Third Presbyterian Church
Rochester, NY

Liturgical Needlework

From a display and presentation for Adult Education
on December 14, 1997 by Helen Meyer


I am here this morning in small measure because of my love for needlework and in large measure out of respect for a woman whose vision established liturgical needlework at Third Church. As most of you know, that woman was Jean Hardy.

Jean HardyJean traveled often and saw needle work in the churches she visited. Also, her daughter, Carol MacFadden, of Ithaca, told me that Jean helped a Ms. Golan, who was working on a kneeler for St. Paulís. Ms. Golan became ill and Jean finished the needlepoint for her. I wonder if the people at St. Paulís know that one of their kneelers was finished by a Presbyterian. At any rate, Jean decided that if the Episcopalians could do it, then why not the Presbyterians of Third Church?

Off she went with one of the ministers to gather a small committee. Together, they studied the liturgical calendar, researched the meaning of the Christian symbols and colors, and decided to go ahead with the project. Then, one by one, various artists were asked to submit designs. The designs were refined, funds were raised to purchase the materials, and members who do needlepoint were invited to sew. As they were finished, the pieces were blocked, faced, edged, and hung. Each project was a major achievement.

Eventually, committee members moved, died, or went on to other things, but Jean never lost her vision. She continued to work toward her goal of an antependium for both the chapel and the sanctuary for each season.

She came very close to doing just that before she died in 1993. This display has never been shown all together before. I think she would have been amazed at its scope and beauty.

The information I have gathered here is not complete, but I hope that more names will be added as time goes by. I also want to point out that several of these pieces were, as Jean put it, ďdone in celebration of the lives of others.Ē

For the purposes of these hangings, the church calendar has been divided into six seasons: Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and Advent. Each liturgical season celebrates particular events in Christian history.

Click for more informationWe start with Christmas. This season celebrates the birth of Christ. The symbolic color is white and the season lasts from Christmas eve until Epiphany.

Our Christmas hanging depicts the manger formed by the Greek letters chi and rho. Chi and rho are the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ. The border is ringed with the flowers of the Glastonbury thorn which only blooms at Christmastime. Its the symbol of the Nativity.

Click for more informationThe second season is Epiphany. Epiphany begins two Sundays after Christmas and continues until Ash Wednesday. The traditional color is white. Epiphany is a celebration of three major events: the baptism of Jesus, the visitation of the Magi, and the miracle of Cana, where Christ turned water into wine.

This hanging was designed by Jennifer Reed Durfee in 1982. The white background is commonly used for Epiphany because it symbolizes the innocence life and purity associated with baptism. The green in the leaves represents the triumph of life over death, personified in the birth of Christ, while the violet refers to love and truth. The grapes themselves allude to the miracle of Cana. The gold in the Epiphany star (which always has five arms and five rays) symbolizes the innocence of the soul and the holiness of life. This description was taken directly from Jean Hardy.

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The second Epiphany hanging was designed by Natacha Dykman in 1982. You can see immediately the scallop shell set upon a cross and as you can guess, it represents Christís baptism. It is also a lovely piece to use for our own baptismal services.

Click for more informationClick for more informationThe third liturgical season is Lent. This is a period of repentance and fasting which begins on Ash Wednesday and continues until Easter. It commemorates Christís fasting in the wilderness. The liturgical color is purple. Both of the Lenten antependia were designed by Jeanette Olson in 1981.

The crown of thorns on the one on the left is a symbol of the humiliation and suffering imposed on Jesus during his trial before Pilate. The nails and the drops of blood signify Christís crucifixion. The one on the right symbolizes the cross on which Christ was crucified, as well as the crown of thorns.

Click for more informationEaster is observed on the first Sunday after the full moon that occurs on or after March 21, and the season continues for six weeks. The Easter season represents the celebration of Christís resurrection. The liturgical color is white.

I believe this beautiful antependium was the first one that Jean Hardy organized. Again, we see the chi and rho., a monogram of the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ. The circle represents eternity and the ivy has always been associated with death and immortality. Because it is forever green, ivy is also a symbol of fidelity and eternal life. This piece is beautiful at weddings and at World Communion Sunday. Unfortunately, we do not have a second Easter antependium.

Click for more informationClick for more informationThe fifth season is Pentecost. This season coincides with a Jewish harvest festival which begins on the fiftieth day after the offering of a sheaf of wheat in the week following Passover. For Christians, it continues until Advent. Pentecost celebrates the descent of the Holy Ghost on the disciples. The liturgical color is green.

These two antependia are used during the beginning of Pentecost. Both designs depict the Holy Spirit, often represented by a descending white dove, which is visited upon the disciples. Both show tongues of fire in different and creative ways. This one is done with a flame stitch, and the other one through color and by embroidering the needlepoint with wool. It produces a wonderful texture and gives it dimension.

Jean had more hangings made for this season because it lasts for so many months. It is nice to see another design go up during that time.

Click for more informationClick for more informationThe next two hangings were designed by Marta Futiger, one in 1989 and the other in 1991. You can also see the descending dove in the one on the left. It also shows the flames and the grape border which is used as the symbol of the Savior, the ďTrue VineĒ.

The one on the right design depicts the familiar descending dove, while the columbine, which usually grows on seven stems, represents the seven gifts of the spirit. Wheat suggests the bounty of the season and symbolizes the bread of the Eucharist. In case you donít remember the gifts of the spirit, they are: power, riches, wisdom, might, honor, glory, and blessing.

Click for more informationThe final Pentecost hanging was the most unique and the most difficult. Skippy Raines told me that the concept of the design was to allow it to be done as a communion of members. Indeed, it was stitched in ten pieces by nine different people. Because everyone who does needlepoint uses a different tension when stitching, no two pieces stitched by two different people will ever match exactly. As a result, Jean Hardy and Pat Clark had quite a struggle to align the individual flower sections to form the cross. This antependium shows the Apostlesí cross. The center of the cross is a pomegranate which represents eternal life. The flowers, which form the arms, are well-known Christian symbols.

The final season is Advent and it commemorates Christís coming. The season comprises the four Sundays before Christmas. The liturgical color is purple.

Click for more informationClick for more informationThe two Advent antependia are currently in use in the chapel and in the sanctuary. The one in the sanctuary depicts the Star of Bethlehem. The lily-of-the-valley has become associated with Advent because it is one of the first flowers to bloom in the Spring. It commemorates Christís coming.

The hanging in the chapel is the latest and it was made to replace the beautiful hanging that was destroyed in the sanctuary fire. There is a picture of it over there. Both the hangings in the chapel and the sanctuary depict the Christmas rose, which is a white hardy rose that blooms at Christmas, and is also a symbol of the Nativity.

Click for more informationNow, to this last antependium. I have not found anyone who can tell me to which season it belongs, who stitched it, or when it was completed. It appears to show the Glastonbury thorn which we can see in the Christmas hanging. There is also a crown. Is it for the Magi? Epiphany? Is there also a star - again Epiphany? And finally, there is a symbol under the crown that I have not been able to identify. If anyone has any information about this piece, please let me know. I would like to solve the mystery.

The last piece of liturgical needlework is not an antependium or Bible marker, but a beautiful kneeler, also known as a prie Dieu or prayer desk. This lovely kneeler was
Click for more informationdesigned by Jennifer Durfee and was stitched by Barbara Chamberlain. It is used for weddings. The tree, a symbol of life, branches out into myrtle, an evergreen which has been used as a symbol of love. The gold circle is for eternity, which is without beginning and without end. The fruit and the flowers which hang from the tree are also symbolic: the carnations, a symbol of true love: the lemon, a symbol of fidelity in love, the peach, symbolic of a virtuous heart and tongue, and the violet, which stands for humility.

Each of these pieces was executed, blocked, backed, and finished by Third Church members. Each piece represents many hours of work. Many of them were done in celebration of the lives of others. At the risk of embarrassing some of you, I think it is important for everybody to know about some special people whose names do not appear on the information sheets, but who were crucial to this project. Herb Chamberlain made and stained all of the wooden dowels and found a way to suspend the antependia from the pulpits. Dave and Janet Reed had a cabinet built to provide safe storage for the hangings and the Bible markers. It is in the usherís closet in the narthex. Peg Clark has single handedly blocked and prepared every antependia , bible marker, and kneeler you see on the screens.

Finally, this display is a testament to an extraordinary woman. Jean Hardy has helped to enrich and add beauty to our sanctuaries and at the same time, she has enriched the lives of those of us who had the privilege of working with her. How fortunate we are to be the beneficiaries of her vision.

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