Henry, the youngest, was completed in 1916.
For European glassmakers, it was a period of intense productivity. For artisans in America, it was a time of heady experimentation.
Protestant church builders favored the Americans. Catholics leaned toward the Europeans. As a result, the church art being sold this weekend is not likely to include certain types of items.
"If there is some opalescent glass, it would be very valuable," said Jaegar, co-director of Partners for Sacred Places, a Philadelphia agency that arranges funding for the restoration of religious sites.
"It's very opaque, murky or thick in color, but that varies. It was made in America and represents a type of glassworking" uncommon in other parts of the world.
Many of the pieces are expected to go to buyers seeking mementos of a beloved parish or novel Christmas gifts. Either way, buyers should beware: The glass is unsuitable for remounting in contemporary aluminum frames, archdiocesan spokeswoman Marie Kelly said.
"These pieces are basically items that can no longer be used in church
windows," said Kelly, noting that 90 percent of the large altar and side
windows already have been sold to other churches.
The five churches that yielded the glass are among nine closed in poor North Philadelphia neighborhoods since July 1993. Under the restructuring plan, five parish schools were shut down and six churches in Chester were consolidated into one.
The closures sparked bitter protests. The sale of the artifacts is expected to do the same.
Frank Maimone of the Catholic Coalition to Save Our Faith said members of his group would lead a demonstration against the sale.
"The purpose of the protests is to continue to call attention to the callous behavior of the archdiocese toward people who have lost their churches," Maimone said. "They've taken the eucharist away from the community, and now they're profiting from it."
Maimone, one of the harshest critics of the closings, was charged with trespassing last year after he and another man, hoping to force a confrontation on the matter, sneaked into Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua's office suite. The charges were later dismissed.
Maimone said he intends to buy a piece of the glass and smash it on the steps of Corpus Christi to "remind people that Jesus threw the money lenders out of the church."
The archdiocese's Kelly said money from the glass, which has a sale value of $30,000, will help support consolidated parishes that absorbed members from the closed congregations.
That does not satisfy Nick Kronberger, leader of Catholics for Christianity, a group that publishes a newsletter that has been critical of the cardinal's handling of the North Philadelphia parishes.
Kronberger, 68, of Penn Valley, said he attended St. Edward as a boy and feels "scandalized by the sale of these items."
"I won't buy any of it," he said, "and I wouldn't unless I could buy a piece and give it to a church. If religious articles don't matter, why bother having them?"
According to canon law, the artifacts lost their religious importance when Cardinal Bevilacqua signed documents officially closing the churches.
Besides, said a 60-year member of St. Elizabeth who plans to attend the sale and may purchase some pieces, it is time to move on.
"I want to see what's there," Helen Clowney, 65, said. "I know some of the ladies and gentlemen from the church will want to go, too. We all want to see if we can get a memento.
"I think everyone has their own ideas about protests, but if people want it, they should be allowed to buy it."
The sale will run from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. today and from noon to 4 p.m. tomorrow.