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Room with a view: First Lutheran stained glass being restored to former glory

A worker from Cathedral Crafts Inc. Studios of Stained Glass works on a smaller side windows, next to one of the large rose windows that has already been replaced. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)

It’s not a commentary on the quality of the Rev. Richard Ricker’s sermons, but services at Worthington’s First Lutheran Church have been a bit dreary lately.

For the past several months, the sanctuary’s windows have been covered in  cardboard, filling the spaces where beautiful stained glass should be. The century-old panes were removed for much-needed restoration.

But this Sunday, the light will once again shine through the colored glass, as many of the windows have been re-installed, with work continuing in the weeks to come. The restoration is being done by Cathedral Crafts Inc. Studios of Stained Glass from Winona.

“My wife and I own the company,” explained Eric Penic, who was on hand with a small crew this week to start putting the windows back in place.  “I married into it. My father-in-law started the company.”

The windows were removed in April, a process that was a bit tricky considering their fragile condition. The lead between the panes had deteriorated significantly, so tape was used to hold it all in place.

“Putting them back in is always better,” Penic explained. “Coming out, they’re falling apart, so it’s a bit iffy … I”ve never seen windows literally falling on the floor, and I hope I never will, but these were in bad shape. What keeps them together is the frame.”

Most delicate were the two large “rose” windows on either side of the sanctuary.

“Those were something else,” Penic said. “The large center circles are over nine feet in the middle.”

The First Lutheran windows are the focal point of the church, but they are quite common for the time period — the early 1900s — in which the church was constructed. They were fabricated using a combination of American opalescent glass (an opaque, multicolored glass), handmade mouth-blown antique glass and American Cathedral glass (transparent colored glass with a mechanical finish imprinted by a roller). The fabricator was the Pittsburg Plate Glass Co.

It is likely that the church members at the time looked through some sort of catalogue or a selection of available samples and chose the designs they wanted, Penic said.

That fits with the information that church members John and Vona Mae Vihlen dug up about the history of the windows.

“They put the window frames in, then after the frames were in they called together a committee of people from the church: What do you want in the round window? What do you want in the big window?” related John Vihlen. “That was the process. They thumbed through the catalogue and looked at this and that and chose what they wanted.”

The only other information available about the windows is the significance of the images and the corresponding Bible verses.

Above the altar is Jesus praying in the garden, Matthew 26:39:  And He went a little farther, and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as Thou wilt.”

 In the balcony, a smaller round window

depicts a woman clinging to a rock, a reference to the hymn, “Rock of Ages”: Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling ...

The rose window on the northeast side of the church is Jesus with sheep, John 10:14:  I am the Good Shepherd, and know My sheep and am known by Mine.

The other rose window shows Jesus knocking at a door, Revelation 3:20: Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If any man hear My voice and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me.

“The interesting thing about that is there’s not a latch on the door,” noted John. “So you are on the inside, and you are the one who must open the door to Christ.”

Once the windows were removed, they were taken to the Cathedral Crafts studio in Winona. Each window was photographed, and rubbings were made using butcher paper.

“That’s our cheat sheet for putting them back together,” Penic explained. “We put the window back together on top of the rubbing. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, but you have a cheat sheet.”

As the windows are disassembled, they also get a bath, cleaning off decades worth of grime.

“When you take them apart, you do it wet, because the lead is harmful” and shouldn’t be inhaled or ingested, Penic explained. “But it also cleans them.”

When the panes are clean and free of the old lead, they are reassembled with new lead  — still the best option because of its malleable quality. A few of the smaller windows are still being worked on in the studio, according to Penic, but the majority of the glass was ready for reinstallation. The refurbished windows were carefully hoisted up a scaffolding or via hydraulic lift and secured into place.

“They’re pretty heavy, but my guys know what they’re doing,” Penic assured.

Besides restoring the stained glass, the Cathedral Crafts crew will ensure that the stained glass is protected from the elements. The previous plastic storm windows were worn and yellowed and will be replaced by new clear models so that the stained glass can be better appreciated from inside and outside the church.

For Penic, restoring such windows is a job that he undertakes every day at locations across the country, but there’s a satisfaction in making them look like knew and ensuring they will be around for future generations to appreciate.

“They are special to everyone,” he said. “They appreciate them more when they are gone a while. I guess last Sunday I got a standing ovation, and I wasn’t even there, when they announced I was coming to put the windows back in.”

Daily Globe Features Editor Beth Rickers may

 be reached at 376-7327.

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

(507) 376-7327