Lost and Found

 

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In 1999, the departing minister at the Temenos Retreat Center, a site of the Swedenborgian Church in southeastern Pennsylvania, casually mentioned to his successor that several crates marked “1964” and stored in the Center’s barn contained Tiffany stained glass windows. They had been purchased from a Cincinnati church for a planned chapel, and brought east to Pennsylvania, but the Retreat Center was built instead. While never completely forgotten, over years of storage the windows receded into distant memory.

 

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Two years later the new minister curiously opened the shipping crates because water was leaking into the barn where they were stored. Sensing the window’s importance, she called stained glass expert Arthur Femenella who recognized–under decades of dirt and grime–the designs, techniques, and characteristic opalescent glass of Louis Comfort Tiffany. Femenella then guided the parishioners through the lengthy process of authenticating and restoring the windows. In 2004, with the impetus of a $50,000 donation from a single anonymous donor, actual restoration work on the glass began. Although Tiffany’s 1910 list of windows, and church archives, had already confirmed the attribution of the windows to Tiffany, cleaning the last window in the series revealed the signature of Tiffany Studios.

 

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Meanwhile in Ohio, a search of archival records found that the Swedenborgian congregation of Glendale, Ohio, the New Church Society, had commissioned these windows in honor of their founding patriarch Charles Allen, and his wife Mary, as a gift to a sister church in Cincinnati. That church, The Church of the New Jerusalem, was constructing a new building at the corner Oak & Winslow streets in the prosperous Walnut Hills section of the city. Church minutes record correspondence with Tiffany Studios during 1902–particularly pertaining to the gifts the angels are holding–and the windows were formally dedicated in 1903. Tiffany Studios’ 1910 catalog of its church windows listed the ensemble of seven windows as Angels Representing Seven Churches.

 

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One former member of the New Jerusalem church reminisces “we had angels, angels everywhere. Angels . . . were personified in the seven slender angels with Gibson Girl faces behind our altar; these were Tiffany stained glass, art nouveau windows from New York in mauve, lavender, and gold.”

 

In 1964 Cincinnati exercised eminent domain and demolished the Church of the New Jerusalem to make way for Interstate 71, however church members purchased the seven Tiffany windows back from the government for $5000. For many years thereafter the windows remained in parishioners’ garages and sheds around Cincinnati. Later on, Swedenborgian donors from across the United States purchased the windows for a planned chapel outside of Philadelphia. The seven crated windows were brought east in a U-Haul trailer to West Chester, Pennsylvania, and stored in a barn on the Temenos property, there to await their 2001 re-discovery.

 

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In the late 19th and early 20th century, Tiffany windows were in great demand for American churches. It is estimated fifty-percent of Tiffany’s church windows have been lost, so rediscoveries, especially of a series such as Angels Representing Seven Churches, is significant for American art, glass, and spiritual history. Today, through the individual efforts of Swedenborgians past and present, as well as the skillful talents of Art Femenella and his stained glass artisans, these sacred and artistic works are preserved for future generations.