History of church windows through art can bring a person closer to God
Many years may have passed, but the inside of the First Presbyterian Church remains a snapshot in history when the opulence and glory of the early 1900s is frozen in time.
Construction started on the towering pink granite building began in 1908 and took more than three years to complete.
The stained glass windows are not something which can simply be talked about, but must be seen, said Kyle Hood, tour guide of the church.
After walking through the front doors, guests are met with a grand stair case of carved marble. The Italian marble was installed by craftsman from Italy. Along the stairwell there are angels in the opalescent stained glass. The stair windows from the lower foyer to the upper foyer draw on the Sir Edward Conley Burne-Jones’ work “Angel Stairway” for their inspiration.
At the top of the stairs overlooking the entrance down below are the three famed stained glass windows which are said to have been the starting point for the church.
Frances Ann Robinson Lutcher was married to Henry Jacob Lutcher. He was a butcher and a mill owner in Pennsylvania, Louisana and Texas. Together they had two daughters Mariam and Carrie. Mariam would later marry William Henry Stark while Carrie would marry E.W. Brown.
Mrs. Lutcher and her two daughters attended the Chicago’s World Fair in 1893. It was there they saw the three prize-winning works of Fredrich Lamb and his sister Ella of the J&R Lamb Studios. They were purchased and stored in New York until the day they would be needed. It is not known if there was already a plan to have a church built in Orange, but the windows were definitely a start.
The church building was planned, built and underwritten by Frances Ann Lutcher as a memorial to the Henry Jacob Lutcher family and as a result was named the Lutcher Memorial. She never divulged the costs of the structure, but upon completion established an endowment to provide for the maintenance costs. In addition, The Carrie Lutcher Brown Foundation was established in 1942 by Edgar and Lutcher Brown in memory of their mother. This foundation in conjunction with the original endowment by Mrs. Lutcher continues to maintain the building.
The church, no matter how it started, was built to glorify God with everything the finest of its’ type from the Italian marble stairs and banisters and mahogany pews, columns, doors and wall areas from Honduras to the 48 stained glass windows throughout the structure.
James Oliver Hogg, an architect from Kansas City, Mo. was commissioned to oversee the project under the direction of Mrs. Lutcher.
The central window symbolizes religion. It shows an unknown person sitting in a chair holding a Bible, but standing behind them is Michael in blue armor to war against the evil in the world with his followers on the window to the east symbolizing The Church Militant. Gabriel is also standing behind him with his followers to the west window which symbolizes The Church Triumphant. The theme of The Church Militant and the The Church Triumphant is continued in the front of the sanctuary on the hymn boards.
Above the doors entering into the sanctuary are tall glass panes. They are intricately designed with clear glass but in the middle of each section are the traditional symbols of the four Evangelists. There is St. Matthew which is a winged man to remind people that Matthew begins his account with Jesus’ human genealogy. Then there is St. Mark which has a winged lion to remind people of the nobility, strength and kingship of Christ portrayed in Mark’s gospel. A winged ox represents St. Luke to symbolize Christ’s sacrificial death. Finally, there is the winged eagle of St. John to remind people of John’s gospel which soars in affirming the deity of Christ.
On either side of the entrance are two leaded windows with scripture verses in gold.
Seen throughout the church is the egg and dart and the bead and reel which collectively symbolize birth and death and to serve as a reminder “man is mortal.”
The story of Jesus is told by the artwork of the windows which weigh about 1,000 pounds each. The artist chose subjects from oil paintings in Europe. They were not historical people, but of their day. The technique of making opalescent stained glass is an American invention by John Lafarge.
“Stained glass is a living art,” Hood said. “It needs the light.”
Each window of vibrant colors are from two to four layers of glass which is then placed into a kiln and fired together to give it the special effect. OSG contains metallic oxide which gives it the color depth. However, the secret to the unique process was forever gone when Frederick Lamb died. Since then the process has not been successfully duplicated. Some of the parts were painted such as the faces with lifelike details.
The story of Jesus begins with the window, the Annunciation. It features the Arch Angel Gabriel telling Mary she will be the one to carry Jesus.
The second window is The Holy Family which was painted by Fuerstein. Painters began their trades by copying old paintings to learn the techniques. The infant Jesus is vibrant as the afternoon sunlight brightly glows due to the opalescent glass. Each face has a look of adoration, calmness and peacefulness.
Jesus at the age of 12 is on the next window of the story. A copy of the painting hands in a museum. Jesus’ family has just been to Jersulem for Passover. Mary’s face show relief while the Pharisees are wondering who the child is. Their headbands shimmer in the sunlight. In the background is a circumcision ceremony in a temple. The ornate walls of the temple are decorated with many crosses.
The fourth window is the Good Shepherd window. It was done by Sibyl Parker. It was the only window done by a woman artist. There are many Christian symbols in the window such as; the cross formed by wooden beams, grapes for communion, doves representing the baptism and the Holy Spirit, the crown of thorns, the pierced hands and feet of Jesus, the open door inwardly beckoning one to enter in, and the sheep. Jesus is depicted holding a lamb which is just as important to the many others even though he may be lost.
Instead of Jesus on the cross, the next window depicts the trial of Jesus when Pontias Pilate authorized the crucifixion of Jesus. In the Bible, she approaches her husband telling him Jesus is an innocent man. The window depicts her coming down some stairs and being comforted by an angel. Jesus is seen in the background. However, what sets this window apart is there are three men which are not of Jesus’ time. One of men is John Calvin who was an influential French theologian and pastor during the Protestant Reformation. He was a principal figure in the development of the system of Christian theology which was later called Calvinism. Originally trained as a humanist lawyer, he broke from the Catholic Church around 1530. There is also John Knox who founded the Presbyterian Church. Martin Luther is also seen and was a German monk, priest, professor of theology and important figure of the Protestant Reformation.
Finally to complete the story, there is The Assention which shows Christ’s resurrection.
From the outside of the church, a copper dome which was installed in the 1950s can be seen which has oxidized to the color green. It covers which was once a glass dome. It is the only opalescent glass dome in the Unites States. From the inside the 36-foot glass dome is comprised of 16 angelic figures bearing a Christian symbol. Starting counter clockwise from the pulpit, there are the Scroll and Quill, Canticle, Church building, Cross, Chalice, Scepter, Dove, Lamb, Lyre, Organ, Open Bible, Stone Tablets, Sword, Scales, Psalms and Lilies.
In the fellowship hall beneath the sanctuary which was originally used for the Sunday school class rooms there are still more stained glass windows. On the west side is the Flight Into Egypt and Madonna with Jesus and St. John. The east side of the building has Jesus In the Carpenter’s Shop and Jesus Blessing the Children.
The building is on the National Register of Historic Places and has been a landmark in the city for a century. The church is one of the leading tourist destinations in the county because of its priceless Victorian Era stained glass windows.
Visitors are given a tour by appointment and are welcome to attend services Sunday mornings. For more information call 409-883-2097.
Pictured: The pastor of the First Presbyterian Church takes a moment to gaze at one of the 48 stained glass windows in the church called The Holy Family.