Window illuminates College history

by Frances Cha | 5/23/06 5:00am

Editor's Note: This article is the first of a series examining hidden artworks at Dartmouth.

Tucked away in a tiny corner bathroom in Bartlett Hall is a spectacular stained glass window startles any visitor who comes across it unawares. Looking quite stunningly out of place with its surroundings, the arch-shaped window depicts John the Baptist and his followers in a marvelous array of colors. Inscribed with Eleazar Wheelock's name at its foot, the window is bordered by an inscription of Dartmouth's motto: "Vox Clamantis In Deserto Viam Domini." What, might one ask, is such a window doing in a toilet of the Asian studies building? According to the College Archives, the window in question was crafted by John Ballantyne and Sons of Edinburgh and donated by a Mrs. Billings in 1893 in the memory of Eleazar Wheelock, the founder of the College. The notes state that the window was originally to be placed in Rollins Chapel, "but was never placed in the Chapel because of the small size of the figures."

Commemorating Wheelock's Christian intent and life's work, as well as the opening of Rollins Chapel and Bartlett Hall, the window carries critical religious and historical significance within its colored frames.

The placing of the window came during a period of rapid expansion for Dartmouth. The College was under the leadership of President Samuel Bartlett, whose ambitious efforts were behind the building of a new chapel (Rollins Chapel) and a Y.M.C.A. building (Bartlett Hall).

In the "Donor's Address" of the tract celebrating "The Laying of the Corner Stones of the Rollins Chapel," the Rev. Edward Ashton Rollins, Class of 1851, specifically invokes Eleazar Wheelock's Christian mission in founding the College a little more than a century previously.

In the spirit of Eleazar Wheelock, the window's imagery of the enlightened Christian prophet leading his followers is aptly inscribed with the College motto. "Vox Clamantis In Deserto Viam Domini," which can be found in both Isaiah 40:3 and the Gospel of Mark 1:3.

Interestingly, however, the phrase is interpreted with subtle differences in the Old and New Testaments. In Isaiah: "A voice cries out: 'In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.'" In the Gospel of Mark: "The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'" Both meanings, whether the voice is crying out in the wilderness or the way is prepared in the wilderness, are apt for capturing the spirit of Eleazar Wheelock and his work to found a school literally "in the wilderness" with the purpose of providing a "Christian Education" to Indians who embodied, from the Christian viewpoint, a spiritual "wilderness."

It is perhaps ironic, however, that Rev. Wheelock's memory is commemorated in a stained glass window. As an enthusiastic supporter and proponent of The Great Awakening, Wheelock possessed Puritan roots and Calvinist views, both of which had values that rejected religious imagery and adornment. New England Puritans opposed stained glass windows in churches and instead favored simple churches with clear glass windows, as a symbol of God's direct presence and light. As a result, not much glass remains from the colonial period.

It was not until the early 1800s when stained glass became popular once more due to the "gothic" revival on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Bartlett window was originally part of a series of six stained glass windows commemorating Dartmouth presidents. The other five windows were placed in Rollins Chapel; three in the chancel and one in each transept. The window of President Brown was made by one of the most celebrated manufactories of Europe -- the Royal Bavarian Stained Glass Works of Munich -- and depicts the Apostle John. The window of President Tyler depicts the Apostle Paul, while President Lord's window contains the figure of Moses and President Smith's the figure of St. James. Like the Bartlett window, the center window of the chancel of the chapel also depicts John the Baptist and was made in the memory of President Wheelock.

In 1972 the decision was made by Dean Breeden of the Tucker Foundation to cover the windows in the chancel due to the fact that the light "was getting into the worshippers' eyes after the pews were reoriented to the east."

The College has plans to re-examine the windows and perhaps uncover them starting in summer 2006.

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