The Methodist Dragon

On the corner of Nassau and Vandeventer is a scary looking dragon. No worries: the dragon isn’t real, and it’s also dead. It’s in a stained glass window depicting St. George, and you can see his gaping jaws. The spectacular window, over the balcony of the 101-year-old sanctuary of the Princeton United Methodist Church, is from the renowned Tiffany studio.

Though there are lots of Tiffany windows in other cities, I know of only two other Tiffany windows in Princeton. One is at Alexander Hall (Richardson Auditorium.) Richardson Auditorium’s Tiffany (link to photo by Matt Pilsner) consists of four circular panels, totaling 10 feet by nine feet, representing Homer. 

The Princeton University Art Museum owns the other Tiffany window, currently located at Jadwin Hall. The museum’s current exhibit, Princeton and the Gothic Revival also has a scale model of a  window by Francis Lathrop, a follower of Tiffany. It used to be in the Marquand Chapel, before it burned down. Lathrop (according to publicity info) rolled and shaped the glass to mimic the folds of cloth, a technique popularized by the studio of Louis Comfort Tiffany (sepia and brown window shown at left). 

In an article for Baltimore magazine Elizabeth A. Evitts explained Louis Comfort Tiffany’s innovations: While the Europeans fired paint directly on the glass, effectively dulling its natural transparency, Tiffany managed to create vivid color in the glass itself. He layered multiple panels to create unparalleled clarity, and the windows shimmered on both sides. 

Tiffany also redefined the use of leading. Traditionally, it was purely functional and thought of as little more than support for the glass. As a result, the lead tended to distract from, rather than enhance, the artistic vision. That is until Tiffany developed new techniques that allowed the metal to become an integral part of the design, and the once clunky lead lines were transformed into elaborate outlines for things like tree branches and butterfly wings. Perhaps because of such innovations, Tiffany prized his windows above all his other work. 

The $64k question, of course is — why does a Methodist church have a window of dragon, let alone a saint? Protestant churches acknowledge saints but unless the saint was a disciple of Jesus, they aren’t generally pictured in our churches. (As you may have figured out, I’m a member of Princeton United Methodist Church, PUMC).

We used to think that the window was “a reject from West Point Cadet Chapel.” That would have made sense. West Point likes war pictures and the two sanctuaries were built at the same time. But no. The real story is that a Princeton University college student, Eddie Durrell, a Methodist preacher’s son, made PUMC his church home in the late 1880s, when the church looked like the picture to the left. The pulpit was occupied by Charles H. McAnney, “an evangelistic preacher of great power,” according to Ruth Woodward in A Journey of Faith for One Hundred Fifty Years: A History of Princeton United Methodist Church.  Eddie graduated in 1889 and two years later met an untimely death — apparently in an automobile accident in Italy. His family — grateful for what the church had offered him — donated the window for the new sanctuary, built in 1910 on the property occupied by the old church and the house shown in the picture. 

Wrote Ruth Woodward: The magnificent window in the facade of the sanctuary, depicting St. George and the dragon, was the gift of the Reverend Edward Hicks Durrell and his family, in memory of a deceased son and brother, William Edward Durrell, who was a Princeton graduate of 1889. Eddie Durrell died in Italy in 1891 and was buried in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome. Because he was the youngest member of his class, and the first to die, his classmates arranged for a flat marble slab to be erected on his grave as an expression of their love and esteem. The family was probably happy to have an opportunity to provide a memorial of their own.This window was crafted by the Tiffany Studio of New York City, and the Tiffany signature can be found in the lower right corner.

Until I reread the history, I assumed that the deceased student’s name was George. I was wrong. Then my next  question is, how could a Methodist pastor’s family afford a Tiffany window?

Because he was also an entrepreneur. While serving a pastorate in Tuckahoe, New Jersey, writes Woodward, he bought a cranberry bog and became one of the largest cranberry growers in the state.

Come and visit George sometime — and all our other beautiful stained glass windows. Email me, and I’ll give you our Dragon Tour.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s