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John La Farge Stained Glass

Mount Vernon Congregational Church

Mount Vernon Congregational Church
Formerly at 492 Beacon Street
Boston, MA

Mount Vernon Congregational Church, at the intersection of Beacon Street and Massachusetts Avenue in Boston, formerly contained two important windows by John La Farge. The church was designed by Charles Howard Walker, and was finished in 1892. The church burned in 1978, and was converted to the Church Court Condominiums by Boston architect Graham Gund in 1983. The bell tower became a unique vertical condominium. The stained glass windows had been removed when the congregation abandoned the church in 1974, so they were not lost.

One of the windows, the Angel at the Healing Waters of Bethesda of 1897-1898, originally dedicated as the Dr. James Ayer Memorial Window, is now at the Worcester Art Museum. This is one of La Farge’s late illusionistic windows, where his skill at shading and color rivals the best academic painting of his era. The scene of a man helping an ill woman to the pool which is being stirred by an angel is split into two round-arched windows. The lines of the architecture connect the two scenes. The angel who leans down to touch its mirrored reflection is shown separately in the right window. The theme of healing is appropriate for a memorial to the late physician. Russell Sturgis, a close friend of La Farge, praised this window in an article in the New York Evening Post:

There is, so far as a minute examination goes, no painting whatever upon the glass except in the flesh, which, in this instance, is limited to faces and hands .... The draperies are composed of glass just as it leaves the furnace, with all its glow, translucency, and subsequent richness of effect--at once brilliant and profound.... For, as the reader must understand, every piece of the glass has within itself the most delicate and unexpected gradations of color, and the art of the designer is primarily to select these pieces out of his great store of thousands of just such pieces and to cut the selected bits out of these pieces again. These bits of glass are his palette, and his painting is done by combining them—edge to edge and in one surface, back to back in the way of lining, or as the phrase goes, "plaiting" [sic].[1] 

A second pair of round-arched windows by John La Farge and Louis Bancel La Farge depicted Christ with Two Pilgrims. It is a representation of the 23rd Psalm, and Christ is shown in one window with a shepherd’s crook, looking back at two pilgrims in the other window. The pair was dedicated as the William Gordon and Martha Allen Means Memorial in  1897. This set is now at the James C. Nicoll, Jr. Chapel at The Overlook, (also known as the James Parker Masonic Home) in Charlton, MA. There is a detailed watercolor study for this window at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston from 1896.




[1] Russell Sturgis,  “A Pictorial Window," New York Evening Post, November 7, 1898, p. 4. Quoted in Julie L.  Sloan and James L. Yarnall, “Art of an Opaline Mind: The Stained Glass of John La Farge,” American Art Journal, Vol. 24, No. 1/2 (1992): 24.