He Wrote Me This Way: The Black Church from "In the Mouth of Madness"

October 7, 2016 — The Black Church almost eluded us. Neither the Google app on my phone nor the TomTom device on my dash knew where it was. Worse than that, they misdirected us to where it wasn’t. They both picked out a spot in downtown Toronto. Since we didn’t know about the error yet and since we were going to be downtown the next day, we decided to avoid all the traffic we were seeing and check it out the next day. We headed in the opposite direction toward our hotel.

About ten minutes later, and about half an hour from where our devices were telling us the church was, we saw in the distance a cluster of dark, bulbous spires with “gold onions on top.” The Black Church had come to us. This is what it’s like to be stuck in Hobb’s End. Geography doesn’t apply anymore.

John Carpenter’s 1994 movie In the Mouth of Madness is one of those flicks that just does it for me. It’s the story of an insurance investigator sent by a publisher to track down a missing horror author in New Hampshire who finds unspeakable horror instead. And it stars Sam Neil who, with this movie, Event Horizon, and Omen III, just knows his way around Hell dimensions.

For the 2011 OTIS Halloween Season, I re-watched the movie after a long period of not having seen it, and listed some of the items that I thought were noteworthy about the movie. One of those was the Black Church, an exotic, evil-looking edifice that seemed to be in the middle of nowhere and was basically the ultimate location in the movie, since it’s there where the horror author Sutter Cain was holed up.

After the movie, I looked the church up and saw that it was in the Toronto area, and then quietly obsessed about it for five years until I finally found myself in Toronto. Sutter Cain couldn’t stop me from seeing this church, even if Google and TomTom tried.

We navigated by its spire, exiting the highway and finding ourselves in a seemingly endless suburban neighborhood full of identical residences with lawns that must have been mowed by Stepford Wives, and almost completely empty of people. It was the perfect set of residences to house whatever inevitable cult had sprung up around this empty, forsaken, cursed church. The subdivision was actually called Cathedraltown, and the street signs bore a silhouette of the Black Church itself.

Of course, it’s not really called the Black Church. The 20-story edifice is the Cathedral of the Transfiguration. It’s a Slovak Greek Catholic Church, hence the exotic architecture. Construction began on it in 1984, and today it’s still incomplete, despite being the first church in North America to be consecrated by a pope. It was designed by Donald Buttress (right, an architect named Buttress), who also oversaw the renovation of Westminster Abbey.

Oh, and…it’s not a church anymore. In 2006, they ripped its altar heart out and basically defrocked it as a holy place over some church politics. Currently, it’s just a subdivision mascot, empty and strange and exactly what I wanted the Black Church to be.

Finally we got close to it in the center of Cathedral Town. It soared dramatically in the middle of a clearing, dark and imposing. Unfortunately, it was also surrounded by No Trespassing signs, although an orange construction fence blocking entry to the property only extended around two sides of it.

As we drove around at a distance around the ex-church, I sat in the passenger seat, adjusting my expectations. I mean, it looked awe-inspiring from a distance, but I really wanted to walk right up the steps of the church and get all dizzy staring up at its spires. But I’m a man who plays by the rules. Too much. To the point it often hurts my life.

Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I asked Lindsey to pull over, and I took off past the No Trespassing signs, through a strip of weeds and across the large expanse to the front of the church. Doing so really exposed me. There was no hiding from anybody peeking from a window in the encroaching subdivision or any cars passing by on the road out front. And I didn’t want to be the star of a Canadian Locked Up Abroad episode.

I ascended the steps, but didn’t knock to see if Sutter Cane was home. Looking around and feeling acutely vulnerable, I saw at the road, about 100 yards away, a lone woman. She was pale enough to be glowing and dressed all in black, a pair of insectoid black sunglasses on her face. There was no car parked anywhere near her. She passed the No Trespassing signs and headed toward the church…and me…in a slow, meandering pace that just cried for an ominous electro-soundtrack.

She was odd, but not impossible, so I turned back around to look for the mosaic featured in the movie. The church had three golden mosaics set in its façade. Above the main door was the largest, depicting the ascension of Christ. On Christ’s left side was a small mosaic depicting David above the dead body of Goliath, the future King of Israel’s foot set on the severed head of the giant. To the right was the one I wanted to see. In the movie Sam Neill has a conversation with Julie Carmen beneath it. It shows an archangel with a fiery sword defeating a blue-green devil with bat wings and horns. I half expected it to have been a prop from the movie. Now it could very well be the tattoo I was looking for.

The woman. I’d forgotten about her. I turned around again and saw that she’d made it halfway to the church, still at that slow pace as if she were supernaturally confident that she’d get me.

I left back through the weeds where I’d come from. I jumped into the idling car, and we drove to the main road to take some photos from that vantage. The woman had made it to the top of the steps by then and was just standing there looking up at the church. She wasn’t taking pictures, didn’t seem to be nervous like I had been. You can just barely see her as a white and black streak in the first photo.

As we left, I kept looking at the cathedral in the rearview. It was a spectacular thing. The open, barren setting helped, even with the surrounding subdivision. If I hadn’t already been married, I’d have wanted to get married there. If I hadn’t already died, I’d have wanted my funeral there.

The address is 10350 Woodbine Avenue, Markham, Ontario, but just go to Markham. The church will find you.

Eventually, the Black Church disappeared behind us. I assume I’ll see it again someday in bizarre, tentacled nightmares about busses full of senior citizens.