Summerhouse of Emanuel Swedenborg

mullersummerhousejan09.jpgAccording to the Rev. Nicholas Collin of Philadelphia, who visited Emanuel Swedenborg at his home in 1766, the charming summerhouse (Swedish lusthus) in his garden was “a kind of temple, to which he often retired for contemplation.” The summerhouse, which has been preserved and can be visited by the general public, has retained a special allure for those interested in Swedenborg’s theological writings. (For the quotation see R.L. Tafel, 1877, Documents Concerning the Life and Character of Emanuel Swedenborg, Vol. 2, part 1, p. 423.)

The property (see diagram) on which the summerhouse originally stood was purchased by Swedenborg in 1743 and remained in his possession until his death in 1772. It was situated in southern Stockholm on Hornsgatan, near Lake Malaren. Swedenborg’s summerhouse stood at the far end of his property and could be reached from his house by a path leading through the garden. During Swedenborg’s time the summerhouse was connected to two other structures on either side—a garden shed to the north, and his library to the south. The exterior of the house was painted yellow, a typical Swedish color, with vertical boards in a contrasting color providing a visual accent to the structure’s exterior. A visitor in the 1860s described the colors as “dark red lines [presumably the vertical boards] on yellow ground, with white window frames and a black roof . . .” (see the online article Swedenborg’s Property). (more…)

Do You Know the Academy Whistle?

academywhistle1.gif“It has been suggested by someone that ‘our boys’ make good use of the ‘Academy whistle,’ especially when they arrive in England and France. It will be sure to receive an answer from any Academy friend within earshot” (New Church Life 1917, 770).

The Academy of the New Church whistle, a simple tune that originated in the 1890s, was promoted in the pages of New Church Life during the First World War as a means for men and women in the service to recognize each other in a crowd.

“Our soldier readers will be interested in the news that Miss Helen Colley, of Bryn Athyn, is now in France. She is a member of the entertainment branch of the Y. M. C. A., and will travel from place to place through France. She is anxious to meet the New Church soldiers. For the information of those who have never seen Miss Colley, she asks us to say that her picture will be on the program posted in the Y. M. C. A. huts in which she will appear. We might suggest that the ‘Academy Whistle’ will always bring quick response” (“The Academy War Service Committee,” New Church Life 1918, 704). (more…)

Christmas Lamp in Glencairn Chapel (1930s or 40s)

lampdec08.jpgThe chapel in Glencairn Museum, Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, has a floor lamp with a unique handcrafted lampshade depicting the Christmas story (11.OP.02). The six-paneled shade was commissioned by Raymond Pitcairn in the late 1930s or early 1940s when Glencairn was being decorated, and was designed and painted by Francis (“Frank”) Eugene Snyder (1908-1995). It is made of plexiglas panels, which Synder painted with oils, using a variety of media to achieve the appearance and texture of stained glass when the light is turned on. All six panels are shown here with accompanying quotations. (more…)

William Henry Benade as Moravian Teacher and Minister (1835-1844)

benade121308.jpgBishop William Henry Benade, who was destined to become one of the most effective advocates for New Church education, did not grow up in a New Church family. Born in 1816 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, William came from a family that was prominent in the Moravian Church.

reinkesmall.jpgWilliam’s father, Andrew Benade, had left Europe in 1795 to teach at Nazareth Hall, a prominent boarding school for boys in the Moravian community at Nazareth, Pennsylvania (see lithograph and photo, left and below). Andrew was later principal of the Moravian Seminary for Young Ladies in nearby Bethlehem, a position he held for twelve years. In 1822 he was consecrated a bishop in the Moravian Church. William, as the son of a Moravian teacher, school administrator, and bishop, was raised in a family that placed a high value on the concept of religious education. (more…)

Thanksgiving Feast in Chicago (1883)

pilgrimfeast.jpg“Chicago, Ill., West Side – Though it is a little late, perhaps it will be interesting to your readers to know how we celebrated Thanksgiving Day here. The Pastor thinking that it would be useful to have a fall festival, concluded that we could not do better than adopt Thanksgiving Day. So it was decided to have a general Thanksgiving dinner at the church, to which all were invited. Accordingly when Thanksgiving Day arrived, about sixty members of the congregation assembled at the church, and set down to a dinner of cold turkey, hot vegetables, coffee, pie, etc., which was provided by the ladies. The tables were arranged so that they formed three sides of a square, and we were assigned our seats by slips of paper on which our names were written. When all were seated the Pastor asked the blessing of the Lord upon our feast, and then we began the discussion of the good things. After the first ardor had a little worn off, our Pastor, the Rev. Mr. [W.F.] Pendleton, made a few remarks about the day and the use of being thankful, i.e., of acknowledging that all that we have comes from the Lord. . . . (more…)

The Bryn Athyn Glass Factory (1922-1942)

davidsmithnov08.jpg“One of the things that I remember is going over to the glass factory and watching the operation going on there, particularly watching David Smith, the glassblower, sit on that bench and actually be blowing glass. And I remember one occasion where I thought that I could do it myself, and so he handed me the blowpipe with some glass on the end, and I puffed as hard as I could—nothing happened. I didn’t make any bubble at all at the end of the pipe” (Carl R. Gunther, son of Ariel Gunther. Interview. March 30, 2006).

glassfactoryleftnov08.jpgDuring the early 1920s, when much of the construction for Bryn Athyn Cathedral had been completed, the builders began to turn their attention to the production of stained glass windows. (more…)

Anatomy Room at Wallace Street School, Philadelphia (1891)

anatomyroomwallacest.jpg“One night in 1891, when the schools were located at 1821 Wallace St, a burglar broke into the building and collected quite a loot.

“Coming into the Anatomy room, he suddenly beheld the [anatomical] manikin and was so frightened at its dreadful appearance that he dropped his bundle and quickly made his way over the roofs of the adjoining buildings” (C. Th. Odhner, “John Pitcairn: A Biography,” New Church Life 1917, 291).

anatomyroom6.jpgThe manikin that caused such distress for the burglar in 1891 has been used to teach anatomy at the Academy of the New Church since the school was founded in 1877. (more…)

Offertory Bowls for Bryn Athyn Cathedral by Thorsten Sigstedt (1945)

offbowl3thumbsept08.jpg“The bowls are to be used at the three entrances to the Cathedral. They are designed to fit one within another, that all may be brought forward to the Altar and formally presented to the Lord” (George de Charms, “Offertory Bowls for the Bryn Athyn Church,” New Church Life 1945, 347).

offbowl2sept08.jpgThree offertory bowls, made by woodcarver Thorsten Sigstedt, were given to the Bryn Athyn Church by the family of Bishop William Frederic Pendleton in commemoration of the one-hundredth anniversary of his birth (March 25, 1945). The mahogany bowls were unveiled at an afternoon reception held at the Pendleton family home in Bryn Athyn (Pendle House). The festivities included the playing of a phonograph record of a speech Pendleton had given in 1927. The gift of the bowls was accepted by Bishop George de Charms, who described the symbolism (more…)

New Academy Boarding Student Arrives at 110 Friedlander Street, Philadelphia (1884)

110friedlander.jpg“It was snowing when I arrived. I got directions to Friedlander street from a hackman, and went right up there. My knock was answered by a strange lady, who showed me into a small school room and said that Mr. [J.P.] Stuart would be down soon. While sitting here, I began to get more and more embarrassed, as my hands and face were of a Pittsburgh hue and my appearance withal was anything but neat. In what seemed to me about half an hour, a small gentleman, with spectacles and side burns, entered the room and — smiled. ‘Mr. Stuart?’ ‘Yes sir.’ (sweetly) ‘I am Mr. Synnestvedt, just arrived from Chicago’” (January 26, 1884).

Homer Synnestvedt, at age 16, penned these words a few weeks after arriving at the College and Theological School of the Academy of the New Church, which at that time were situated in a row house in Philadelphia. The full letter is a remarkable and entertaining glimpse into the life of a new Academy boarding student in the 1880s. (The letter is reproduced in full at the end of this New Church History Fun Fact.)

110friedlandervert.jpgFor six years (1879-1885) the College and Theological School shared quarters in a three-story row house at No. 110 Friedlander Street, adjacent to Cherry Street, where the Temple of the Advent Society was located. For several years the Rev. William Henry Benade, the Chancellor, lodged at the same address, (more…)

Potts Swedenborg Concordance Completed after 27 Years (1900)

pottsstudythumbnail.jpg“The typewriter was almost unknown in Scotland in those days, but it was providentially brought to my notice just at the time when my right hand threatened to fail me altogether, through a disease caused by so much fine writing in making the first draft. I determined to obtain a typewriter; and this becoming known, my kind friends in London [The Swedenborg Society] purchased for me the first Hammond typewriter that ever crossed the Atlantic to a purchaser. (I have since used up that and four others besides, including three Remingtons and one Smith Premier.)” – Rev. John Faulkner Potts

The Smith Premier typewriter pictured at the top of this page was owned by the Rev. John Faulkner Potts. The photograph of the “Concordance desk” in his study at Stancote, his stone cottage in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, was taken in the fall of 1900, shortly before his Swedenborg Concordance was finished.

pottslovingcup.jpgThis year marks the 108th anniversary of the completion of the The Swedenborg Concordance: A Complete Work of Reference to the Theological Writings of Emanuel Swedenborg. (more…)

First Academy School Opening (1877)

1889classaugust08.jpgAs Bryn Athyn College of the New Church students return to classes in 2008, they are being met by giant mounds of earth and the sounds of heavy construction, part of an extensive growth plan for the campus. As they pass by the College’s entrance signs they may have noticed a small phrase below the school’s name: “established 1877.” The official opening of the first school of the Academy of the New Church took place on Monday, September 3, 1877.

cherrystreetaugust08.jpgThe first school was on the lower floor of the church building on Cherry Street in Philadelphia (see photo, left), which at that time was being used by the newly formed Advent Society. (more…)

New Church Sculptor John Flaxman: Deliver Us from Evil

deliverusaugust8.jpgThe mind of the noted British sculptor John Flaxman (1755-1826) “was earnest, enthusiastic, and highly poetic; his temper serene; his affections warm and benevolent; and his whole character shone with the angelic light of pure disinterestedness and cheerful piety. Religion was not with him a thing set apart for occasional use, regarded only for the sake of the world’s opinions, or because the world has lost its attractions; it was the vivifying principle of his existence; it guided every feeling, was blended with every thought, and passed into every action. In this dishonest, hypocritical world, a simple-minded, sincere man must necessarily be considered very peculiar; and John Flaxman was so regarded. He was a receiver of the Doctrines of the New Jerusalem, a humble believer that the revelations of Emanuel Swedenborg were graciously provided by the Lord, for the restoration of a true faith and church in the world” (more…)

Seal of the General Church of the New Jerusalem

gcsealglencairnjuly8.jpgDaily life exposes us to a stream of familiar advertising images: McDonald’s golden arches, Starbucks’ mermaid, the Prudential rock, etc. These commercial symbols are designed to create “brand recognition” for the companies they represent. Religious organizations also adopt logos and attempt to create a certain brand identity, but for a very different purpose. The logos, seals and emblems of religious bodies are meant to convey a sense of the spiritual truths they believe in. The General Church of the New Jerusalem, headquartered in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, developed their seal in the early 1900s.

gcmemthumbjuly8.jpgThe design for the earliest form of the General Church seal was inspired by these words: “Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man. . . . He had in His right hand seven stars . . .” (Rev. 1:12-13, 16). (more…)

New Church Worthies (Now Online)

hirampowersjune8.jpgThe history of the establishment of New Church groups in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries is, at heart, the story of individuals. New Church people have always been interested in the personal stories of men and women who, for a wide variety of reasons, were readers of the works of Emanuel Swedenborg, and who subsequently accepted them as Divine revelation from God. New Church Worthies, published in England in 1884, is now available online at This book contains thirty-three biographical sketches of early New Church people, each one with a unique personal story. A sampling of just three of these individuals follows below: (more…)

New Church Day (June 19, 1770)

chapelwindowface.jpgThe nineteenth day of June, 1770, is the most significant date in the history of the New Church. It was on this day that the Lord called together the twelve disciples who had followed Him on earth, instructed them in the Heavenly Doctrine of the New Jerusalem, and sent them out to teach that “the Lord God Jesus Christ reigns, whose kingdom shall be for ages and ages.” This was the beginning of the New Christian Church. It is often referred to as the “birthday” of the New Church, or simply “New Church Day.”

This date was originally revealed in 1771, with the publication of the book True Christian Religion, by Emanuel Swedenborg. The importance of the date has been recognized since the origin of New Church groups. (more…)

Swedenborg Medal Issued by the Swedish Academy (1858)

medal5-30c.jpgOn one side of a small medal, a man in Roman dress stops beside a sheer rock face, bearing a lighted torch in his right hand.



medal5-30a.jpgAbove him is the Latin phrase “Quaerenti Defuit Orbis” (To the seeker, the world was found lacking). And below his feet: “Arcana Velo Sublato Adspexit Vates” (With the veil lifted the seer gazed upon mysteries). Underneath this is “MDCCLXXII” (1772, the date of Swedenborg’s death). (more…)

The Society for Faith and Charity (1796-1830)

book.JPGThe minutes of the Society for Faith and Charity (a Swedish organization active from 1796 to 1830) are “a perfect gold mine, a big package of New Church History . . . The Society received money from England for the publication of the Writings, and there was for a time a lively correspondence which will produce bibliographical information of much interest. The matrikel (catalogue of members), handsomely bound in now faded silk, contains not only the names of members, in many cases in autograph, but also many dates and shows precisely how the movement was spreading” (Alfred H. Stroh. Letter quoted in New Church Life 1911, 404).

odhnertombstone.jpgpehrodhner.jpgThe Societas Pro Fide et Charitate was organized in 1796, chiefly for the purpose of publishing Swedenborg’s works in Sweden. The existence of the Society was kept secret because of Swedish persecution against New Church ideas (more…)

Alnwick Grove Park

alnwickgrove.jpg“I can remember that there was a good sized round pavilion for dancing, picnic tables, and one or two other buildings not as large as the round pavilion. The latter, I think was up the hill above the railroad, and the others were down nearer the Creek. Before my day I know that the young people of our Church came out from Philadelphia on the train for picnics. That was before any of us moved out here. The station was then called Alnwick Grove, but there were not many trains” (Freda Pendleton. Letter to Sylvia M. Fesmire. 14 January 1949. Academy of the New Church Archives, Swedenborg Library, Bryn Athyn, PA).

canoeingthumb.jpgAlnwick Grove, a park along the Pennypack Creek just south of what is now the Bryn Athyn Post Office, between the stations then known as Alnwick Grove and Huntingdon Valley, was an early destination for members of the Advent Society in Philadelphia. Excursions occurred long before the Society’s formal decision to relocate to the area in 1893: “On June 19th [1880] the Academy held its third annual celebration in the picnic grounds near Alnwick Grove . . .” (more…)

The New Church History Image Project (Online)

cathedralarch.jpgThe amount of news coverage given to the recent discovery of a childhood photograph of Helen Keller, and a potentially “new” photograph of Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, speaks to the power of historic images. has a large collection of historic photographs available online for those who visit the Web site. The New Church History Image Project currently has photographs organized into five albums, with a limitless capacity for the addition of future albums. Work is now in progress on a new album: “Early New Church Places of Worship.” (more…)

Pageant Depicting the Story of Joseph (1930)

pharaohthumb.jpg“Yes, the schools are at work on the production of a pageant, the story of Joseph. It is the same one that was given two years ago, but this time we are getting it up particularly for the Assembly. Step into the gym, if you are on the Campus, and see the work that is being done—clothes lines hung with dyed costumes, sewing machines humming, and anthropoids working with coils of wire and big lamps. Painted properties stand against the wall and the throne of Pharaoh occupies the corner” (Beryl Caldwell, “The Pageant,” The Academy Yearbook, 1930, 9).

ankhsthumb.jpgIn 1930, a pageant depicting The Story of Joseph was presented at an Assembly held by the General Church of the New Jerusalem in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania. The recently dedicated Assembly Hall (now the Mitchell Performing Arts Center) (more…)

New Church Influences on the British Antislavery Movement

insurrection2.jpg“The greater part of [the slaves] were women and children. Notwithstanding this, they had been thrown into the sloop as if they had been articles of lumber, and devoid of feeling. Obliged, moreover, from too close a stowage, to lie on the inequalities and protuberances of the bare planks, without being able to change their position they had in the course of only eight days . . . been very materially hurt; for when I saw them brought out of the sloop, they had several contusions on various parts of their bodies, and in others their flesh was severely cut. A poor child in particular, about two years old, had a very deep wound in his side, made in the manner above stated. He lay afterwards, upon being landed, with the wound contiguous to the ground, so that the sand getting into it, put him to exquisite pain. I mention this instance, only to give an idea of what are thought to be rooms of accommodation for slaves, and of that inhumanity, which naturally springs out of the prosecution of this trade” (more…)

New School Building in London, England (1892)

michaelc.jpg“The new building which has been erected for the use of the Academy School in London is situated in Brixton, a part of London adjoining Camberwell, about three miles from the ‘City.’ The building faces the west. It is small and compact-looking, built of white brick, and is in a very pleasant neighborhood, with plenty of open space at the back. The basement, which, owing to the nature of the foundation, had to be built half underground, contains two class-rooms, behind which are the janitors apartments. On the upper floor is a large hall, at the east end of which are recesses for the Chancel and Repository. This hall is used for the morning worship and also as a class-room. In addition to this the members of the General Church [of the Advent] worship there every Sunday.

londonschoolthumb.jpgGreat attention has been paid to the furnishing of the building, every convenience being afforded to the teachers and scholars. The church furniture is particularly beautiful, having been designed and executed entirely according to correspondence. In fact, London can now be said to have the finest church furniture in the General Church. It is constructed of the best oak. (more…)

Early Childhood Memories in Bryn Athyn

vinetchildren.jpg“How did the Bryn Athyn children entertain themselves? They climbed trees for one thing and improvised many little games of their own. There was ‘Pussy wants a Corner,’ jump rope, ‘Tisket-a-Tasket’ and ‘I’m the King of the Castle.’ Baseball was popular which we played in the Acton Field, across the way. . . . 

cowgrazingstream.jpg“We wandered long distances over farm land (which was everywhere then) and well out of Bryn Athyn boundaries. In those days it was safe to stray that far and our parents didn’t seem to be concerned. (more…)

The Hindi Swedenborg Society (India, 1914)

group in india.jpg“Mr. M. R. Bhatt, writing from Baroda, India, after expressing thanks for a parcel of books and tracts, says: ‘I have since had the good fortune of reading many of the wonderful works of Swedenborg, and I have got them together with all the available works of the venerable Dr. Wilkinson. . . . I am a Brahmin [the highest Indian caste] by birth, but already I am a follower of the Heavenly Doctrine revealed by Swedenborg; and I hope I shall be able in due time even to appropriate his doctrine of the Lord. . . .’ Later the same gentleman wrote: ‘In continuation of my last letter I am happy to inform you that since I sent it our Lord has graciously blessed me with the faith I longed for, and I am made a missionary of the New Church. . . .  Already the new light has been hailed in various quarters with more or less delight. I have been reading the Word and translating Heaven and Hell. My wife follows me in the new faith, my mother and sister alternately hope and fear, and my friends and pupils wish to believe . . .’” (“The Swedenborg Society,” New Church Life 1898, 128).

heartofindia.jpgManishankar Ratnajee Bhatt worked for the spread of Swedenborg’s theological works in India from the 1890s until his death in 1923 (see New Church Life 1924, 61). Bhatt was the first president of the Hindi Swedenborg Society, established in 1914, and oversaw its journal, The Heart of India (see photo, left). He first learned about Swedenborg when he came across a copy of William White’s Life of Swedenborg in a public library in Bombay. He then contacted the Swedenborg Society in London, England, for further reading material, and began a systematic study. When he became convinced of the truth of Swedenborg’s writings, he published a public letter proclaiming his Christian faith and removed from his left shoulder the sacred thread which was the sign of his caste (more…)

Now Online! Bryn Athyn Cathedral: The Building of a Church

cathedralbook.jpg“I had expected much of the Bryn Athyn church, but nothing like what I found. If it existed in Europe, in France or England, it would still be at once six centuries behind, and a hundred years ahead of its time. But on the soil of great architectural traditions, it would be in a measure comprehensible, and the presence in the neighbourhood of the great works of the past would in a way pre­pare the mind for this achievement of the present age. For your church, alone of modern buildings, in my judgment, is worthy of comparison with the best the Middle Ages produced” (A. Kingsley Porter. Letter to Raymond Pitcairn. 24 October 1917. Glencairn Museum Archives, Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania. Emphasis added). 

caprintbglennbox18.jpgA. Kingsley Porter (1883-1933), an American art historian and medievalist, expressed this opinion of Bryn Athyn Cathedral in a letter he wrote to Raymond Pitcairn following a visit in 1917. Porter was a Professor of Fine Arts at Yale University at the time, and would later serve with a commission to restore French cathedrals damaged during the First World War. He visited Bryn Athyn on several occasions and carried on a lengthy correspondence with Pitcairn.

Raymond Pitcairn, who oversaw all aspects of the Cathedral’s construction, had hoped to write a book about the project, but a very busy life had not allowed him to devote the necessary time to the task. He eventually commissioned E. Bruce Glenn, a Professor at Bryn Athyn College of the New Church, to take on the project, giving him full access to his personal archive and library. Pitcairn was able to review some of the chapters before his death in 1966. Bryn Athyn Cathedral: The Building of a Church was published in 1971. (more…)

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