The Stories and Images of our Windows
~By Richard Durham
Some of the greatest beauty of First Congregational Church’s sanctuary is provided by our stained glass windows. Many of us have noticed their stunning glory, but few know the stories behind them or how they came to First Church. This series will examine our blessings, window by window, relying heavily upon the research and work of the late Ruth Shuster, many years a clerk of First Church and to whom this series is dedicated.
There is deep Christian symbolism in the colors used in the windows. Red represents divine love, devotion and courage. Blue signifies eternity, divine wisdom and loyalty. Green is the color of hope and victory. Gold signifies spiritual treasure and worthy achievement. Violet represents mystery, penitence, and justice. White is the symbol of faith, truth, peace, and serenity.
The 1961 fire that gutted the sanctuary also destroyed many of our stained glass windows, so many windows in the front are recent replacements. Starting on the left from the front by the Pulpit is the set of windows devoted to David and Solomon and the building of the Great Temple, which Solomon holds in his hands. Under David is the inscription, “Let us go into the house of the Lord.” Under Solomon is the inscription, “Wisdom hath builded her house.” The reference is meant to symbolize the dedication to building the Great Temple of the Lord, but also refers to the dedication of members to rebuild First Church after the fire of 1961. According to church records, the windows were dedicated “To the Founders and To Those Dedicated to the Service of First Church.” The windows were crafted by Connick Studios of Boston, and installed in April 1963, as a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Maurice Berry, replacing windows donated by the Braintree Men’s Club that were destroyed in the fire. The Berrys were members of our church from 1946 until Mr. Berry’s death in 1981. As a tribute, the Braintree Men’s Club chose to donate the Pastor’s Pulpit for the new sanctuary instead.
Next, on the left-hand side behind the David and Solomon windows is a set of windows spared from the fire. On the left are depicted two angels playing on horn and cymbals. On the right is a woman playing a huge organ. This is St. Cecilia, who was a Roman matron known for writing Christian music and for singing with a beautiful voice. In the traditional Christian church, she became known as the patroness of Christian music. The inscription underneath reads “Let them praise His name in choir.” The windows were crafted by T.J. Murphy & Co. of Boston and were installed in 1952 as a gift of the Dearing family to reflect the importance of music to First Church. The windows were in honor of Dr. T. Haven Dearing, the long-time “chorister” and choir master who led the choir in singing for many, many years until his death in 1908.
These windows show Martha on the left and Mary on the right, women dedicated to God, symbolized by many angels and Biblical characters overhead, and were donated by the Ladies’ Aid Society in 1940 in honor of the celebration of Braintree’s 300th Anniversary. These were the first windows made by Connick Studios in Boston and cost $1,000 at the time. There are two inscriptions below: on the left “1812,” the year the Ladies’ Aid Society was founded by Pastor Dr. Richard Storrs’ first wife, Sarah; and on the right “1940,” a reminder of the town’s Tercentennial.
Continuing down the left hand side of the Sanctuary from the front, we come to the fifth set of windows. These were the last set of windows in the church before the extension of the Narthex in 1962 and were installed January 24, 1960. These were spared from the 1961 fire in the Sanctuary. The windows depict the events narrated in the Second letter of St. John from the Bible. The letter is addressed to ‘the electa (or chosen) lady.’ There is no direct evidence that the Greek word ‘eklekte’, translated ‘elect’ or ‘chosen’ was a personal name. It could be a personification of the Church, in the same way that the Church is referred to as the ‘Bride of Christ.’ In the left hand window, the Electa, or patroness, is shown with her children, listening to John’s revelations. They are holding a rose surrounded by burning candles and censors. The rose is the symbol of Christ, the candles represent the Light of Life, and the censors represent prayer. In the right window, St. John preaches to the Electa. In his left hand he holds the Holy Grail of Christ, while his right hand is raised in benediction. His gesture is also highly symbolic: the three extended fingers represent the Holy Trinity, while the two closed fingers represent the two-fold nature of Christ. The windows were made by Connick Studios of Boston and were donated by Blanche and Sybil Robinson in memory of their mother Bessie Robinson, a member of the church for 32 years.
We now turn to the right hand side of the church as you face the altar. You will notice that the first three casements of windows have a distinctly different look than any other windows in the church, different textures and colors, and that they are remarkably similar. These three casements are the oldest windows in the church, and were all installed and dedicated during the re-dedication of First Congregational Church’s new stone building in June, 1913.
The first windows in the front are titled “Christ Blessing the Little Children” (Mark 10:13-16; Matthew 19:13). On the left side, Christ stands over two children blessing them, while on the right, a mother holds an infant in her arms, with two children at her feet awaiting their turn to be blessed. Angels below hold the dedication scrolls on either side. These windows actually were originally installed in 1903 in the old Gothic 1857 church building by Braintree benefactor and church member Norton Hollis, in memory of his grandparents David Hollis (1782-1858) and wife Mary Denton Hollis (1785-1847). David Hollis was a long-time church member and Deacon during Rev. Dr. Richard Storrs’ tenure. The window was one of the earliest produced and designed by Connick Studios of Boston. When the old Gothic church was destroyed in the Lyceum Hall fire on January 12, 1912, Norton Hollis had the windows replaced exactly from hand colored photographs in Connick Studios’ archives in time for the church’s re-dedication in June, 1913. Ironically, Norton Hollis was also the owner of Lyceum Hall at the time of the fire, which was further intensified by the ignition of 200 gallons of kerosene Hollis had stored in the Lyceum Hall basement. The windows were destroyed for a second time in the 1961 fire that gutted the Sanctuary. The windows you see are the second exact replacement from Connick Studios’ old photographs and were re-dedicated in 1963.
The second set of windows were designed as companion pieces to the Hollis windows by Connick Studios of Boston and were installed for the church’s re-dedication in June, 1913. The church spires overhead and the angels holding the dedication scrolls are identical to the Hollis windows. These were dedicated to Deacon John Barbour (1845-1910) by his son, John. On the left side, King David is depicted in battle armor with sword standing over the legend that reads “Justice”. On the right side, King Solomon comforts a child while standing over a legend that reads “Mercy”.
The third set of windows were also produced and designed by Connick Studios of Boston. In the left window Christ comforts two children in a garden. In the right window, an angel (perhaps Gabriel) protects a child in a garden from Satan (in the form of a snake at the bottom). Overhead, spires of the church represent Heaven. The legend below reads, “To the Glory of God and In Loving Memory”, and is dedicated to Will Watson Mayhew (1857-1912) by his wife. Mayhew was the life-long Deacon and Trustee who suffered a fatal heart attack on the night of the fire, January 12, 1912, that destroyed the Gothic church building. He exhausted himself trying to save the service pieces, vestments and furnishings of the church from the fire. His was the only fatality connected to the fire.
This window, the fourth from the front of the sanctuary, depicts Christ’s resurrection from the tomb and his revelation to Mary Magdalene, portrayed in John 20:16. In the right window, the risen Christ stands revealed, and blesses Mary Magdalene. In the left window, Mary falls to her knees in the garden outside the tomb after she recognizes Christ. The walls of Jerusalem appear in the background overhead. Below are inscribed the legends, “And He saith unto her, Mary”, and “And she saith unto Him, Master”. The windows were designed and produced by T.J. Murphy & Co. of Boston, and were dedicated in May, 1951 by the Ladies’ Co-Workers organization of the church. The date of the dedication is in the lower right. On the lower left is the date “1920”, the date the Ladies’ Co-Workers were founded.
The final set of windows on the left were dedicated on All Saints Day, November 6, 1966. In the left window, the two Marys are depicted from the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, viewing Christ on the cross. Underneath is the caption, “Faith and Hope.” In the right window, two of Christ’s disciples face the risen Christ in a scene from the Gospels of Luke and John. Underneath is the caption, “Worship and Prayer.” The windows were a product of Connick Studios of Boston, and were donated by W. Owen Faulkner with a bequest after his death in 1963. When the reconstructed Sanctuary was dedicated in 1963, additional gifts by Mr. Faulkner included a chancel hanging and the large free-hanging cross that still suspends from the ceiling over the choir today.
The fifth set of windows, behind the Ladies’ Co-Workers’ window, was installed and dedicated on February 21, 1960, as a gift of Edith French Anderson, a member for 25 years, deaconess and Trustee of the church. Depicted in the glass is the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-35). In the left window, the Samaritan lifts the injured traveler up and washes his wounds. In the right window, the healed traveler leaves the inn where he recovered and resumes his journey to Jericho. Underneath the window is the legend, “Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself.” This is in keeping with Mrs. Anderson’s many years of generosity and service to the church. The windows were designed and produced by Wilbur Burnham & Sons of Boston, the only example of their work we have in the church.
The last set of windows, the sixth from the front, was added after the church was extended in 1963. They were installed and dedicated on Nov. 6, 1966, All Saints Day, in honor of Peter Ness, and follows the theme of The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). In the left window, the father prepares to receive his long lost son, while a banquet is being prepared in the background. On the right, the remorseful son bows before his father, leaving his life of living among swine behind. This represents leaving the unclean life behind and being physically and spiritually cleansed by the father’s forgiveness. Although Mr. Ness was never a member of First Church, he was a long-time supporter. His estate in 1945 paid off the mortgage on the Hollis Avenue parsonage and established a Fund that supported various projects at the church. The windows were designed and produced by Connick Studios of Boston.