Historic windows cast Sewickley Presbyterian Church in special light

| Wednesday, April 3, 2013, 9:01 p.m.

Much of the history of The Presbyterian Church, Sewickley, is known through church records, books and brochures made in celebration of the 100th and 150th anniversaries.

But the stories of its people and its progress also can be found in the church's 25 stained-glass windows, 17 of which are located in the sanctuary.

Not only are the windows a significant part of the church's history, but Mary Beth Pastorius, a member of church's history committee, said they also represent all major phases of the art of stained glass during the years.

As part of the church's 175th anniversary celebration, Pastorius and Eliza Nevin, also a history committee member, will present “Morning Coffee and Stained Glass” at 11 a.m. April 13.

The 45-minute program will feature a presentation with new photography by Richard Thompson of Sewickley. It will be supplemented with historic images to tell the story of the people memorialized in the windows and the artists who created the stained glass.

Guests also will receive a copy of the third edition of “Memorials in Stained Glass,” which was put together by the history committee with George Craig as chairman. Copies were given to the close to 1,000 members of the congregation on the church's Founders Day celebration.

Pastorius and Nevin have been working on area history projects together since the 1980s when Nevin was president and Pastorius was vice president of Sewickley Valley Historical Society.

“When we started researching the stained-glass windows, we really got into it,” Pastorius said. “There are some fascinating stories in these windows, and the collection is quite significant.”

When Al Tannler of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation and an expert in American stained glass visited the church in 2007 to present a talk, he said the church's stained-glass windows are a “remarkable collection of the history of stained glass in the United States.”

Nancy Bunco, co-chairwoman during the 175th anniversary committee, said people travel all over to see examples of stained glass.

“But we have them all right here,” she said. “I like to sit in different parts of the sanctuary so I can see and appreciate the different windows.”

One of her favorites is “Contemplative Angel” by artist John LaFarge installed in 1899 on the east wall of the sanctuary. It features the figure of an angel with her hand on her heart.

“It makes me feel serene and secure,” Bucco said.

Another favorite is “Madonna and Child,” because “it is such a poignant story,” Bucco said.

Created by Tiffany Studios, it is dedicated to the memory of John Beyers Warden and Elizabeth Fleming Warden, who died in the late 1890s.

Pastorius said the sad story behind the window concerns a young couple who married in 1889. The husband died seven months later and the wife was pregnant. The wife lost her father the same year. She died in 1892, and the baby died a few months later. One of the wife's four sisters donated the money for the window.

Both women also said they think the “The Apostle John” window, believed to be the first of 17 installed in the sanctuary in 1899, is a special one.

In memory of the first pastor, the Rev. Daniel Eagle Nevin and his wife, Margaret Irwin Nevin, the window features an eagle at St. John's feet.

Pastorius said she believes most members would say their favorite is the Great North Window, a triple window dedicated in 1955 created by Connick Associates.

The triple window traces the history of the Christianity and a medallion on the top shows the original small brick Presbyterian church.

It was donated by one of Eliza Nevin's husband's grandparents,” Pastorius said.

The oldest, “The Children's Window,” first installed in 1871, is located in the library. Its detailed features make it unique because most of the windows made during that time had minimal ornamentation and no figures.

Restored in the 1990s, the windows were created by stained-glass artists LaFarge, D. Maitland Armstrong, Charles Connick, Howard Wilbert and Tiffany Studios.

They show the progression from clear, transparent glass to the invention of opalescent translucent, thick-layered pieces of colored glass and the advancement of detailed facial features.

Several windows were made by the artists themselves, which Pastorius said is rare because some businesses and had several artists working for them.

She said she believes they created windows for the church because, her research has revealed, some had friends and family connections in the Sewickley area.

Joanne Barron is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1406 or jbarron@tribweb.com.

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