Stained Glass Christmas Window by Lawrence Saint (1919)

christmaswindowsaint.jpgSince the early 1990s, Glencairn Museum has displayed a Lawrence Saint stained glass Christmas window during the Christmas season in Glencairn’s Upper Hall. This two-light four-panel window (see photo, left) was originally located in Bryn Athyn Cathedral, and was designed by Saint around the year 1919, when the main building of the Cathedral was dedicated.

Lawrence Bradford Saint (1885-1961), a stained glass artist known for his work on Washington’s National Cathedral, worked on the Bryn Athyn Cathedral project earlier in his career. During his time as a student at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, he won a Cresson Traveling Scholarship to Europe, where his fascination with and study of medieval stained glass began. He eventually produced a series of watercolor paintings of windows in French and English medieval churches, and was subsequently asked to provide the color plates for Hugh Arnold’s Stained Glass of the Middle Ages in England and France, published in 1913.

Saint operated his own stained glass studio in nearby Huntingdon Valley. In 1917 Raymond Pitcairn hired him to work on Bryn Athyn Cathedral, where he produced a number of windows. In 1922 Pitcairn sent Saint to England and France to make copies of medieval windows, including panels at Canterbury and Chartres Cathedral. He left the Bryn Athyn project to begin work on the National Cathedral in 1928.

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The four panels of the Christmas window depict the following scenes (pictured here left to right): the annunciation to the shepherds, the presentation in the temple, the adoration of the wise men, and the flight into Egypt. Research suggests the window was originally placed in the exterior wall of Bryn Athyn Cathedral’s north transept. The addition of the Cathedral’s northern group of buildings in the 1920s led to the construction of a passageway between the nave and newly-built choir hall, thus making the exterior wall an interior one. Without sunlight the window would have remained dark, and was removed.

It has not been definitively determined where the window was reinstalled after its removal, but most likely it was given a new home in the Cathedral’s chapel. The panels were eventually placed in storage in the Michael Tower, where they were rediscovered in the late 1980s. Earlier test versions of the panels, created during the design process, were also found in the Tower. These changes in design are documented by drawings found in the stained glass studio, located in Cairnwood’s garden house. A sketch of the complete window was also found, making it clear how the four panels were arranged.

It was not uncommon for designs to undergo repeated changes during the construction of Bryn Athyn Cathedral. Raymond Pitcairn, who oversaw all aspects of design and construction, believed that “living architecture” must allow for these changes until the desired effect is achieved. Lawrence Saint, in Romance in Stained Glass, his personal account of his stained glass career, made the following remark about his time with Pitcairn: “Time was not to stand in the way of my doing my very best—nor cost either. Artists thrive under such warm hearted treatment.” More about Saint and Pitcairn can be found here.

The Lawrence Saint Christmas window will be on exhibit at Glencairn until January 5th, 2008. If any of our readers have memories or photographs relating to the window during its time in the Cathedral, please contact the editors.

Photos: The photograph of the window in Glencairn’s Upper Hall was taken by Ed Gyllenhaal. The photographs of the four panels were taken by Fred Schoch and are in the collection of the Glencairn Museum Archives, Bryn Athyn, PA.

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December 7, 2007 | Posted by: Ed and Kirsten Gyllenhaal in New Church History Fun Fact