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Jun 02

Trinity Episcopal Church – Seneca Falls, NY

Probably one of the most unique geographic regions in the country for the ideas that arose here about spirituality, the Burned Over District gets only more unique and auspicious when one studies the other movements from the region that would go on to change the country, and even the world. While movements like the abolition of slavery, prohibition and women’s rights were gaining a steadfast foothold in American history, it’d be tough to imagine any of them without the influence of the previous religious fervor that swept Upstate NY just a few years before. Seneca Falls is known as the ‘Historic Gateway to the Finger Lakes’ and is familiar to many because it’s believed to have inspired the fictitious town of “Bedford Falls” where the 1946 classic film “It’s a Wonderful Life” took place. Much more famously though, 100 years previous to the film, Seneca Falls would host the first ever annual Women’s Rights Convention in July of 1848.

Trinity Episcopal Church

Trinity Episcopal Church

One of the many influential women present at that very first conference was Amelia Jenkins Bloomer, who in addition to furthering the fight for women’s rights, would go on to change the role fashion played in the everyday lives of women by inventing the Bloomers. While living in Seneca Falls at the age of 25, Bloomer was baptized at the Trinity Episcopal Church on April 8, 1843. A small, wooden framed edifice built in 1834 on the canal that conducted upwards of 900 baptisms and over 8,000 services in its time. Like many groups, the parish outgrew their home and began the fund raising necessary to purchase the property on Fall Street, where they built their new (and current) home directly across the canal from the previous. Because of Trinity’s position in one of the most historic towns of Upstate NY and its geographical position on the picturesque Van Cleef Lake attached to the canal, we’ve been told numerous times that it’s the most photographed church in all of New York. While we haven’t been able to find any statistician-approved documentation to corroborate the claim, we haven’t found any to the contrary either. While in the area doing some exploring, we set out to visit a church that has been on our list for years and to take just a few more photos of our own.

Trinity Episcopal Church

Trinity Episcopal Church on Van Cleef Lake and the Erie Canal

Trinity Episcopal Church

Trinity Episcopal Church

We called in advance to see about setting up a tour and were given instructions to just ‘show up’ and ‘someone would show us around’. There was some kind of festival going on in Seneca Falls that day and a morning sidewalk sale was part of the events. Since the church was involved, we were told there’d be plenty of people around working the sale and surely someone would do us the favor. As we rolled up Fall Street, there wasn’t any sign of any sale. We showed up at the tail end of the time we were told, but apparently missed our shot at meeting someone. We each solemnly walked around tugging on door handles in hopes we’d strike it rich but none of them budged. As we stood on the sidewalk sheepishly remembering that this is why we like to specifically have an appointment to meet someone, the front door opened and the last, lone sidewalk sale volunteer exited. She looked surprised to see two guys just standing there, so we quickly explained ourselves. For the life of me, I can’t remember this wonderful woman’s name (Irene maybe??), and I feel bad for that, because she told us to hang on for a minute while she went to her car and unloaded all of the things she had been carrying and came back telling us she’d open up the church and let us go in for a few minutes. Surprised and grateful, we followed her as she went back to the front door, unlocked and led us in.

Icon of Elizabeth Cady Stanton

Icon of Elizabeth Cady Stanton

The cornerstone for Trinity’s second location was laid on June 2, 1885 while the following year was when building was finally completed. Constructed with blue limestone from a nearby quarry, the church was designed by Brown and Dawson, a duo out of Troy who brought with them a contractor from New York City by the name of William Crabtree. Additionally, a subcontractor out of Albany, Richard Wickham, is responsible for the church’s furniture. A combination of Gothic and Early English architecture was reportedly not a favorite by the local newspaper, but apparently everyone came around in the end. Though the interior has some brand new Romanesque features, the altar, font, bell and choir window are actually original to the first church.

Sanctuary

Sanctuary

The overall peace and tranquility of the sanctuary is created by elements like the the white pine ceiling and an all oak altar with ash trim, but the stained glass windows bring the entire space that familiar serenity of a beautiful church. The church has twenty stained glass windows which are the work of numerous artists like Tiffany Studios, Henry Keck Studios, Gibbs Studio out of Elmira, and Haskins Studios. It’s always interesting to be in a space with stained glass that has been created by many different hands because if you look close enough, you can make out subtle nuances that are a nod to each artist’s style. One window in particular struck us, ‘The Savior Knocking At The Door’ was designed and installed by Louis Comfort Tiffany and features a lantern that was so vibrant it really did seem to be lit up by a flame. While we wanted to take more time at each window and notice little details like that, we were sensitive to the fact that our volunteer docent had planned to already be home at this point.

Stained glass windows by various artists

Stained glass windows by various artists

Stained glass windows by various artists

Stained glass windows by various artists

Stained glass windows by various artists

Stained glass windows by various artists

After we had what seemed like enough of a balance of not keeping her too long while still getting a chance to see all that we wanted, we made it obvious to her that we wouldn’t keep her much longer. She said, “Oh no, before you go you need to see the chapel as well!” and motioned for us to follow her. Just to the left of the altar was a doorway that seemed as though it would’ve just gone outside, but opened up in to a small, octagonal chapel which is original to the 1885 building, but was never dedicated until 1941. For decades the chapel served as a quiet place for reflection looking east from the church over Van Cleef Lake, just feet away from the outside wall of the church. But in 1998, a church benefactor made a proposal that couldn’t be turned down. That individual anonymously commissioned Don Sottile of Geneva to create a life-sized mahogany statue of Our Lady of Walsingham, and with that installation, the chapel was rededicated as a celebration of the Virgin Mary. If you ever visit the church, don’t leave without seeing the absolutely stunning piece of artwork in the chapel.

Mahogany statue of of Our Lady of Walsingham

Mahogany statue of
Our Lady of Walsingham
(sorry for the glare)

We thanked our docent over and over for her willingness to derail whatever plans she already had made for the afternoon to open up the church and show us around. After saying our goodbyes, we took some time to really get a better look at all that beautiful blue limestone on the outside and all the surrounding peace of the calm canal and lake. We walked around the church a bit, trying to imagine some of the most famous suffragettes in history to have been standing in the very lawn we were standing in and wondering if their conversations included their wondering if anyone would be telling their stories a hundred years later. With the history of this town and the splendor of this church along the calm canal, it certainly is possible that it truly is the most photographed church in the state!

7 comments

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  1. Ellie Brown

    Thank you so much for this beautiful article about our amazing church. I am a proud member of the vestry at Trinity and I am pretty sure that the lady you met was Irene Ferranti, one of our wardens. I am so happy that you were able to see the inside of this historic treasure. Please visit us again.

  2. Rich Miller

    I have been a member of the Congregation at Trinity for all of my 67 years. This is a wonderful article, however, the canal is NOT the Erie Canal, but the Seneca-Cayuga Canal.

  3. Susan Witt

    An excellent account of a historic church – My research indicates the Stanton family were members of Trinity Church, another connect to the Women’s Rights initiative. If you are in that area again, please visit another Trinity Church in nearby Geneva. You will be equally impressed.

    1. Luke

      Susan, we would love to visit this other church! Is there a better time to come and take a tour?

  4. susanne smith

    A well written tribute to a magnificent historical site in seneca county. This church and its members and followers are true role models for our community. They work very dilegently to keep this historical church in remarkable condition. Thank u for recognising the hard work and remarkable faith .

  5. Eleanor Celentani

    hi, Chris, this is a fine article; the picture of the church next to the lake is so beautiful, made a deep impression .
    also all the stained glass windows are stunning. I will need to look up Our Lady of Walsingham. Thanks very much for a beautiful moment to touch in with this. Definitely a place I would want to visit. Icon of Eliz. Cady Stanton is unique – I have not seen one like that of a historical figure. Thank you!

  6. Elizabeth Berry

    Hi, CP.
    I enjoy the relaxed, conversational voice of your writing. A nice balance of facts and impressions. I get a kick out of the icon of Elizabeth Cady astanton.

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