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Luminous Again are the Windows of St. Thomas Church

By Harry Anderson

Throughout much of last summer, many motorists, when stopped at the traffic light at the intersection of Smith Avenue and Putnam Pike, spotted plywood at the windows of St. Thomas church and wondered if it had been shuttered. Had one of those drivers inquired at the church’s office and had the rector, Rev. Susan Carpenter, been at her desk, her answer may have been, “No way are we shuttered! It’s business as usual for us. In fact, business is more robust than ever.”

“Then, what’s with the plywood?”

“Oh, that. Well, that’s temporarily replacing our stained glass windows which, as we speak, are in Iowa being restored.”

She knows a thing or two about stained glass. Before Susan became Reverend Carpenter she was painting, cutting pieces of glass and soldering them together to fabricate compelling designs. She boasts of selling her creations at the Scituate Art Festival, starting when she was still a student at Scituate High, and continues doing so to this day. It was she who alerted the Vestry to the worsening condition of the church’s windows.

Kim Murdock, presently the Senior Warden, remembers the evening well when Reverend Carpenter announced that the disintegration in the integrity of the windows must be stopped. Not daunted by what surely would be an expensive undertaking, the Vestry voted to take action. Al Parrillo committed to investigate companies that could do the job and solicit them to submit bids. A fellow Vestryman, Richard Kyte, volunteered to write a grant proposal once a company had been selected.

“It took a village,” Murdock says. “Everything came together. We contracted with the Bovard Studio out in Fairfield, Iowa, whose video that you can watch on the internet hooked us. Then our grant request was accepted, not only because we are a historical building but we are considered sustainable.” She stresses, “We are a growing church!”

Kyte says, “It was made very clear to me by the Champlin Foundations a key factor in its $47,000 award was due to the growth of the church.”

Entrusted with the cherished windows, last spring the Bovard people carefully dismantled and crated them and transported them by van 1500 miles due west to their studio in the heart of the Corn Belt where a team of artists and craftsmen plied their skills to scour a century or more of grime off the glass and to restore the integrity of the matrix (the video details the intricacies of the art).

The oldest of these windows are the three in the Sanctuary on the south side of the church behind the altar. Having no record of when the center windows were installed, Reverend Carpenter assumes that they date back to 1866-1867 (ca.), sixteen years after the church had been erected. The tallest of the three depicts St. Thomas’s holding a book and a spear with a dove hovering above him ( a symbol of the Holy Spirit). The others depict the elements of the Eucharist, grain to make bread and a paten on the left and on the right grapes and a chalice.

The installation of the Nave windows, the north windows above the main entrance, and the bell tower windows, however, has been recorded. Along the east wall stretch depictions of Old Testament personages such as David, Ruth, Jacob, and Isaac . . . all donated in memory of loved ones and put into place in 1891. Also installed in 1891 are two of the four windows on the west wall, each depicting a seminal moment in the New Testament: the Crucifixion, the Ascension. The third and fourth, depicting the Pentecost and Jesus’s approach to Golgotha, were bequeathed in 2002 and the late 1990’s respectively.

Last September the Bovard van returned to Greenville for a week and stayed parked on the grass of the newly painted office building of St. Thomas Church as two workmen removed the plywood and caulked the restored stained glass windows into place. Al Parrillo, the vestryman who discovered the Bovard Studio, says that he is much pleased with how the project has turned out, adding, “I wanted to leave behind me something of value for coming generations to have. Now, maybe, I’ve done just that.”

Ron Bovard, founder of the Iowa studio, confirms Parrillo’s hope and speaks admiringly to the entire congregation:

“Your church’s stained glass windows are a testament of your faith and a reflection of your spiritual inspiration. Their lasting beauty will be a legacy for generations to come. Our mission and deep commitment is to ensure that your stained glass windows embody the truest representation of your highest truth and endure for future generations to appreciate.”

St. Thomas’s windows, like new, are doing what stained glass that began to grace European churches in the Middle Ages were meant to do: shut out the world while at the same time let enough light in, creating a subdued spectral befitting the moments of worship.