Lincoln in Stained Glass
Creator: Edgar De Witt Jones
Subjects: Historic Designation, Stained Glass Windows
Description: Chapter 15 from the book Lincoln and the Preachers by Edgar De Witt Jones. This discusses stories about the multiple stained glass windows on Abraham Lincoln in churches across the United States of America.
Original Format: Other
Contributor: Carlton Rolle
Transcript: It surely never occurred to Abraham Lincoln that the time would come when he would appear in stained glass in a church edifice. Naturally, in his Presidential years, when he thought of his place in history, it would occur to him that there would be shrines and statues and monuments. But to be wrought into stained glass in a church window (he who had never been a formal member of any church) - how preposterous the ideal.
If Lincoln were to come to life, perhaps nothing would so startle him as to learn that his tall, gaunt figure glorifies windows in five American churches*, and, singularly-or is it such?- these five windows are in edifices widely apart geographically, and representing four communions. Three of the windows memorialize the same event in Lincoln's life-the Emancipation Proclamation.
Plymouth Church, Brooklyn, made famous as the pulpit throne of Henry Ward Beecher, has a Lincoln window. It was dedicated in 1909, the centenary year of Mr. Lincoln's birth. It is approximately four feet eight inches wide and eleven feet six inches high. The President stands near a table in the center, and his right hand rests on the document which struck the shackles from millions of slaves. Dr. Newell Dwight Hillis was the minster of the church at that time, and in unveiling the window he said:
Abraham Lincoln was on the God's best gifts to this Republic. He was given as a little child to the angel of Sorrow and Suffering, who planted his way with thorns, loaded him with burdens which made him strong for service and took from his arms all that he loved that he might have sympathy for the lowest slave. Today, Washington, the founder and father, and Lincoln, the emancipator of this land, stand among the mighty of the nations of the earth.
The second window is in St. Stanislaus Cathedral of the Polish National Catholic Church, Scranton, Pennsylvania. In 1925, when the rebuilding of this church was in progress, and on the initiative of Prime Bishop Francis Hodur, organizer and founder of the Polish National Church, "the building committee purchased Lincoln's portrait, a masterpiece of stained art glass. It is one of the sixteen others that grace the interior of the edifice" The portrait of Lincoln is in full size figure, with the Emancipation Proclamation in his right hand, and with the emblem of the thirteen original states at the lower left corner. The committee purchased the window at a cost of five hundred dollars.
At the dedication of this church on June 13, 1926, Prime Bishop Hodur, referring to the Lincoln window, said: "We understand that he wasn't a church member, but his acts and deeds stamp him as one of the greatest Christian of all time."
The third window, appropriately, is at Springfield, Illinois, in a church which has both Lincoln and Washington in stained glass the Catholic Cathedral in that capital city, dedicated in 1928 at a total cost (and this includes the parochial school) of one and a half million dollars.
A description of the window at the time of its dedication stated: "The Lincoln window portrays the President interviewing Archbishop John Hughes of New York, at the beginning of the Civil War, and the giving to him of a commission to the Court of Emperor Napoleon III of France, to induce his Majesty to hold France and other European nations from following the hostile action of England, which had recognized and aided the Southern Confederacy."*2 The figure of Lincoln in this window is at the right of the observer and is partly hidden by the folds of the flag. Besides the Archbishop there is a third figure in the background in civilian clothes, which may represent one of the President's secretaries. In the background and dominating the scene is the figure of Jesus on the Cross.
The Washington window represents the Father of his Country and our first Presidency giving to Bishop Carroll, brother of Charles Carroll, signer of the Declaration of Independence, a commission to go to Canada, to hold the Catholic French Canadians friendly to America during its battle with England for its independence. In the background is the angel of Peace.
A unique feature of these windows, which were made in America of American glass, is that they are not leaded windows, as are the church windows of the old school. These windows are built with copper and tin as the metal binders of the countless bits of colored glass which make the mosaic pictures.
A fourth Lincoln window is located in historic Foundry (Methodist) Church in Washington, D.C. President Lincoln was a frequent worshiper at the old Foundry Church at 14th and G, where his close friend, Bishop Matthew Simpson, preached the stirring missionary sermon that inspired Lincoln to become a member of Missionary Society of the Methodist Church.
In the Foundry Lincoln window, under a full-length portrait of Lincoln, is a statement the Civil War President made to the Methodist bishops who called upon him: "Blessed be the Lord God who in our great trial giveth us the churches."
In the twin panel of this window is a reproduction of the certificate as life director of the Society which was issued to the President and is now in the Townsend collection. *3 It appears under a picture of the Ascending Christ.
I was not aware of the existence of other Lincoln windows when I began to entertain the project of a Lincoln memorial window in Central Woodward Christian Church, Detroit, a half-million-dollar edifice which we dedicated in the fall of 1928. The times were prosperous, and I felt sure that I could finance the enterprise outside the congregation. So I set out to secure a capable artist. Having learned that Mr. H. K. Herbert, an excellent Detroit craftsman, had done some impressive stained glass work for Mr. Edsel Ford, I sought him out and sketched verbally what I had in mind. I told him that I favored the picturing of Lincoln as the Emancipator striking the shackles from a slave boy, and Mr. Herbert liked the idea. In a few weeks he had completed a huge drawing, and after we studied and criticized it together, he made some changes, and was soon at work in the much longer and more difficult process of putting Abraham Lincoln in stained glass.
There was just one man that I had in mind to deliver the dedicatory address, Dr. William E. Barton, long-student of Lincoln, author of a dozen books and innumerable paper, pamphlets, and speeches on the subject. To my delight he promptly accepted the invitation to be the orator of the event, and on Sunday afternoon, June 2, 1929, the impressive ceremonies were carried out, preceded by an organ recital by Martin Van Liew, organist of Central Woodward Church, in the presence of a large audience of representative citizens. Dr. Barton was in high gear rhetorically. A master of assemblies and at home in the place, he was exceptionally felicitous and effective with his theme. A cluster of his paragraph follow:
Lincoln in his wildest dreams never imagined he would some day be in a stained glass window, I venture. Yet we've not finished the category of saints; its a kind of atheism to believe that God was once among men and now has departed. We believe that God guided the hand and heart of Abraham Lincoln.
We know that Lincoln as a boy made the most of the small opportunities for education that were his. He had a history of the United States and Parson Weems' biography of George Washington-an ideal library for the man that Lincoln was to be.
We know that he had the gift of eloquence. The greatest mistake he ever made was when he said in his Gettysburg address, "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here." By grace of his eloquence the world will remember that speech when a footnote is needed to explain in what war the Battle of Gettysburg occurred.
We know that he was a man who fought thorough a cruel and bloody war and never hated. We know that he could be a much sterner man that the stories we have heard of him would indicate. He was kindly, but he could be firm when justice demanded it. The one time in our history when a man was hanged for engaging in the slave trade was during Lincoln's administration, and Lincoln refused to commute his sentence.
And we know that Lincoln was a deeply religious man, though he was reticent concerning his beliefs and was never one to wear his heart on his sleeve.
When he insisted on making his Emancipation Proclamation in the face of the united opposition of his cabinet, and was pressed for his reasons, he said, "I promised my god that if Lee were driven out of Pennsylvania I would free that slaves." Lincoln kept that promise to God.
*1 There is also the fourth aisle window on "State and Government," on the west wall of the Riverside Church, New York City, depicts the Emancipation Proclamation. Also, in this same church a statue of Lincoln is in the center panel of the chancel screen. It is above and to the left of the cross and the baptistery, and is one of the larger of the eighteen figures depicted in this section of the screen, which has for its general theme, "Christ, the Humanitarian."
*2 This statement is not literally true. There were many sympathizers with the South in England, but Great Britain never officially recognized the Confederacy, thanks largely to Secretary of State Seward.
*3 See Chapter XIII.