Arts: A Gem of a Small Town Church

America’s Christian churches are some of our most special architectural treasures. From Old North Church in Boston to St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City to thousands of churches across our cities, towns and villages, we often see a loving devotion to exquisite architectural detail.

If you ever are traveling in Western Massachusetts in Berkshire County, on the New York state border, and you pass through the quaint town of Stockbridge you must see a real gem, the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, right in the center of the village.

St. Paul’s is an active parish. Norman Rockwell once was a parishioner there. The original was built in 1834 but replaced in 1883-4 in the grey stone Norman style.

So what makes St. Paul’s so special?

First, its architect was Charles F. McKim of the legendary architectural firm that would come to be known as McKim, Mead and White. St. Paul’s was McKim’s first church and he donated his services. He went on to design the Morgan Library and the Pennsylvania Railroad Station, both in New York City, the Boston Public Library, and the Avery Library at Columbia University among other buildings.

The church was a gift by Charles Butler as a memorial to his wife Susan Ridley Sedgwick Butler.

Stained glass on the north wall includes Dorcas Feeding the Poor by Burleson and Gryll (London) and a Christian warrior as a knight in armor by Francis D. Millet. Charles J. Connick is represented by The Good Samaritan.

In the west wall are three windows of Fra Angelico angels with musical instruments from the original wooden church.

Windows in the south wall include two in memory of William Ellery Sedgwick and Dudley Field. The latter may be Tiffany or his studio.

On the covered west porch, visible at the far left in the photo above, is a winged figure The Spirit of Life in bronze by Daniel Chester French, sculptor of the Seated Lincoln at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. French had a home and studio in Berkshire County for many years.

Note the remarkable carved wooden angels at the ceiling.

The Baptistry was designed by architect Stanford White of French limestone and marble. The walls and floor are luna chella, or fossiliferrous marble, with tiny shells embedded in limestone. The central tablet is supported by sculpted angels in relief by Louis Saint Gaudens. The flanking windows are by Louis Comfort Tiffany. The white marble font, by Charles Lamb of New York, was brought from the prior wooden church.

The large high-relief panels of The Singing Children under the organ are a replica of a frieze by Lucca della Robbia that was installed in the Duomo, Florence c. 1435.

The organ is by Hilborne L. Roosevelt. Originally containing 258 speaking pipes, it has been enlarged to 1600 speaking pipes.

The central window over the altar depicting St. Paul preaching, and the window in the south wall representing the Annunciation, are the work of John LaFarge.

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