Recently, the stained glass windows in Milford’s historic Christ Church received a new treatment that made the windows visible from the outside of the church as well as the inside. Eric Valentine, a member of the church, has been involved in the window project from the beginning and said that the changes have made a significant difference in the beauty of the building.
“The stained glass windows in the church are beautiful and irreplaceable,” Mr. Valentine said. “In the 1970s, many churches, this one included, began covering stained glass windows with a product known as Lexan in order to protect the windows from breakage. Lexan has been used to cover headlamps in cars for years and it is a pretty good product. However, as Lexan ages, it discolors to a yellow and then brown shade. Unfortunately, the discoloration makes it impossible to see the beautiful stained glass work in the windows.” Lexan also does not allow for circulation in the windows, Mr. Valentine said, allowing for the wood in the windows to deteriorate and dry rot.
Mr. Valentine said church leaders wanted a way to improve the appearance of the windows as people drove by, increasing the curb appeal of the church. He said that a building with curb appeal gives those who are viewing it from the outside the feeling that it is loved. Curb appeal can be anything from neatly trimmed grass, fresh paint and lack of debris. As part of the art preservation focus in Milford, the church wanted the stained glass windows, some that have been in the building since the 1800s, to be clearly visible. In order to do so, the church began replacing Lexan with laminated safety glass, the same glass used in car windshields today.
“The laminated safety glass has been installed in phases over several years,” Mr. Valentine said. “Stained glass, over time, begins to settle. Stained glass has three components – the glass, lead channel and cement that seats the lead to the glass. As the glass settles, the cement weakens. During this project, the Lexan was removed, the windows were re-cemented and safety glass installed to protect the windows.” Mr. Valentine said that the glass will break, but it takes tremendous force to do so, much like the windshield of a car. However, it does not discolor so the windows remain clearly visible from the outside of the church.
The project began with the All Saints window located at the back of the sanctuary as it was the most irreplaceable of the windows in the church. Mr. Valentine explained that when the church was built, the focus was on the structure rather than the aesthetics. The windows were installed with a generic pattern which is still visible in parts of the stained glass window over the altar. As the church grew, congregants were given the opportunity to donate stained glass windows to replace the generic designs.
“As you can see by the dates on some of these, not all of them are extremely old,” Mr. Valentine said, pointing to one that was dedicated in memory of a parishioner who died in 1969. “This one was probably not installed until the 1970s. My wife and I dedicated the baptism window because our children were baptized here.”
When a parishioner offered to donate a window, there was some negotiation between the church and the parishioner, Mr. Valentine explained. Often, stained glass windows in churches tell a biblical story with larger churches using windows to tell the entire story of the Bible. The stories depicted in the Christ Church windows were probably chosen by church leaders upon agreement of the parishioner who wanted to dedicate them. The stained glass window artist was also more than likely chosen by the church in order to keep the designs consistent.
Christ Church was founded in 1704 by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. It was the second parish in the state stablished by the society. Christ Church in Dover was the first. Initially, the church was known as Christ Church, Mispillion and was part of the Kent County mission as the town of Milford had not been established yet. The original church was located approximately three miles west of today’s town in an area that became known as Church Hill Village on what is now Milford-Harrington Highway, in the general area of Cullentown, a trading center on the Mispillion River. It is not known exactly where the original church stood, however.
In 1774, Reverend Sydenham Thorne arrived in Milford to take charge of the church as well as St. Paul’s Church near the Maryland line in Kent County. He and Milford’s co-founder, Joseph Oliver, made the decision to build a church in what would be downtown Milford. They began construction of the present church on land donated by Mr. Oliver. The church foundation was laid in 1791 although the building was not completed until 1835.
The Revolutionary War created problems for the Episcopal Churches in this country. As part of his ordination vows, Parson Thorne took an oath of loyalty to the King of England. During the revolution, it became an act of treason to affirm the authority of the King or Parliament. A lay reader was engaged to read services at Christ Church as Parson Thorne’s vows prevented him from omitting such prayers. In 1793, Parson Thorne died at the age of 45 before seeing his church completed.
In 1798, the Convention of the Diocese of Delaware was held in Milford with clerical and lay members assembling at the home of William Sorden, Esquire as the partially completed church had been closed after Parson Thorne’s death except for special services. A service was held at the church during the convention, but it remained closed until 1833 when Reverend Cory Chambers became the rector. Reverend Chambers renovated and completed the building, adding a new roof, galleries and pews were painted. He also adorned the pulpit with hangings and upholstery of crimson. The building was consecrated by Bishop U.U. Onderdonk on January 26, 1836. Additional land was acquired for a churchyard, a parish house and rectory over the years.
On January 12, 1975, a stained glass window was dedicated on the north side of the building to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the arrival of Parson Thorne in Milford. Many of the founders and leaders of Milford are buried in the church’s cemetery.
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