Extraordinary Stories

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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The "Searching for a Read: Part V - The Santee Chapel" Story

Forword:  It all started with me looking for a book to read while I recuperated from recent back surgery.  The two-volume set of books on the history of St. James Episcopal Church in historic Lancaster, PA that I found on the shelves in my living room led me in several different directions as I tired to understand the beginnings of the church I call home.  At times I got side-tracked, but nonetheless enjoyed every minute of it as you will see from my story today.  



Lancaster Theological Seminary
It was an ordinary day. Standing in the Santee Chapel on the grounds of the Lancaster Theological Seminary trying to take in my surroundings.  A few months ago I made a visit to the Seminary just to walk around the campus and take a few photos.  At the time I was writing a story about some of my altered Polaroids that were taken in Lancaster City and wanted to add a regular photo of each of my Polaroids to show how different they were.  Then recently I saw a story in the Lancaster Newspaper dealing with Mercer tiles which are made in nearby Doylestown, Pennsylvania.  Some of you may remember that I am currently writing a multi-part story about St. James Episcopal, my home church,  and one of those stories will deal with the Mercer tiles that are on the walls of the apse in the church.  
This is the Dietz Refectory where I found Mercer tiles.
Realizing it may be beneficial to make another visit to the Seminary to see the tiles which they have, I made a call to Meg, marketing and communi- cations director at the Seminary as well as a member of St. James.  And today, after viewing Mercer tiles in two locations on campus, I am now getting a glimpse of the beautiful Santee Chapel.  St. James Episcopal has a chapel which was built in 1961, but it is nothing as elegant and impressive as the Santee Chapel.  
The massive oak doors leading into the Santee Chapel.
The chapel originally was a lecture hall that was constructed in 1893 when the Seminar was built.  In 1925 a raised chancel, organ windows, stone altar and beautiful wooden doors were added to make it into the Chapel.  As I entered through the massive doors I realized I was stepping into something quite special.  As
Looking toward the apse from inside the doors.
I stood inside the doors, Meg illuminated the Chapel so I could take a few photo- graphs.  The light seemed to bring certain parts of the Chapel to life, but other areas seemed to be cloaked in darkness to create a feeling of mystery.  The architectural style of the Chapel is known as Victorian Romanesque from the late 19th century.  
This is the Martin Luther window.
The rounded arches of the narrow stained glass windows are emblematic of the Romanesque era, but then I noted the pointed arches in other parts of the Chapel which are Gothic and represent the Victorian influence of the Chapel.  Just about every form of material was used in the construction.  Wood, plaster, marble, iron, stone and glass are all represented in the Chapel.  A majestic feeling in the Chapel is derived from the proportions of height and width.  The Chapel isn't as large as the Valley Forge Chapel where I sang as a member of the St. James Boys and Mens choir in the early 1950's, but it certainly offers as much to view as Valley Forge.  
The Altar with stained glass windows on
either side of the apse.  The organ is to
 the right and the choir stalls are on the left.
As I stood motionless, I began to see more and more.  My eyes finally picked up the beautiful Santee Chapel Sculptures on the side walls of the Chapel.  The sculptures were created by Polish sculpture Wiktor Szostallo who emigrated to the United States in 1983.  In 1998 he was commissioned to create four bas-relief sculptures for the Chapel.  His bonded bronze sculptures, which were dedicated the following year, depicts visually four biblical texts: "Let them come" (Mark 10: 13-16), "Do as I have done" (John 13: 1-17), "All were filled" (Matthew 14: 13-21), and "You are my witnesses" (Luke 24: 1-10).  I have come to the conclusion that no person can visit the Santee Chapel and see everything that is offered throughout the structure in one visit.  Though my mission today was to photograph the Mercer tiles in the Dietz Refectory, I left Lancaster Theological Seminary realizing how lucky I was to be able to witness the architecture and sovereignty that is a part of the city of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.



This is one of the Santee Chapel Sculptures titled "Do as I have done" from John 13: 1-17.  The following is from a brochure that I obtained on the sculptures.  In it the master takes the part of the servant, demonstrating by his action what his community is to be.  Here the focus is less on the teacher's extraordinary act than on its effects upon his followers.  Of course they are awkward and embarrassed, also deeply touched and blessed.  Most of all, Jesus' action changes them.  Washed by him, they are drawn closer to each other.  The quality of their life together is forever changed as they learn to view each other through the lens of Jesus' service.   This beautiful bronze sculpture is one of four that is on the walls of the chapel.  Click on the photo to enlarge it.


P.S.  Thanks to my guide Meg and for the help I obtained from Robert Webber's pamplet titled Santee Chapel Sculptures and Peter Schmiechen's report titled Santee Chapel.  

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