Glencairn Museum News | Number 4, 2017
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.
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.
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