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Jerusalem Western Salisbury
3441 Devonshire Road
Allentown, PA 18103
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This month, I am continuing our look at the chancel paintings behind the pulpit and altar in the front of the church. Last month, I discussed the Gethsemane painting that was modeled after an original devotional painting, "Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane" by Heinrich Hofmann; this month I will look at the other fresco paintings around the Gethsemane painting (fresco paintings are paintings applied directly to wet wall plaster before it dries and have been executed for centuries in churches and public places.)
To review from last month, the earliest picture of the sanctuary of the church from around 1911 shows the Gethsemane painting, but there are no cherubs, grapes or wheat, painted above or beside the Gethsemane painting. Instead the panels appear to be painted with an plain line design.
Unfortunately, again I was unable to find a note that said that the wheat, grapes and cherubs were painted in a particular year. However, I was able to find that Rev. Myron O. Rath wrote in the 1916 First History Supplement that "...during the summer of 1916...the church and chapel were frescoed and painted and all of the church property was improved." Therefore, from this reference it would seem that the paintings were more than likely painted for the 175th Anniversary celebration of the church in 1916, which makes sense, since many improvements over the years were done during anniversary years.
Now the bottom panels of the mural area behind the pulpit also have an interesting history. Originally the bottom panels under the paintings were painted white with an ornate border design that can also be seen around the windows and in other places in the sanctuary in the early years of the Twentieth Century.
However, if one examines the photograph below of the sanctuary in 1941 that was printed in the 200th Anniversary Third Supplement History closely, you will notice an ornate geometric design on the bottom three panels.Records indicate that the geometric design was painted in 1936 (the 195th Anniversary of the church) by Paul Jarrett at a price of $75.00. This design is interesting because it does not seem to blend well with the paintings above it. A wooden frame was donated in 1937 by Marcus Kemmerer to help protect the paintings. In 1953 the Beck Wilhelm Decorating Company restored the paintings at cost of $992.30. The restoration was a gift of Clarence Hildebeidel in memory of his father, John T. Hildebeidel. At this time, the geometric design was painted over and the bottom three panels were painted to match the design of the side panels containing the wheat and grapes.
Sanctuary of Jerusalem Western Salisbury Church in 1941 (from the 200th Anniversary History Book - 1941)
These paintings in the chancel of the sanctuary have been seen by worshipers in our church for 100 years. In preparation for our 275th Anniversary, the Anniversary Committee and the Building and Grounds Committee are looking into having the chancel paintings restored in the near future. The last time this was done was in 1953 and so the paintings, especially the lower panels, are in need of repair. All of the paintings are in need of cleaning to remove years of dirt and soot from candles.
Closeup of the Wheat and Grapes aside of the Gethsemane Painting in the Sanctuary of Jerusalem Western Salisbury Church
(April, 2015, photograph by Jennifer L.C. Fink)
The Building and Grounds Committee is continuing to search for a qualified art conservator. The cost will be much more substantial, however. This project would make a lovely memorial to that special loved one, so watch future "History Highlights" articles for more information.
I appreciate the positive responses to my articles. If you have a curiosity about our church and its history, please contact me through the church office or at Finkyx@aol.com.
Joshua Arthur Fink, Historian