The beauty of the St. John’s stained glass windows is obvious, but the history behind them is even more fascinating.
Learn what the images represent, how they were made, and to whom the windows were dedicated.
The left panel of this window represents Faith. A woman holding a cross often symbolizes Faith in Christian art, a symbol reinforced here by the inscription, “Jesus saith have faith in God.” (Mark 11:22)
The woman might also be meant to represent Ann Sommerville, a founder of St. John’s in whose memory the panel was placed. As a young woman, Ann was part of a women’s sewing circle that, before 1834, formed the nucleus of Episcopal worship in Montgomery. Whenever an Episcopal priest visited town in those days, these ladies and other Episcopalians gathered for worship in the Sommerville home, and Communion was celebrated on a mahogany table in Ann’s living room. On December 20, 1833, she was among the group of “three gentlemen and three ladies” who met to organize the parish of St. John’s.
The right panel is a memorial to Ann Sommerville’s daughter, Martha Ann Noble, and to Martha Ann’s husband John Noble. It depicts a colorful scene from the Old Testament drama, Esther about to be crowned Queen. The inscription from the Book of Esther reads, “He set a Royal Crown upon her head.”
Window 2 – “The Good Samaritan”
Morris Conley Memorial (1870s or early 1880s)
This window depicts Jesus’ memorable parable from Luke’s Gospel, showing the Samaritan assisting an injured traveler along the roadside. The inscription at the bottom of the window describes both the Good Samaritan and Morris Conley, the man in whose memory the window was placed: “He went about doing good.”
Morris Jones Conley was the St. John’s vestryman who presented the resolution in 1852 to build a new church building. This “new building” is, of course, our current Nave, completed in 1855. He was also part of the committee tasked with securing plans for the new church. Active in diocesan and national church affairs from an early date, Conley was elected to represent the Diocese of Alabama at every General Convention of the national Episcopal Church from 1838 until 1859. He was also an Alabama trustee for the General Theological Seminary in New York from 1844 to 1861.
Conley died in 1861, a few months after the start of the Civil War. He had no wife or children, so the memorial was probably given by the Vestry or by members of the Parish.
This window had suffered a good bit of damage over its long life, most recently in 2000 when the traveler’s head, chest and arm were damaged due to vandalism. The broken section was partially repaired 20 years ago, but we recently discovered that some earlier repairs – perhaps from the 1930s or 1940s – had been poorly executed (in one case, with the wrong color glass). The current restoration returns the window, as closely as possible, to its original 19th century appearance.
The scene portrayed in this double window is Jesus at Bethany in the home of Mary and Martha. As in the Gospel story, Mary, the spiritual sister, sits at Jesus’ feet receiving his blessing, while Martha, the more practical sister, stands in the background preparing to bring him sustenance. (Luke 10:38-42)
The window was given in memory of two sisters, both of them baptized, raised and married at St. John’s. Sarah James Farley Doughtie died in 1879 at age 25, and her sister Zoonomia Belle Farley Hall died three years later at age 30. Their parents probably chose the story of Mary and Martha as an appropriate subject for a joint memorial to two sisters.
This window is one of the earliest in St. John’s to contain opalescent stained glass (albeit in small amounts). Developed in the early 1880s by John LaFarge and Louis Comfort Tiffany, opalescent glass revolutionized the ancient art of stained-glass window making. Its milky opacity, created by the mixture of two or more colors and the suspension of particles that reflect and scatter light, creates a distinctive quality. Later windows by Tiffany and the Lamb Studio used opalescent glass to a much greater extent and to greater effect, as can be seen in St. John’s windows 8, 10 and 11.
Eliza Jane Pollard Ball was one of the earliest members of St. John’s Parish. Her husband, George Claiborne Ball, was a member of the Vestry in 1838 and 1839, and her brother Charles Teed Pollard was Senior Warden for 41 years (beginning in 1844). Her son, Charles Pollard Ball, married Ann Mary Seibels in 1868, and it is in their memory that the two large paintings on either side of the Nave were later given. Eliza was buried from St. John’s in 1870.
This exquisite window shows Jesus standing in front of the empty tomb on the Day of Resurrection. An angel holds the stone slab in the background while two dazed-looking guards are seated in the foreground.
The glass that forms Jesus’ robes is an unusual type of “ripple glass,” with an uneven surface on the exterior of the window. The effect is such that when the afternoon sun hits the windows directly, the robes sometimes seem to sparkle. In addition, Art Femenella notes the masterful use of “silver stain” in the halo around Jesus’ head. Silver stain is a technique first developed in the 14th century which involves the skillful application of silver nitrate and certain resins to the glass before kiln-firing (at about 1050° F) in order to produce shades of yellow, gold and amber in varying intensities.
The two figures depicted in the lancets of this window have sometimes been interpreted as Jesus and Mary, but they more likely represent Faith and Hope. In Christian iconography, Faith is often depicted as a woman holding a cross (see, for example, window #1), and Hope as a woman holding an anchor.
The lancet panels were made by the J&R Lamb Studio of New York and were installed in March of 1882.
The stained-glass medallion in the upper part of the window is older than the rest of the glass. The medallion dates to the original construction of the Nave in 1855. Originally, all of the Nave windows were double windows featuring a medallion like this one at the top (and with the lancets probably glazed with plain leaded glass). In most cases, the medallions were replaced when the lower sections were upgraded to stained glass. But in this window and in two others (#14 and #16), the original medallion remains.
The window is a memorial to John D. and Mary Ann Phelan, given by eight of their twelve children. John Phelan was a state Supreme Court Justice and a prominent and respected layman in the Diocese of Alabama. After the Civil War, he moved to Sewanee, Tennessee and served as professor of law there until his death in 1879. Mary Ann Phelan died in 1870.
Eighteen years after this window was given, the last two living Phelan children would give the Ascension window (#10) over the altar.
This much-loved window is a memorial to a child who died in 1869, just one month before his third birthday. It has sometimes been called “The Angel of Death,” but most prefer to see it as “The Guardian Angel.” The child, Francis Milward Williams, was the son of Dr. Joseph M. Williams and Mary Louise Marks Williams.
As with most of the older glass in St. John’s, the maker of this window is unknown, but in this case we know that the imagery is based on a painting by German artist Wilhelm von Kaulbach. The window is made from painted and stained antique glass, and the starry sky is created by the acid-etching of flashed blue glass – cutting away the blue layer to reveal the clear glass underneath. The same unknown American studio that created this window probably also made the Good Shepherd window (#12), which has an identical border and upper medallion, and may have made two others (#2 and #15).
When originally installed, the window’s lower panel was modified to create a large vent that would tilt open. (Ventilators of this type were a feature of most windows in the days before air conditioning, but by the 1960s all of them had been sealed shut.) As part of the recent restoration, the vent’s metal frame and hardware were removed, allowing the window’s glass design to be viewed as originally intended. Repairs to the lower panel also included restoration of the memorial inscription, making it readable for the first time in decades.
This double window is a memorial to the Bell sisters, Sarah and Rebecca, who both died in 1889. It was the gift of their brother. (Window #13 on the opposite side of the Nave is an 1888 memorial to their father, A.R. Bell.) The left panel, the memorial to Sarah Bell, depicts a woman with children—a traditional representation of Charity in Christian art. Sarah was a St. John’s Sunday School teacher for 23 years before her death at age 39. The right panel is in memory of Sarah’s younger sister, Rebecca Bell Rutledge, who was married to Thomas Rutledge. It illustrates, fittingly, the Old Testament story of Rebecca at the Well. (Genesis Chapter 24)
The recent restoration included returning Charity and Rebecca to their proper positions in the window. For the past 70 years, Rebecca was on the left side and Charity on the right. But experts at Femenella & Associates were puzzled by this arrangement, observing that principles of stained-glass window design would more likely place Charity and Rebecca in opposite positions—looking towards each other. After some research, we determined that the window was one of several removed for repairs in 1950 and that, when it was reinstalled, the lancet panels must have been put back in the wrong openings. Documentation from 1890 further establishes an original configuration of Charity on the left and Rebecca on the right.
In addition to the above correction, the name of Rebecca Rutledge, which had been absent from the window’s lower panel as a consequence of some damage many years ago, has now been restored.
This triptych window—located on the side wall of the Chancel—features a large golden cross above a field of lilies in its center panel. The outer panels contain a host of angels gazing upon the luminous cross. Made of extravagantly-colored opalescent glass, the window is attributed to the J&R Lamb Studio of New York. Prior to restoration, it had begun to settle dangerously due to a weakening of the lead matrix (caused by the weight of multiple layers of glass and almost a century of exposure to the western sun). In addition to being cleaned, the window has now been fully re-leaded and stabilized.
The window was dedicated in 1924 as a memorial to several members of the Frank and Emma Calhoun Stollenwerck family. Frank was a longtime member of the Vestry (and one of the developers of the Cloverdale neighborhood). Emma was active in church mission work and served for eight years as president of the Women’s Auxiliary of the Diocese of Alabama (the original name for the Episcopal Church Women, or ECW).
Of a more medieval style than other windows in the church, the Madonna & Child window is one of the finer examples of stained-glass art in St. John’s. It was created by Charles Connick of Boston, one of the most accomplished stained-glass designers of the early 20th century. Connick’s prolific body of work includes the large rose windows in both of New York’s great cathedrals, St. Patrick’s and St. John the Divine.
While most American stained-glass artists of the era (including Lamb and Tiffany) were using opalescent glass to achieve a range of hues and three-dimensional effects, Connick took a decidedly different approach. During a 1910 trip to France, he had been inspired by the medieval windows at Chartres, where he examined effects of light and optics that had been employed by 12th and 13th century glassmakers. After that trip, Connick began to follow more ancient precedents in his work.
It is interesting that, in St. John’s, the Connick window was placed directly across the Chancel from our Tiffany window (#11), which had been installed nine years earlier. Connick and Tiffany were rivals and competitors—the acknowledged masters of the era’s two competing schools of stained-glass art.
The window is a memorial to Laura Hall Marks, wife of Spencer Crain Marks, and their daughter, Ethel Marks Brightwell. The mother and daughter died in 1917 and 1922, respectively, and the window was dedicated in 1923.
Standing more than 20 feet tall and reaching high above the altar, the Ascension widow is perhaps the most striking window in the church. It depicts Jesus, flanked by two angels, rising heavenward on billowing clouds. The window’s plated opalescent glass, up to four layers thick, produces remarkable variations of color, seen especially in Jesus’ robes and the angels’ wings. It is the creation of the J&R Lamb Studio of New York, which during the late 19th and early 20th centuries rivaled Tiffany and LaFarge in production of large-scale opalescent windows.
Given to the Parish in 1900 by brother and sister Sidney H. Phelan and Carrie Phelan Beale, the window is Sidney’s memorial to his seven brothers and Carrie’s memorial to her twin sons. It replaced an earlier altar window of Jesus and the Four Evangelists (dating to 1855) that had deteriorated beyond repair.
Thanks to a restoration of the Ascension window 20 years ago, the stained glass itself did not require any major repairs. However, air movement in the interstitial space between the stained glass and the exterior protective glass was found to be inadequate. The recent removal of the window allowed the Femenella firm to implement a fully-vented isothermal setting, virtually eliminating the destructive forces of heat and condensation, and protecting it for generations to come.
Window 11 – “St. Luke”
Francis M. & Harriet Hereford Memorial (1914)
Louis Comfort Tiffany, son of New York jeweler and silver merchant Charles Lewis Tiffany, decided at an early age to become a decorator, working primarily in glass. He rose to great prominence as a glass designer, and his innovations for windows and lampshades would make the Tiffany name a household word.
From medieval times through the 1880s, the scenes depicted in stained-glass windows were created primarily by artists painting details directly onto colored glass, then firing it at high temperatures. Tiffany pioneered a very different approach. It has been said that, rather than painting on glass, Tiffany painted with glass. In this window, only the saint’s face and hands are painted. The rest of the imagery and depth is achieved through a range of colors in the carefully-formed opalescent glass, which is plated in multiple layers.
St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians refers to St. Luke as “the beloved physician.” This window portraying that saint is a memorial to a physician, Francis M. Hereford, M.D., and his wife, Harriet Fort Hereford. The Herefords moved from Louisiana to Montgomery after the Civil War, where Dr. Hereford set up his medical practice. The window was the gift of their children, who probably chose the subject of St. Luke in recognition of their father’s profession.
The image of a shepherd carrying a lamb is one of the earliest pictorial depictions of Jesus in Christian art; it is the most common religious image found in the Catacombs of Rome, before Christian imagery could be made explicit. It is, of course, a reference to Jesus’ statement, “I am the good shepherd,” from the Gospel of John.
Our Good Shepherd window is a memorial to Professor Hubert Lefebvre, a French-born educator who came to Montgomery in 1865, serving as Superintendent of the St. John’s Sunday School and as Director of Hamner Hall, an Episcopal school for girls. He died just three years later. During his short time at St. John’s, he was so beloved by the children of the Sunday School that they themselves raised the money to install the window.
The window’s lower panel, including the inscription to Professor Lefebvre, was removed sometime in the early 1900s, when the window was shortened in order to install a new doorway beneath it. (This door originally led to a vestibule for the Rector’s study.)
Because the window has been completely protected from the elements, both sides being “interior” sides for 100+ years, it required no restoration beyond a light cleaning. It serves as a good example of the advantages of the isothermal protective approach Femenella & Associates is implementing on all of our windows, allowing interior air to circulate on both sides of the stained glass.
Alexander Ratliff Bell was Secretary and Treasurer for St. John’s for 35 years, from 1850 until his death in 1885. This memorial window was given by his son, Thacker Howard Bell, who also gave a window on the opposite side of the Nave (#7) in memory of his sisters.
This window is unique in St. John’s because the principal figural panels—those depicting the Nativity and the Magi—were made in England. (All other windows in the church are American-made, as are the upper and lower, non-figural parts of this window.) Records show that the window was made in 1888 by the J&R Lamb Studio in New York, so artisans at Lamb may have taken an English window and added panels to make it fit into the St. John’s window frame. Some sources suggest that the window’s English glass is older than the American glass, dating perhaps to the 1850s.
An old interior church photo (c. 1901) shows that this window was originally located in the opening immediately to the left, where we now find the Good Shepherd window (#12) and the doorway beneath it. The windows were switched at the time of the door’s installation because, unlike the Good Shepherd window, the Magi window could not be shortened without removing part of the figural scene. The switch of these two windows in the early 1900s explains the interruption of the alternating pattern of double and single-arch windows along the east wall.
This double lancet is believed to be the oldest window in the church (apart from some older tracery glass). It likely dates to the time of the 1869–1870 church renovation, which included an extension to the Nave and adding a new Chancel.
Both figures in the window probably represent Christ, although the figure on the right could be John the Baptist. The lower sections depict a baptismal font and a chalice, representing Holy Baptism and Holy Eucharist, the two great sacraments given by Christ to his Church. (BCP, p. 858)
The lancets are memorials to Maggie and Louis Stringfellow, two young children of Mary Muir Stringfellow and the Rev. Horace Stringfellow. Maggie’s death, at age three, occurred just a few weeks after her father began his tenure as Rector of St. John’s. Louis had died three years earlier, probably in Indianapolis, where Dr. Stringfellow had served as rector before coming to Montgomery.
Horace Stringfellow was Rector from 1869 to 1893, and he was a man of remarkable energy, talent and taste. In addition to his duties as pastor and priest, he oversaw significant additions and improvements to the church property during his 24-year rectorship. These include all 14 of the stained-glass windows along the Nave walls; the stenciled ceiling designs (which he himself helped paint); the pulpit and lectern; the baptismal font; the bishop’s chair (made by him in his woodshop); the reredos; and the altar cross. He personally gave the altar as a memorial to his parents.
This window, the lovely gift of Dr. and Mrs. Stringfellow, was perhaps the first of the many memorials made during the Stringfellow era.
The unusual image in this window—a woman clinging desperately to a stone cross in a storm-tossed sea—is based on an 1867 painting by Johannes Oertel, a German-born Episcopal priest and artist. Oertel originally gave his painting the rather dry and cumbersome title, “Saved, or an Emblematic Representation of the Christian Faith.” However, after lithographic copies were widely reproduced, the work became popularly known as “Rock of Ages,” after the hymn of the same name containing the line, “Simply to thy cross I cling.”
The puzzling detail near the bottom of the scene—a single hand extended upward holding a piece of wood with a nail in it—is probably meant to suggest another victim of the storm who, without the Cross to save him, is sinking beneath the waves.
The window was placed as a memorial to Susan Cobbs Mitchell, daughter of the Rt. Rev. Nicholas Hamner Cobbs (first Bishop of Alabama, 1844-1861; and Rector of St. John’s 1854-1858). Susan was married to the Rev. John March Mitchell (Assistant Rector 1854-1858; and Rector 1858-1868). She died in 1852 at age 25, just one month after giving birth to her only child, a daughter. Tragically, the daughter (also named Susan) died less than a year later. Both funerals were held from the original St. John’s, before the current 1855 Nave was built. (The original 1837 building was located on the same block, at the corner of Perry and Jefferson Streets, just north of the current Parish House and Chapel.)
This interesting window, with quotations from the Sermon on the Mount in its upper sections, is a memorial to Emma Langdon Barker, who died at age 3, and to her grandparents, Mary and Nathaniel Barker.
The left lancet shows a man and woman, both gazing heavenward, each equipped with a visible pair of wings. The faces appear to be quite specific, and may actually be portraits of Mary and Nathaniel Barker. Curiously, the glass artist has dressed the woman in ancient costume while the man wears a 19th century coat. The angel in the right lancet, with a star above its head, could be a portrait of little Emma. The Barkers were communicants of St. John’s as early as 1849.
The window is made of antique, mouth-blown glass. The three round flowers (or “jewels”) at the bottom of each lancet were created by plating a piece of colored glass with the foot of a wine glass, one of the many interesting features of this window. It is believed to be one of the oldest windows in the church.
As with windows 5 and 14, the original tracery medallion at the top, dating to 1855, was left in place when the window was installed in the 1870s.
In 1856 and 1857, Czar Nicholas I of Russia bestowed honors on Montgomery’s Dr. William J. Holt for medical services rendered on the battlefield during the Crimean War. These honors included four of the seven orders of Russian knighthood. In 1853, when the war broke out, Dr. Holt had been quietly pursuing his medical studies in Paris, and he immediately offered his services to the Russian government. He was stationed near Sevastopol at the tip of the Crimean Peninsula. He returned to the United States after the war, and eventually set up his medical practice in Montgomery.
Made by the J&R Lamb Studio of New York, this window depicts Jesus healing a sick woman, surrounded by onlookers. The three onion domes visible above the curtain in the background may be an allusion to Dr. Holt’s service to the Czar. The inscription, “Who healeth all thy diseases,” is from the 103rd Psalm.
The window was installed in March of 1882, about a year after Dr. Holt’s death. It was made possible by contributions from his patients.
Of the fourteen windows on the side walls of the Nave, this 1892 window is the newest. It depicts the remarkable Gospel story of Jesus raising the Jairus’ daughter from the dead. (Mark 5:21-43; Matthew 9:18-26; Luke 8:40-56) The scene spreads across both lancets, showing Jesus and the girl on the left and her parents on the right. The white lilies in the upper part of the lancets are symbols of resurrection, and the anchor in the tracery medallion represents faith.
The window is a father’s memorial to his daughter. Annie Anderson died in 1883, at age 22. Her father, Sven John Anderson, a local businessman, had been born in Sweden and came to the United States in 1849, first settling in Mobile where he was a member of Trinity Parish. The family moved to Montgomery (and to St. John’s) in 1872.
In 1896, the only window in the Nave that still lacked stained glass was the large balcony window. Although there was stained glass in the upper tracery (glass dating to 1855, which survives to this day), the four large lower sections were plain, uncolored leaded glass. The St. John’s Sunday School undertook to raise the funds to add stained glass to these four lancets. The window was installed in May of 1897. The cost was $500.
Made of plated opalescent glass, two to three layers thick, the window is attributed to the J&R Lamb Studio of New York. The beautifully-rendered scene at Calvary fills the two middle lancets, while the outer lancets are inscribed with Jesus’ words from the cross to Mary his mother and to John his disciple: “Woman behold thy son,” and “Behold thy mother.” (John 19:26-27)
Although this window was restored 20 years ago (in 2002), that restoration did not include protective glazing, leaving the stained glass vulnerable to damage. In the current restoration, some minor glass repairs have been made and the window has been reinstalled with protective glass on the exterior, forming a fully-vented isothermal setting.
More extensively, the window’s exterior wood frame has now been fully restored. Skillfully carved in 1855 by the artisans who built the church, parts of the frame and its elaborate tracery had deteriorated after 167 years of exposure to the elements. Using wood dutchman repairs and modern epoxies, Femenella & Associates was able to restore the woodwork to its remarkable beauty.
Narthex Windows 20 & 21 (1966)
“St. Matthew & St. Mark” – Marks-Tyson Memorial
“St. Luke & St. John” – Wells Memorial
These two double-lancet windows facing Madison Avenue were made in 1966 by the George L. Payne Studio of Paterson, NJ. They represent the writers of the four Gospels.
In the Marks-Tyson window (#20), the shield in the center of the left lancet displays the “Divine Man,” the image traditionally attributed to St. Matthew, while the symbol on the right is a winged lion, the emblem of St. Mark. The two panels are in memory of Elva Quisenberry Marks and Virginia Bragg Smith Tyson.
The other Narthex window (#21) is a memorial to Alvin Harrison Wells, a former warden, and his wife, Susan Elizabeth Harrison Wells. The image of the winged ox in the left-hand shield is the symbol of St. Luke, and the rising eagle on the right represents St. John.
The two small windows in the Tower vestibule both date to the 20th century, and were made by the George Payne Studio in New Jersey.
The window on the west wall (#22) depicts St. John the Evangelist, the Parish’s patron saint, and is a memorial to Professor Hubert Lefebvre, a French-born educator and Sunday School Superintendent who died in 1868.
This second of two Lefebvre windows in the church—the first being the Good Shepherd (#12) in the Nave—was installed more than 60 years after the first, probably in the late 1930s or early 1940s, during the rectorship of the Rev. Edgar Neff. Shortly after his arrival at St. John’s, Mr. Neff was dismayed to learn that the professor’s name had been removed from the Good Shepherd window when the doorway had been cut through. He decided to rectify the offense by installing this smaller window in the Tower with Lefebvre’s name on it.
The second tower window (#23), located on the north wall under the stairs, is a memorial to Marie Louise Hill. It depicts St. Paul holding a sword. The shield above his head displays an open Bible with a small sword on it, a symbol recalling Paul’s scriptural admonishment: “For the word of God is quick and powerful and sharper than any two-edged sword.” (Hebrews 4:12)
The east wall of the Parish House features a trio of stained-glass windows, a circular one flanked by two lancets. They were installed in February 1888, about a month after the Parish House was completed. The windows were the gift of Josiah and Sarah Elizabeth Morris, who were also the donors of the Parish House building itself (originally a Sunday School Chapel). Mr. & Mrs. Morris designated the two lancet windows as memorials to their parents.
The left-hand window (the memorial to Sarah Elizabeth’s parents) depicts the Nativity of Jesus, showing the infant child surrounded by Mary, Joseph and a shepherd. The right-hand window (in memory of Josiah’s parents) illustrates the Gospel story of 12-year-old Jesus teaching the elders in the temple. (Luke 2:41-52) This scene is sometimes also called “The Finding in the Temple” or “Jesus in the Temple with Doctors.”
Josiah Morris was (as described by a 1910 newspaper article) “the most munificent benefactor St. John’s has ever had.” He had been highly successful in the mercantile, railroad and banking industries after the Civil War, and in 1871 he organized the Elyton Land Company, purchasing the land for and establishing the new city of Birmingham. He is considered one of the founders of that city, but he remained a resident of Montgomery and a faithful member of St. John’s. He was a member of the Vestry for 36 years, 16 of those years as junior warden and 5 as senior warden.
The west end of the Parish House features a large circular window measuring more than 13 feet in diameter. It is filled with colorful glass with a cross and crown design at its center. We have no information about the origin of this window. While the opening is original to the 1888 building, the current glass appears to be newer, probably from the first half of the 20th century. The earliest known photo showing the stained glass is from 1946.
In 1968, the window’s original wood mullions were replaced with stone mullions, replicating the pattern of the original wood. (The only other stone-set windows in the church are the Chapel windows.)