After a year of renewal and repair, inside and out, the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany, 230 Scioto St., will welcome the community to an Open House from 3 to 5 p.m. Dec. 17.
The recently-restored stained glass windows will be a highlight of the event. The Epiphany and the Westville United Methodist Church choirs will sing Christmas carols and refreshments will be served in the parish hall.
Epiphany is handicapped accessible at the Kenton Street entrance with an elevator available at that level.
Epiphany is the oldest Episcopal Church in western Ohio, opening for services in 1849 in the present Gothic Revival structure. The History of Champaign County by Judge Evan P. Middleton says that, at mid-19th century, the population of Urbana was close to 5,000 and the Church of the Epiphany had about 100 members.
The small original building was enlarged in 1883 by the addition of the chancel and parish hall. The following year the original windows were replaced by the present ones, each a memorial to the donor.
Donors were early residents of Urbana. Two of the families, Gwynne and Happersett, were further honored by streets named for them. Others include Mosgrove, McGuffey-Laughlin and Jennings, the Epiphany Sunday School and the Church of Our Savior in Cincinnati.
Church history notes that the windows were made from a rare Belgian glass, the formula for which was lost during World War I. To preserve this old-world artform, the cleaning and repair of the windows was entrusted to Franklin Art Glass Studios in Columbus. Beginning in October, 2016, the windows were removed, several at a time, and transported to Franklin workrooms.
By June, 2017, all the fragile, leaded panels had been returned and clear glass storm windows installed. The change in the interior light was startling. Sunlight splashed pure, jewel tones in infinite shapes and shades over walls, floor, pews and people.
Delicate pictorial detail, hidden for decades under layers of soil, became visible. Parishioners speculated that they could now imagine how that 19th century congregation felt when they viewed that stunning artistry for the first time.
Epiphany Historian Janet Rees and her daughter, Meredith McGill, will be on hand during the Open House to explain window symbolism, point out other antique appointments and features of the historic church.
In addition to the stained-glass window restoration, other improvements were made during 2016-17: installation of new, double glazed windows throughout the building; replacement of front steps and handrails; new brick sidewalks, laid in original patterns; resurfacing of the parking lot; installation of sump pumps below stairs to resolve occasional storm water flooding; improvement of sanctuary sound system and replacement of kitchen flooring.
The site is within the Urbana Historic District and all changes to structure and grounds, including the sign recently placed in front of the church, were approved by that entity.
A tale of two windows
The recent experience of Paddy Barr, long-time congregant of the Church of the Epiphany, has given one of the church’s windows new significance. British-born Paddy has always longed to visit Ireland. Last October she and her son, Steve, fulfilled that desire.
They arrived in Ireland along with Hurricane Ophelia and were relegated to safe quarters until the storm passed. Once free to travel, they spent ten days in parts of Ireland that are not particularly touristy, but very typically Irish.
Many village churches opened their doors to visitors. Upon entering a Catholic church in Clondalkin, a suburb of Dublin, they were astonished to see the same Gothic-style, stained glass window that appears behind the altar at Epiphany!
It was identical in size, texts and pictorial detail: a triptych with the red-robed figure of Christ standing in the center panel; the same Christian symbols, geometric patterns in rich colors and quotes from scripture on the two side panels.
A highly polished, brass cross was placed on the retable (shelf) at the base of the center panel exactly as it is at Epiphany. Paddy found only one departure—-the Clondalkin window frame was painted a light brown where the home church window frame is white.
Paddy’s discovery has piqued interest in the source of the window, the artist who created it, whether the glass is of the same Belgian formula as Epiphany’s and if there might be more of these windows elsewhere. Perhaps Paddy’s future travels will continue the search.