Who We Are
Transformation: marked change; alteration—most often for the better. How appropriate that a place of worship would remain such a remarkable living testament to transformation through artistic vision. St. John’s Episcopal Church in beautiful downtown Victorian Franklin, Pennsylvania provides an opportunity to travel back in time to experience the masterful aesthetics of The Louis Comfort Tiffany Collection.
Anglicans were among the early British settlers to our area, as the first traders, surveyors and military to set up posts in the 1740s along the Allegheny, Youghiogheny and Ohio Rivers. St. John’s began her history in 1826, a mere thirty years after Andrew Ellicott, the surveyor of Washington, D.C. was commissioned to lay out the over 1,000 acres to be designated as “Franklin” (after Benjamin Franklin).
In 1826 St. Johns received a charter of incorporation, along with the current lot at the corner of Buffalo Street and 12th Street. Construction began on a small, red brick building; the total cost was $863 which included the lot, valued at $75. After the walls and roof were constructed, funding failed and work was suspended before floors, windows and doors could be fabricated. For six years the building provided shelter for cattle.
The oil boom began in 1859 and with it came economic wealth and the stability of an established community. The face of Franklin began to change drastically as commercial and residential structures sprouted up quickly. Franklin experienced transformation from a riverside Indian settlement to a grand example of the finest Victorian architecture of the time; St. John’s was no exception.
In 1865 the original brick church was demolished. The new stone church was built and consecrated three years later. A decade later the community celebrated her second half century. The local newspaper reported, “… (her) existence is under the most favorable conditions, with a devoted rector and a united membership, a beautiful church building and every indication of enjoying a long career of joyous prosperity.
”As transformative a moment as was Colonel Edwin Drake drilling the world's first commercial oil well, in 1859, were the events of February 24, 1900. The story is not a new one, as historical church fires go. A candle left burning in the bellows room, as workers were a lunch, set fire to the church with an ensuing blaze that demolished all but the bell tower and the lower exterior of the church proper.
In the tradition of the Greek mythological sacred firebird, the phoenix, and theChristian reality of Resurrection, from death came life; St. John’swas reborn anew. On the Sunday of the Resurrection 1901 the first Massin the new church was celebrated. Construction was completed in theearly summer at a cost of $39,000.
Though the original stone church windows were clear glass, the restoration provided the opportunity to glorify the ornate artistry of (colored) stained glass. Colored glass had been produced and utilized in Roman and Egyptian glasswork long before the early Christian churches of the 4th and 5th centuries, many of which still remain today.
Religious or ecclesiastical art in the form of stained glass reached its height by the 15th century and was used to illustrate the narrative of Holy Scripture to what was, at the time, a primarily illiterate society. Stained glass continued to be produced through the Renaissance period, even into the Reformation, despite the era of Protestantism. Under Henry the VIII the monasteries were dissolved and these depictions of Biblical character, now considered objects of abusive veneration, were nearly completely destroyed.
Not until the Catholic revival in England was there a renewal of the Gothic and medieval styles of architecture. With this came a revival throughout Britain, France and the United States as well as a revival of ecclesiastical glass work. The J & R Lamb Studies of New York City was at the forefront of this resurgence in the United States.
For many years throughout the mid-19th century Lamb Studios was the main producer of ecclesiastical stained glass in the United States. By 1875 the celebrated artists of this medium included John LaFarge and Louis Comfort Tiffany, two American painters who began experimenting with glass.
Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933) was the son of Charles Tiffany, the founder of Tiffany Jewelers, NYC. He had an early interest in art—trained by George Hess—he was well known for his watercolors and oils by the time he was 30.
Tiffany's first two glass factories burned to the ground. He established the Tiffany Glass Works in Corona, Long Island in 1878 and introduced mass production to art, employing over 200 artisans, including the best designers and workmen he could bring from Europe. The Tiffany warehouse stocked over 5,000 different shades and textures of glass. Although Tiffany did not design or work on all the windows, the final approval was always his.
The first complete set of church windows was manufactured for St. Mark's Episcopal, Islip, L.I., NY, in 1878. Over the years, much of Tiffany's art was destroyed. Even the lovely lamps which were originally created to make use of leftover glass from the windows were placed in attics. In 1931 the Studio declared bankruptcy. The era of "art nouveau" came to an end.
The Louis Comfort Tiffany Collection at St. John’s Episcopal Church is one of seven surviving complete collections of ecclesiastical stained glass. The first windows installed were the five in the sanctuary (the evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the Christ). The others were installed front to back, the left side and then the right—completed in 1917.
The windows have a lancet shape; a set of three making up a picture called a triptych. The only painting in these windows is in the human features—faces, arms, hands, legs—and in one case, a lamb. All the other details are defined by layering techniques, texturing, varieties of glass and etching.
The collection was restored in December of 1999, in a painstaking process where each was removed, dismantled, cleaned (piece by piece), repaired, re-leaded and copper-foiled. The restoration took approximately five years.
While St. John’s Church is thriving and active as a parish in the Episcopal Diocese of Northwestern Pennsylvania, she is experiencing a reformation of sorts—experiencing transformation—marked changed. During the years of 1901-1935 the church was kept open daily to provide sanctuary for the community of Franklin. All were welcome, invited, and encouraged to enter a place where they might experience transformation in their own lives.
The church is now open daily for those who wish to experience The Louis Comfort Tiffany Collection in its splendor, or to experience the solace, comfort, strength and renewal and restoration of God’s house. Tours are also provided, by experienced docents, for individuals and groups who have an interest in the artistry of the collection, as well as other Tiffany works.
Special events are held throughout the year, to include Breakfast with the Tiffanys—a white-table cloth breakfast in the church which includes period and contemporary music, as well as a program which celebrates the Tiffany collection. And Evening with the Tiffanys is a walk-about event of delicious appetizers and beverages that also includes musical offerings, program and a question and answer period. Both events are geared towards those seeking to experience hospitality, welcome and clarity about Louis Comfort Tiffany and his works. Private group events are also available for students, groups and other organizations.
All proceeds for guided tours go toward restoration and maintenance of the collection. All proceeds for special events and self-guided tours go toward the mission of the church and the Shepherd’s Green Community Food Pantry, a community and faith-based feeding program housed at St. John’s. Please feel free to contact St. John’s at 814.432.5161 with questions or inquiry.