By Beth Treffeisen
At the corner of Newbury and Berkeley Streets in the Back Bay, one of Boston’s best-kept secret lays within the walls of the Church of the Covenant. Known for the tall steeple that sticks out amongst the shorter buildings in the area, the stonewalls of the church are illuminated by the largest intact collection of Tiffany church windows in the United States.
Through the celebration of the 150th anniversary this fall, the Church of the Covenant is continuing their effort to restore and bring to light the Tiffany Windows that line the sanctuary of the church. Once restored, both visitors and passersby will be able to seem them better.
On Saturday, October 14, the church will be holding a fundraiser dubbed, “Breakfast with Tiffany’s: A Celebration of Art & Design” to raise money to go towards the Covenant Boston Preservation Project, a 501(c)(3) organization committed solely to maintaining these windows and the entire Tiffany-designed interior.
The day after, the church will be holding a big celebratory worship in honor of the church’s preservation.
“Every generation has a choice,” said Rob Mark, pastor of the Church of the Covenant. “How are you going to use the limited resources in a way to keep the church for future generations? We are being good stewards, which has its challenges, too.”
He continued, “We are incredibly lucky to have such a dedicated building staff that works to maintain this building.”
The Church of the Covenant was one of the earliest of many churches built after the landfill of the Back Bay begun in the 1850s. The Central Congregational Church laid the cornerstone for this building in 1865. In 1932 the congregation federated with the First Presbyterian Church to create the Church of the Covenant.
A National Historic Landmark, the prominent architect Richard M. Upjohn designed the church in a Gothic Revival Style, which was constructed between 1865 and 1867.
From 1894 to 1896, the sanctuary was completely redecorated by the Tiffany Glass & Decorating Company that featured complex paint schemes on the walls and ceilings, elaborate trusses and traceries, an eagle lantern, glass mosaics, a huge art glass lantern, 42 large stained-glass-windows and more.
The 20 complex figure windows that line the sanctuary include a least nine types of specialty glass and up to five layers that allow for creative, painterly effects. Only the faces, hands and feet are painted on.
“It’s art and storytelling,” said Mark. “All of these windows tell a story. They were made in a time when many people still were illiterate and didn’t have access to the biblical stories.”
In 2012, the church commissioned a Master Plan to determine the priority of what needs to be restored. Already, the church has re-done the floors to be more eco-friendly, done re-pointing and other masonry work outside and have begun the work of restoring some of the Tiffany Windows.
Next on the list is the window pain that depicts The Angel and Cornelius. The scene shows how a wealthy Roman centurion known for his generosity to the poor saw a vision in a dream and became the first Gentile to be baptized as a Christian.
It is expected that the restoration of this windowpane alone will cost $135,000.
Mark said that the restorations of the windows are important because if left long enough they can become a safety concern. If the windowpanes are left to deteriorate they can fall out.
Downstairs, the church holds the Women’s Lunch Place, a day shelter serving homeless women, which means a lot of vulnerable women tend to hang outside and if they start falling, Mark said, that could become a problem.
“That is on the extreme side,” said Mark. “But they are a visual beauty and can be seen not just inside but outside, too. Once the windows are restored, you can see them more clearly from the outside.”
Once restored, Mark said, the windows would probably be good for several generations to come. Some windows haven’t been restored since they were first put in.
“It’s an ongoing thing,” said Mark. “The fundraiser will be raising money specifically for the next window.”
In November of 2012, the window depicting Dorcas, who is shown looking down at the clothing she has made for the poor, was shattered when a burglar climbed some scaffolding to break in.
The burglar left with a few computers from Gallery NAGA located on the first floor of the church, but the repairs to the one-in-the-kind window cost much more with a restoration bill of $65,000, according to a Boston Globe article.
After the article about the break-in appeared in the paper an anonymous donor gave $30,000 towards repairing it, said Mark.
“You can’t insure these kinds of windows; it covers some but not enough,” said Mark. “But a humble situation turned into a blessing. It is really about the artistic aesthetic and community partnership but really it is about the community – it is not an either for us.”
To sign up for the fundraiser event ,visit http://breakfastwithtiffanys.eventbrite.com.