When you enter the Church of the Reconciliation, your eyes are drawn up to the altar where a magnificent stained glass window of brilliant color captures your gaze. it is the Reconciliation Window, one of six windows in the church designed and fabricated by Wilbur Herbert Burnham, a master stained glass craftsman and designer and founder of the Wilbur H Burnham Studios in Boston. From the early 1920s through the 1950s Burnham designed church stained glass for major churches and cathedrals in the United States and abroad. While he was working on the Reconciliation window, he also was working on windows for the Washington National Cathedral.
How did a little Episcopal Church in Webster Massachusetts attract such talent? In 1938 an anonymous donation of $3000 was given for chancel windows. On September 29, 1939, the chair of the Chancel Window committee wrote to Burnham, asking him to submit sketches for the chancel and two side windows. According to Burnham, when he visited the church, the Rector, Rev. John L. Pickells, suggested the “possibility of introducing subjects symbolizing reconciliation”. By November 1939 the sketches were approved with a few minor changes but alterations had to be made to the chancel. In early January 1940 the contract was signed. By March 22, 1940 the windows were installed and dedicated on April 7, 1940.
In a letter to Bishop Lawrence who had asked about the iconography, Burnham described the images and noted that the sermon Rev. Pickells gave at the dedication did a superb job of that (of course we don’t have it). Burnham characterized the window as a modern adaptation of a 13th century medallion, executed in a “jewel-like and harmonious pattern of rich and brilliant primary colors with blue predominating, tempered and balanced by secondary and tertiary colors”. In the center we have a traditional Nativity with the Lord’s Supper at the bottom and an angel at the top with a scroll inscribed “Gloria in Excelsis Deo”. Below this is the Monogram for Mary and a fleur-de-lis, the lily being a symbol for Mary. Below the Nativity scene there are the cross and crown, symbolizing Victory and Reward; and the Chi Rho for Christ. In the left lancet we see the ministry of Christ: Christ and the Woman at the well, the raising of Jairus’ Daughter, and giving sight to two men. In the right lancet are images of the passion of Christ—Christ before Pilate, carrying the cross, and the Crucifixion, In two small circular tracery pieces are the Alpha and Omega to complete the interpretation of Reconciliation. So we see the incarnation, ministry, and salvation—all key to reconciliation. The inscription reiterates this: “God was in Christ—reconciling the world—unto Himself”.
The Church of the Reconciliation has 14 magnificent stained glass windows and Burnham was not the only prestigious craftsman who worked in our church. Nor were several of the windows without controversy—including this one. And there still are mysteries—like a drawing of a different Reconciliation Window in the Library of Congress. But more on that later.