Tiffany windows, Flemish tapestries and beautiful bells at St Paul’s Church

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (914 E. Knapp St.) on Milwaukee’s Lower East Side was built in 1882. It was the second church built for Milwaukee’s pioneer Episcopal Church. The Richardsonian Romanesque style church is known for its Tiffany stained glass windows. Hehe glass was designed and manufactured by Louis Comfort Tiffany and his design team at Tiffany Studios in New York from 1878-1933. The Church has the largest collection of Tiffany stained glass windows in Wisconsin. This includes the largest window ever made by Tiffany Studios, measuring 30 feet long, 24 feet high and up to 2 inches thick. It is a duplicate of Gustave Doré’s masterpiece Christ leaves the praetorium.

St. Paul’s is the oldest episcopal congregation in Milwaukee and the third in Wisconsin. Founded in 1838, members of the organization included the distinguished families of Charles Bradley, Hamilton Townsend, and the Ogdens, Uihleins and Vogels. Her standing in the community helped the church become the most influential episcopal congregation in Wisconsin.

The building was designed by architect Edward Townsend Mix, a Milwaukee-based architect. Lake Superior Sandstone, a dark red sandstone found near the Apostle Islands in Lake Superior, was used. The church features wrought iron by master blacksmith Cyril Colnik, who made iron gates, fences, and railings for many prominent Milwaukeeans. Over the years, St. Paul’s has received numerous gifts of fine furnishings and works of art. In 1957 the church acquired an early 16th-century Flemish tapestry depicting the betrothal of Mary of Burgundy. The tapestry currently hangs in the morning chapel.

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A church-appointed committee established Forest Home Cemetery on Milwaukee’s south side, the final resting place of many famous beer barons and the city‘s social elite. When the land was chosen, it was nearly two miles outside of the city limits. At the time it was believed that it was far enough away from urban development to remain rural.

Change ringing bells

In 1994, Roland Perschon, a Pewaukee-based retired Milwaukee public school teacher, had a set of eight bells cast by the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in London, England. This octave of bells is no ordinary church chime, just oscillating back and forth or struck by hammers. The bells are attached to large vertical wheels, allowing the bells to swing in a full 360 degree circle. This method of ringing bells, called ‘change ringing bells’, originated sometime in the early 17th century and is a uniquely English practice. Change ringing is a team sport in which a group of people rhythmically ring a series of tuned bells through a series of changing sequences governed by mathematical principles and executed according to learned patterns.

These bells will be the last Whitechapel bells to be installed anywhere in the world, a significant distinction for St Paul’s Church and Tower. The Whitechapel Foundry, which has been casting bells since the mid-15th century, closed in 2017. There are 47 Change Ringing towers in the United States, most located at Episcopal sites in the Eastern and Southern Regions. St. Paul’s Tower will be the forty-eighth installation in the United States.

The community met approximately half of the $120,000.00 cost to install eight bells in the west tower. The project is expected to be completed next year. Anyone interested in learning more about this celebrated endeavor and would like to donate to the project should contact the parish office at 414-276-6277.

Adam Levin

Adam Levin is the admin of the Old Milwaukee Facebook group and the author of Fading Ads of Milwaukee.

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