“Why These Windows Matter”
Sarah Roberson Yates
follows was originally written as a talk that I was invited
to give to the congregation of the Salem Presbyterian
Church shortly before the church windows were renovated.
As I said that day, saving the windows was going to take
serious work and a significant investment of resources.
Fortunately, the congregation has taken seriously its
stewardship of these beautiful windows, and the ancient
messages that are still fresh today.
have not rewritten this talk, except for changing the
introduction and a few minor details. My talk in
the sanctuary of the church in which I grew up was deeply
personal, and I decided to keep that feeling, rather
than turn this into one that’s more academic.
I know that my mother gave a talk on
these windows several years ago. When I was preparing
what I’d say, Julia
Dyer asked me if I was going to give the same speech – I
know a lot of you probably remember her talk.
Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find her
paper. I’m quite certain she talked with great
feeling about the church in the era when these windows
were purchased, and the folks who donated them, because
she was active in the church back then and she knew everyone
whose name appears on one of the plaques.
But I don’t – and with a few exceptions – neither
do many of you.
A DIFFERENT RELATIONSHIP
Today, we’re called to have a different relationship
with these windows. In my opinion, they are the most
beautiful church windows in Salem, certainly, but they’re
also among the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.
IN NEW ENGLAND
you’ve been to churches in New England, you probably
realized that many churches there have clear windows.
Now, the colonists imported a great many products from
England and Europe, and some outstanding artisans were
among the early settlers, so those clear windows were
a choice our ancestors made.
That’s because those ever-cheerful Puritans distrusted
rich adornments. And colored windows were adornments.
PROCESS OF MAKING GLASS
We know that the Egyptians had figured
out how to make glass by about 400 B.C. We don’t have a clue how
they figured out that if you mixed sand in the right
proportions with alkali and then applied heat, you’d
end up with glass. At first, the process was regarded
as a mystery, and it was a secret known only to a very
select band of craftsmen.
PROCESS OF MAKING STAINED GLASS WINDOWS
By the 10th century AD, artisans had
figured out how to create whole windows constructed from
a mosaic of colored glass. We know that because a Catholic
monk named Theophilus recorded detailed instructions
on how to construct a stained glass window using pieces
of colored glass with lead supports, or “came.” The
process he described has changed little over time.
As church architecture got bigger, glass
artisans began making more elaborate windows. You can
see the highest form of the art in European cathedrals
that were built in the Middle Ages.
In one sense, I guess our windows are
no match for those fabulously intricate stained glass
windows from a cathedral. But in a very real sense – they
suit us better.
HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES – PRESBYTERIANS IN
Before I really start talking about
the windows – just
a little historical perspective about Presbyterians in
Salem. The first congregation formed in 1816 – that’s
also the year Indiana became the 19th state to enter
the Union – just 10 years after Merriweather Lewis
and William Clark returned from their momentous journey
to map the great and unknown lands of north west territory.
In that time, Indiana was at the edge
of the western frontier. It was, quite literally, the
The building we’re in today wasn’t the first
meeting place for Presbyterians in Salem – when
the congregation first formed, they met in the court
house – and when the congregation built its first
church, that was located on the East side of High Street
at what was then the extreme North end of the town, probably
no more than a couple of blocks from here.
The congregation apparently didn’t like the commute,
so they elected to move closer to the square – and
that’s where this building comes in.
WORK ON THIS BUILDING
Work on this building was begun in 1839 – so, what
was happening in America then? The nation didn’t
even have its Northern and Southern borders defined;
yet we were on an inexorable march toward Civil War because
the issue of slavery was slicing deeper divisions between
North and South. The nation’s first spontaneous
liberation movement – the Underground Railroad – was
aiding escaping slaves from the American South reach
freedom in Canada, and Presbyterians throughout southern
Indiana played pivotal roles in that movement. Martin
Van Buren was President, and the nation was in the grip
of a deep economic Depression. So building this church
was an act of faith right from the beginning.
NOW FOR THE WINDOWS
Those tell you something about the times,
turn now to the windows. First stop – their architecture.
The style of window is called a Gothic
arch – the
Gothic Revival was a movement in American architecture
that ran from about 1840 – 1880 – and it
mimicked the style of building you find in Europe that
was built in the Medieval period – in other words,
the period of the great cathedrals.
The Gothic Revival movement was really
big in “rural” areas,
in part because one of its first proponents wrote a book
detailing its use in rural settings.
NOT ORIGINAL WINDOWS – BUT SHAPE IS
Even though these aren’t the original
windows, their shape is. These windows were installed
in August 1956. At that time, the church members had
very protracted discussions about what to do with the
church building, which at that time was over 100 years
old. Eventually, they decided to put more money into
renovating the building, rather than starting over. New
windows were part of that general “face-lift.”
SYMBOLICALLY POINT US TO GOD
Symbolically – these windows point us to God – they
lead the eye upward – and point straight to the
We tend to think of the medallions as the important
part of the window – but every aspect of these
windows conveys a meaning. There’s nothing accidental.
EACH WINDOW THE SAME
Each separate window is the same. Two long lateral
panels, topped by a diamond shaped crest. – and if you
break down the structure further, each lateral panel
is the same – two bottom panels, the medallion
panel, topped by an arch.
To Christians, the number three is the most powerful
number, because it symbolizes the Trinity. And each of
these windows is loaded with 3s.
Each bottom panel contains of six rows – that’s
2 3s -- of three diamonds. And you get a diamond when
you put the bases of two equilateral triangles together.
Also – see these ivy scrolls? Three leaves. Ivy
also stands for faithfulness and memory. And many of
these windows were given to the church in memory of someone
who had died.
Also, there’s a repeated motif of a cross formed
by these stylized leaves – 4 leaves also represent
the 4 evangelists – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John
-- and each window is topped by the center diamond cross
that is a larger rendering of the smaller ones.
Now, for the windows themselves – Let’s
start back in Carolyn Haag’s corner (the North
1. Cross with I.N.R.I. banner
banner on the cross has the initial letters for the Latin
inscription on the cross – Jesus Nazarenus Rex
Iudaeorum. Jesus of Nazereth, King of the Jews. You’ve
no doubt seen this in a lot of churches and books, gift
shops, because it is one of the most recognizable symbols
The bunch of Easter lilies - The
lily is a flower associated with Jesus’ resurrection.
If you’re a gardener, you know you plant the bulb,
it decays, staying in the ground over winter, and in
the spring, comes back to new life.
These windows were given by the Mariners,
which was an adult fellowship group that was very active
during the 1950s, 1960s, and 70s.
2. Chalice with grapes
course, the chalice with the grapes is a representation
of the blood of Christ and the sacrament of Holy Communion.
Censer - I’ve got to confess,
I’m pretty well stumped by this one. I always thought
it was a lantern. And that one’s easy – a
light shining in the darkness – one of the most
universal symbols of Jesus.
But I don’t really think it’s
a lantern – Then Sara and I talked about the possibility
it was a censer –
a container that holds burning incense – these
are commonly used in Catholic services – and you’ve
probably seen a priest holding a censer on a chain and
swinging it – so that the incense clouds the air.
See that little puff of white back there?
Censers have been used since the ancient
temples, when a piece of a burnt offering was placed
and if you remember stories from Exodus, you might recall
there are several references to the stiff-necked children
of God offering up burnt offerings that smelled sweet
But when I showed a picture of this window
to the priest at the church where I work, she said it
wasn’t a censer – she suggested it might
be a tabernacle – that’s a small chest that
carried the Torah. If you remember from the Exodus story,
the Children of Israel carried the tabernacle and God’s
being surrounded it – a spirit cloud by day and
a fire by night.
I’m afraid I’m going to have
to leave you in uncertainty!
The windows were given to the church in
memory of Margaret Bare McClellan and Edith McClellan
Wiggs by the Louie DeJean family
Menorah is the 7-branched candle holder from the temple.
Today, it’s a well-known symbol of the Jewish faith – tho
this isn’t the same menorah that’s used at
Channauka – that one has 9 candles.
This is the traditional shape of the candle
holder from the Temple in Jerusalem. When Christians
use this symbol, the 7 branches represent the Holy Spirit
and the 7 gifts: wisdom, understanding, counsel, might,
knowledge, fear of the Lord and delight in the Lord.
The 2 tablets of Moses - It’s
fitting that in the next panel, we have the two tablets,
or the 10 Commandments, that Moses received on Mt. Sinai.
Together, these two make a strong statement about our
Old Testament foundation.
The windows were given in memory of Mr.
and Mrs. John F. Alexander by Laura Alexander
John Alexander had a hardware and china
store on the southwest corner of West Market and North
Water streets. In my mother’s scant notes that
I found in the church files – she notes that she
doesn’t recall hearing much about John Alexander’s
participation in the church, but Mrs. Alexander was active
in the church’s missionary society. Laura was their
daughter – who was unmarried – and worked
in the store.
4. 6-pointed star
6-pointed star is the Star of David, another symbol of
our shared heritage with Jews – but drawn this
way, the star is what’s known as the “Creation” Star.
It took God 6 days to create the world.
The Right Hand of God in cloud -
Notice – 3 fingers extended downward. Another 3.
That’s the right hand of God extending from a cloud –the
fingers in this position represent a blessing, or benediction.
These windows are for The Rev. Mr. George
W. and Mrs. Martha E. Telle given by Louise Telle Martin.
Rev. Telle was the principal at the high
school and Mother recalled hearing about him – Louise
taught elementary school – she played the old pump
organ that used to sit in the choir loft.
Okay – now we move to the other side.
5. Crown w/ cross and cross
crown with the cross is also another enduring symbol
of the Christian faith and represents the “Kingdom
of the Lord,” and Jesus’ role as spiritual
king. Note the clusters of three on each end of the cross – and
the three spikes of the crown. More 3s.
Ford A. Smith and Blanche F. Smith given
by Lee E. Smith
Ford Smith was the founder of Smith Cabinet – and
his wife Blanche was very active in the church and a
major benefactor. She was the sister of Mrs. John Alexander
– back there. Lee was their son – he was
married to Eleanor Smith and was the father of Terrilee
Suvak and Kim, whom some of you probably know.
6. Noah's dove
reason I know this is Noah’s dove is that we see
the bird from the side carrying a green sprig in its
mouth. When the dove is flying downward – as it
is in the next panel, that’s a symbol for the Holy
Spirit. Like the rainbow, Noah’s dove symbolizes
God’s covenant with his people.
Boat with cross mast - You’ll
see a lot of different styles in boats and masts in Christian
symbols – and the image is one of the oldest in
Christendom – the two most predominant images in
the catacombs of Rome are boats and fishes –
Traditionally, the boat represents the
Church – and recalls stories of Noah’s ark,
Moses’ rescue from the bulrushes, and Jesus and
the disciples, fishing on the Sea of Galilee --
Ella Frances McClintock given by Arthur
Ella McClintock was the mother to Arthur,
who gave this window – She was very active in the
Missionary Society, and Arthur was one of the strongest
financial supporters of the church, especially during
the years of the Great Depression, when times were very
hard around here.
7. A scroll?
book or scroll represents the word of God, and the inscription
Lux, Lucet in, Tenebris means “the light shines
Presbyterian shield - This
is the shield of the General Assembly that was re-envisioned
by Malcolm Grear, one of the nation’s outstanding
graphic designers into this – [Show new shield]
The new shield conveys virtually the same images in a
more stylized way.
One of the things that’s interesting
about these two panels is that they’re artistically
quite different from the other medallions. They have
more of the feeling of an English baronial hall than
the others which tend to be stylized images.
James F. and Araminta Lockwood Persise,
Miss Ellen Lockwood given by Ellen Persise Stout
James F. and Araminta Lockwood Persise
were my great grandparents – and Ellen Lockwood
was Araminta’s sister. Ellen Persise Stout, who
gave the window, was their daughter – my great
aunt. She grew up in this church, but moved away to Louisville
after she got married.
8. Open Bible
The open Bible is a very familiar symbol
in Christian churches – it symbolizes the accessibility
of the word of God to all.
Candle - A candle, of course, is
another symbol for the light of God’s word illuminating
the dark places.
Mr. and Mrs. Reed Boggs. I imagine a number
of you remember Reed and Carrie Boggs –
Reed owned a men’s clothing store where the antique
mall is on the square today. They were cornerstones of
this church, and active in it throughout the years. As
a side-note – Carrie and my mother were close friends – they
also played in a bridge four-some that included Barb
Helsel and Agnes Lundberg – but mother and Carrie
didn’t necessarily see eye-to-eye on all issues.
In fact, they had some rather vigorous disagreements,
among which had to do with womens’
roles in the church. My mother was the first ruling elder
ordained in the church – and Carrie Boggs absolutely
did not approve of women serving as elders.
9. Building on a rock
Lee L. Persise and Ellen Persise Stout
given by Ellen Persise Stout. This window was dedicated
to my grandparents by my aunt.
The building on the rock is often seen
as a symbol for the church – In the 6th chapter
of Matthew, we learn that the apostle Peter was designated
by Jesus as
“the rock upon which I will build my church.”
The band that circles the medallion reads “A
mighty fortress is our God.” Except –
the word fortress is misspelled – I actually had
to ask Sara where the window with the misspelled word
was – you’d think I’d have seen it
before now – but I never was much of a proofreader.
Burning bush - And finally, of
course, the burning bush, one of the ways in which God
appeared to Moses.
Windows of colored glass in a cathedral
or church have always been an expression faith. The windows
that surround us today are, quite literally, the Faith
of Our Fathers. These symbols are expressions of what
mattered to the people of the Salem Presbyterian Church
in the 1950s when they replaced the church’s original
windows, and the symbols still resonate today as the
foundation principles that guide Christian worship.
In the coming months, as you work as a
individuals and a congregation to save these windows,
keep in mind that you’re not merely saving some
pretty pieces of colored glass. You’re making a
statement about your own faith, about what matters to
you today, and what legacy you’ll be leaving for
The renovation of the church windows was begun
in September, 2004 and completed in December.
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