The Chapels at Cairnwood and Glencairn

Glencairn Museum News | Number 4, 2017

Cairnwood Chapel

Glencairn Chapel

Cairnwood was designed by the New York City-based architectural firm of Carrère & Hastings. According to architectural historian Mark Hewitt, “the largest and most important element in the house is a tower located at the inner corner of the plan, along the south terrace. Unique among Carrère & Hastings’ designs, and unusual for any country house, the tower’s purpose was to provide a worship space for the family at the top of the main staircase. The Pitcairns had requested a small chapel; Hastings made this symbolic room the centerpiece of the entire design” (Carrère & Hastings, Architects, 2006, vol. 2, 25).

Several years after Cairnwood was completed, John Pitcairn participated in a discussion about family worship at a church meeting in Bryn Athyn: “Mr. Pitcairn mentioned the necessity of guarding against making the readings in worship too long; he also noted the use of singing...” (New Church Life 1899, 170). Aside from reading Scripture aloud and singing, nothing is known about how family worship was conducted at Cairnwood while John and Gertrude’s children were young. Gertrude Pitcairn passed away in 1897, just two years after they moved in. However, when Raymond, their oldest son, married Mildred Glenn in 1910, the couple moved into Cairnwood and began using the chapel when they had their own children. After breakfast the children who were not yet old enough for school would go up to the chapel with their mother. Mildred would light candles, read a story from the Bible, and then tell the story again to the children in simpler words. Sometimes she would sing while playing the small Mason & Hamlin reed organ, and the children learned many hymns in this way—including some in Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament.

As adults, the Pitcairn children retained fond memories of these times with Mildred: “I was thinking of my earliest memories when my mother would be taking Garth and me up to the chapel for worship. This was before I even went to school. And we’d always have a carnation or some flower and we’d put it carefully in front of the altar up in the third floor chapel. Worship was a very special time with her” (Lachlan Pitcairn, October 28, 1997).

All nine of the Pitcairns’ children were born at Cairnwood, and in time the family outgrew the chapel and moved worship downstairs to the living room. In the evening after supper the entire family, along with any household staff who wished to attend, would gather there for a worship service led by Raymond. Hymns were sung, but unaccompanied by instrumentation. A Bible cabinet was designed by local artist Winfred Hyatt especially for use in this room; it was given to John Pitcairn by Raymond and Mildred as a Christmas present in 1915.

 

Figure 1: Cairnwood was designed by the architectural firm of Carrère & Hastings. The chapel is located inside an octagonal tower at the top of the main staircase. According to historian Mark Hewitt, “The Pitcairns had requested a small chapel; Hastings made this symbolic room the centerpiece of the entire design” (Carrère & Hastings, Architects, 2006, vol. 2, 25).

 

 
 

Figure 2: The entrance to the Cairnwood chapel lies beyond two columns of wood, beneath an architrave painted with an inscription in Latin from the theological works of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772). (Nunc licet intellectualiter intrare in arcana fidei; “Now it is permitted to enter with understanding into the mysteries of faith.” True Christian Religion 508.) Swedenborg emphasized that people should read and study the Bible for themselves, and not simply accept the authority of others.

 
 

Figure 3: The walls of Cairnwood’s chapel are lined with California redwood, and the ceiling is finished in blue with ribs of gold. The home was dedicated on May 22, 1895. During the dedication service, the Bible and volumes of the theological works of Emanuel Swedenborg were placed in the chapel in a special mahogany cabinet. The Pitcairns had originally commissioned the cabinet for their home in Philadelphia, where it hung on the east wall of their parlor. (It was made in 1888 by G. Vollmer & Son, 1108 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia.) The wall is painted with an inscription in Hebrew in gilded letters: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4–5).

 
 

Figure 4: The Bible cabinet is carved with alpha and omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. In the New Testament’s Book of Revelation, God says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end” (1:8).

 
 

Figure 5: The chapel was designed with a special niche to accommodate the Mason & Hamlin reed organ.

 
 

Figure 6: A plaque with Emanuel Swedenborg's “Rules of Life,” made from monel metal, hung on one of the walls of Cairnwood’s chapel. The plaque was commissioned by Raymond Pitcairn and made by John Joseph Walter, who also did metalwork for Bryn Athyn Cathedral. The text reads: “Diligently to read and meditate upon the Word of God. To be content under the dispensation of the Divine Providence. To observe a propriety of behavior and to preserve the conscience pure. To discharge with fidelity the functions of my employments and the duties of my office and to make myself in all things useful to society.”

 
 

Figure 7: The Cairnwood chapel, looking north toward the entrance. The room, octagonal in shape, is located in the tower at the top of the main staircase.

 
 

Figure 8: A special Bible cabinet was designed for the living room by Bryn Athyn artist Winfred Hyatt. It was given to John Pitcairn by Raymond and Mildred as a Christmas present in 1915.

 

Glencairn’s large hexagonal chapel was first used by the Pitcairn family on December 29, 1938, during a dedication service for their new home led by Bishop George de Charms. Just as at Cairnwood, visitors to Glencairn’s chapel pass beneath an inscription from Emanuel Swedenborg’s True Christian Religion (“Now it is permitted to enter with understanding into the mysteries of faith”), but this time in English translation, and carved in stone instead of painted on wood. The teakwood door to the chapel features a large cross with the Greek letters alpha and omega interwoven at its center. In the New Testament’s Book of Revelation, God says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end” (1:8).

Both the Bible cabinet (called a “repository” by church members) and the Mason & Hamlin reed organ were brought with the family from Cairnwood to Glencairn in 1938. In recent years, however, the cabinet and organ have been returned to their original locations in the Cairnwood chapel. Another, much more elaborate Bible cabinet, originally made for Glencairn’s chapel by woodcarver Frank Jeck, has been returned to Glencairn from Bryn Athyn Cathedral, where it had been used for many years in the council chamber.

By the time the Pitcairns moved into Glencairn, all but one of the children were in their teens and twenties, and family worship now took place only in the evening. After the dishes from the evening meal were washed, a button was pressed in the kitchen that rang chimes throughout the building. This was the signal for the family, and for any household staff who wished to participate, to gather in the chapel. Raymond would always lead the short service, which included the Lord’s Prayer, readings from Scripture, and the singing of hymns a capella.

Much of the artwork created in the Bryn Athyn Studios for Glencairn’s chapel draws inspiration from medieval Christian traditions (which is also true for Glencairn as a whole). Raymond Pitcairn was particularly drawn to representations of biblical stories found in the Romanesque art of the eleventh and twelfth centuries. In the artwork created for his chapel, Pitcairn hoped to inspire his family with religious symbols and biblical stories that were central to New Church belief.

 

Figure 9: Front and center in Glencairn’s chapel is a cherrywood Bible cabinet, designed and carved in the Bryn Athyn Studios. In New Church worship services, the Bible is opened at the beginning and remains open until the end.

 
 

Figure 10: The doors on this cherrywood Bible cabinet, made for Glencairn’s chapel by woodcarver Frank Jeck, feature images of the angels who stood guard at the entrance to the garden of Eden. The two small wood-carved capitals depicting the four living creatures around the throne of God in heaven (Book of Revelation 4:7) are repeated in stone on two large capitals above the cabinet. Both of these themes are repeated elsewhere in the chapel; the angels with flaming swords are also carved in stone at the chapel’s entrance, and the four living creatures are depicted in an elaborate mosaic on the ceiling. This Bible cabinet was made for Glencairn’s chapel around 1926, before construction on the building began in 1928.

 

Figure 11: Carved in stone on the walls on either side of the Bible cabinet are two texts that are central to New Church belief and practice. The inscription on the left wall is a synopsis of the Ten Commandments from the Hebrew Bible.

Figure 12: The inscription on the right wall is the Lord’s Prayer in Greek, the language of the New Testament.

 

Figure 13: The chapel’s ceiling includes a striking depiction in glass mosaic of the four living creatures around the throne of God in heaven (Book of Revelation 4:7). In preparation for this work, Raymond Pitcairn’s artists in the Bryn Athyn Studios studied mosaics in some of the finest fifth and sixth century baptistries and churches in Ravenna, Italy.

 
 

Figure 14: In a central position on the east wall, this roundel window, made in the Bryn Athyn glassworks, features Jesus Christ and the twelve apostles.

 
 

Figure 15: The two side walls of Glencairn’s chapel hold stained glass windows inside Gothic arches, both made in the Bryn Athyn glassworks. The south window shows scenes from the birth of Jesus Christ. The three complete medallions are reproductions of part of a thirteenth-century window in the nave of the church of Sainte-Radegonde in Poitiers, France. The scene at the top of the window is presumed to be an original design drawn up in Bryn Athyn’s stained glass studio.

 
 

Figure 16: The north window, an original design by Winfred Hyatt, shows scenes from the story of Christ’s Resurrection.

 

A complete archive of past issues of Glencairn Museum News is available online here.