Backstories About the Images - Did George Washington Look Thru This Window?
If you're a regular reader you'll recall an earlier post about another beautiful piece of glass; that one was housed at the now defunct Museum of Stained Glass in Chicago. The window featured here is, happily, still somewhere it can be admired - and that building is the subject of today's backstory: St. John's Episcopal Church in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
I learned about the church's rich history on one of my first visits to the Granite State. Later, after moving there, I ended up working across the street from it for a number of years. From my office window, I could look out at both the church and its adjacent burial yard. For context, Portsmouth is a very old city (settled in 1623 and incorporated in 1653).
St. John's story goes back a long way, too. A wooden structure was first erected on the site of the present-day church in 1732; at that time it was called Queen's Chapel in honor of Caroline, consort of King George II. The Queen was one of many distinguished benefactors of the parish, donating many items including the prayer books used on the altar and pulpit, and a rare "Vinegar" Bible (printed in 1717).
Following the American Revolution, a very famous figure attended services at Queen's Chapel: one George Washington, a few months after he was first elected to the presidency. You'll find a plaque inside commemorating that visit. Not long afterward, post-Revolutionary references to England unsurprisingly having lost favor, Queen's Chapel was renamed St. John's Church.
That original structure in which President Washington worshiped was destroyed by a fire that raced along Portsmouth's riverfront on Christmas Eve 1806 (one of three Christmas week fires which ravaged the city in the space of a few short years: December 26, 1802, this one in 1806, and again on December 22, 1813); embers from the conflagration landed on the roof of the all-wooden St. John's, and that was that.
The church burned to the ground and most of its contents were lost.
However, a chair which had been a gift from Queen Caroline and used by dignitaries who attended services at the chapel, did survive the blaze. A new building was erected, this time in brick: the cornerstone was laid in 1807 and its doors opened in 1808. This is the church which stands today - looking exactly the same as it did long ago.
Its bell, originally cast in France and dating back to 1745, rang above the original church and was badly damaged in the 1806 fire - but Paul Revere recast it, and this is the same bell you see (and hear) today. It was recast once again at the end of the 19th century. The "new" St. John's was the first brick church in New Hampshire; it's the oldest Episcopal church in the state, and it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
The window pictured above is one of my favorites at St. John's. (And to answer the question posed in the headline: because the glass post-dates the fire, President Washington would not have gazed through it when he visited.)
This imagery was used to create one of the gifts for Godparents you'll find here, and the design featuring the window from this historic church in Portsmouth is consistently one of the best sellers in the collection. In a nod to the place from which it came, you'll see that St. John's was used in the sample personalization.
Now you know the rest of the story!
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