Chapel Talk: Memorial Windows (Judith Solberg)

Judith Solberg
This morning's chapel featured Judith Solberg, archives manager and current school historian. She re-introduced us to the Chapel, a building we had previously thought we knew well, providing us with an introduction to the history and stories behind its many stained glass windows.
Would you please raise your hand if you have been inside Trinity Church?

Thank you. Those of you who had your hands raised share something with almost every Holderness School student since 1879. Trinity Church was the school's original chapel, where students used to attend services twice a day, and is truly the oldest building affiliated with the school. It is fundamentally unchanged since it was built around 1797. Except for a short period in the early 1900s, Holderness School has continued to hold at least one school service at Trinity Chapel during every school year – something that is probably our school's longest-held tradition.

Like Trinity Church, this Chapel has also been left largely unchanged. It was built in 1884, part of a reconstruction effort following a fire that burned down Holderness School. If a student from 1885 were to materialize next to us today, he would feel utterly at home. He might point out that it's warmer, that the organ doesn't have to be pumped by hand, or that someone has updated the lighting – but generally I think he would be more unnerved by changes to our dress code than by changes to this building. He'd probably be happy about all the girls, too.

One difference that would immediately grab his attention, however, would be the beautiful stained glass memorial windows that surround us. Over time, we began to honor members of our community who had left legacies for our community to meditate upon for decades upon decades to come. I would like to spend a little time with you this morning telling you more about the people whose names appear on these windows, because their too-often hidden stories are what inspire these beautiful Biblical images that you have probably looked at hundreds of times.

Balch Windows

The two windows behind you honor Mrs. Emily Balch and Miss Emily Balch, her daughter. The May 1902 issue of the school magazine The Argus notes that "During the school year [18]91-'92 some friends of the Balch family placed in the chapel two beautiful memorial windows bearing life-size figures of St. Agnes and St. Cecilia, in memory of Mrs. Emily Balch and Miss Emily, her daughter." These saints were both martyrs of the Roman era, often represented by musical instrument and the lamb.

Mrs. Balch was the widow of Rev. Lewis Balch, who had preached at Trinity Church, and hoped to start a religious school. When he dies, she did not let this dream die with him. She instead donated all of the land and buildings for Holderness School to the Episcopal Diocese. But this act of generosity is only part of why we honor them here. The family remained living next to the school and became an integral part of school life, remaining so for decades (today, Connell dorm stands on the site of the old Balch Cottage). They were neighbors and supporters, hosting meals and parties; Mrs. Balch was second mother to homesick students; and they were classmates and friends – the first student to enroll at Holderness School in 1879 was Stephen Elliot Balch. The Balch family "walked the walk:" they continuously  lived a life of generosity.

Window of the Beatitudes

Behind me is the chancel window, the first of the windows to be made by Charles J. Connick Associates in Boston during the tenure of headmaster Edric Weld. Connick was truly an artist, and felt very strongly about his work. Mrs. Weld brought classes of Holderness students to Boston to observe him in the act of creating some of these windows, which was a unique opportunity and privilege. So in addition to the meaning that we as a community can glean from these windows, we have to acknowledge our luck in having such beautiful art as a part of our community worship.

The Window of the Beatitudes depicts the Sermon on the Mount, surrounded by eight images from the life of Jesus. Each image illustrates one of the Beatitudes, which were the eight blessings pronounced by Jesus in that sermon: upon the meek, those who mourn, the poor in spirit, the merciful, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, the persecuted, the peacemakers, and the pure in heart. These blessings were revolutionary exhortations to us to value and support those who are typically marginalized by those around them.

This window is dedicated to the memory of Edward Morgan Mackey, father of Gertrude Weld (wife of headmaster Edric Weld). It was dedicated on June 12, 1939, during the 60th commencement weekend. Mrs. Weld chose this subject to memorialize her father because it celebrates the values that he had passed on to her; it makes a strong statement about focusing our energy on those who most need our care, our support, our generosity. We use this window also to honor the Weld family, because (like the Balch family) they lived by this generosity. They certainly provided financial support to the school and its students, but they also reached out to those in need, providing family away from home during summers, welcoming war refugees, struggling to create what was a diverse campus before that term was known or would have been valued. This window reminds us that our school's motto intentionally reflects our community's values: For God and humankind.

Woodbury Window

One window that you can't see from your seat is one that you may have a better opportunity of examining closely every time you enter and leave the Chapel. The west sacristy window, which faces you as you come in the front entrance, was given in memory of alumnus Peter Trask Woodbury '43, who died in February 1941. The window was installed the following December. Peter had suffered from polio, and during his entire time at Holderness – even then a fairly rugged, outdoorsy, athletic school – had been confined to a wheelchair, and a fellow student acted as a physical caretaker to him. Think about how difficult that would be for any one of us to live through or accept, even today, in the age of paved walking paths and handicapped-accessibility. His friends described Peter as someone "whose constant good spirits gave to each of us a deeper understanding of the foundations of a happy life." He was deeply loved and mourned by everyone at the school.

Appropriately, the window depicts a youthful King David and the words of St. Paul to Timothy: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of sound mind.” Movingly, Connick wrote to Peter's parents that the nine small pomegranates he worked into the background of the design represent St. Paul's words to the Galatians: "the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance…" To me, the ability to feel peace, love, and joy alongside of long-suffering seems remarkable, and I believe that was what Peter's family and friends wanted us to understand about Peter when we look at this window.

The remaining memorial windows represent a time in our school's history that was incredibly difficult: the onset of the second World War. Think about how headmaster Edric Weld felt. Having brought the school past the destruction of campus in the 1931 fire, and slowly worked through the struggles of the Depression, Weld suddenly was faced with preparing his students not for college, not for a working life, but for battle. He was very aware that some of his students would get no more education or preparation for life that what he could give them, and some would not survive. Imagine looking around everyone here in this chapel today, knowing that perhaps half of you (students and teachers alike) would be in another country, fighting for your lives, within two years. In May of 1945, there were 232 Holderness alumni serving in the military – and this was at a time when the entire student body was between 60-70 students in any given year. So as I tell you briefly about the boys memorialized in these windows, I want you to remember that they represent a greater wave of service that swept up this community during that war.

McDuffie Window

The south window nearest the transept in the Chapel of the Holy Cross is dedicated to the memory of alumnus Robert Selden McDuffie '44. He came to Holderness as a scrappy third-former, and though small, worked his way up in many sports – particularly hockey. He apparently had no fear of playing against larger kids. In the sixth form he was elected vice-president of the school, and after completing his course load at mid-year, immediately enlisted. Robert saw heavy action right away, and was killed in combat in Germany in March, 1945.

The window depicts two noble warriors for Christ and the Church, Saint George (with his dragon) and Saint Martin of Tours, patron saint of soldiers. The texts they are holding read, "Therefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day," and "Stand, therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness." The design incorporates symbols of Robert's six service ribbons, including the Purple Heart, the Croix de Guerre, and the Silver Star.

Vinall-Brown Window

The south aisle window in the Chapel of the Holy Cross is dedicated to the memories of alumni Philip Henry Vinall '41 and David Wills Brown '41.

Phil Vinall took a full year away from Holderness to study cello, but returned to share not only his musical talent, but also to be a football lineman and participate in drama and hockey. Phil's classmates described him as "not one of those humans who is gifted with the ability to tell time." Weld later said that his ability to sleep through breakfast had emulated but never equaled, and that outward authority simply could not budge him; Weld marveled that Phil was able to take to military life and its regulations so readily. Phil went missing in 1944 when his plane went down near Northern New Guinea, and was eventually listed as presumed dead. His window panel depicts King David, a reference to Phil's love of music.

David Brown had attended Holderness for one year as a fourth-former, and was a high-spirited kid without a lot of reverence for authority. Weld later wrote that flying in the air force "made use of all the qualities of adventure and daring and even the spontaneous gaiety which [David] revealed here at school." He became a highly-decorated Thunderbolt fighter-plane escort flight leader, leading over 80 missions. In a 1945 mission over Bavaria, David flew low to check on his wing-man, who he suspected had been hit. His own plane was hit as a result, and when bailed out his chute did not open and he was lost. Shortly before, he had written to Weld that "I am very pleased with my assignment because it's really exactly what I've been aiming for. I like the work, and the men I'm working with are tops. Nothing slow about it either." David's window panel depicts the Archangel Michael (r), holding the scales of Justice and the flaming sword.

Sewall Window

This aisle window in the Chapel of the Holy Cross is dedicated to the memories of brothers Richard Hartwell Sewall '39 and Homer Sewall Jr. '42. While at Holderness, both boys were varsity athletes, active in the school musicals, and heavily involved in school life and leadership.

Homer, known at Holderness as "Squeak," threw a game-winning touchdown pass in the 1941 game against Proctor, and helped spearhead campus fund-raising for the British War Relief Fund. Homer joined the army right out of Holderness, and was placed in the medical corps with a unit that was scheduled to remain in England during the invasion. He instead volunteered for service with the airborne troops, landed with them in Normandy on D-Day, and died two days later. The window panel honoring Homer depicts Saint Stephen, the first martyr (l).

Richard was a dive-bomb pilot in the central Pacific during the war, later training other pilots until his discharge in December, 1945. He died the following May from complications related to rapid changes in altitude. Richard's panel depicts Saint Timothy (r), who assisted St. Paul and who became bishop of Ephesus at a young age. Bishop Dallas said of the window's subject that, since Richard "was unusually mature for his age and had already undertaken heavy responsibilities, the choice is especially appropriate."

Young-Raymer Window

This aisle window in the Chapel of the Holy Cross is dedicated to the memories of alumni Hedley de la Broquerie Young '41 and Paul Washington Raymer Jr. '43. Hedley Young was a determined skier and a star linebacker on our football team. His former roommate remembered that he played "every minute of every game for the entire undefeated, untied, and unscored upon season." Still, he loved skiing, and Weld believed that on all of Hedley's skiing runs down Cannon Mountain, he was imagining that he was flying in the RCAF like his father. Hedley's father had flown during WWI, under the captain who became famous for shooting down the Red Baron. Remarkably, Hedley was certain of the need to fight the Nazis before that became a pervasive belief. He left school the year before his graduation and enlisted in the RCAF; he became the first alumnus to visit the school in uniform. He died in a German hospital in 1945, after being shot down over Italy.

Hedley's window depicts Saint Louis (l). At the dedication, Weld said that "our St. Louis window should remind us of another crusader who determined to join that intrepid band of so few to whom the many owed so much."

Paul Raymer came to Holderness from Puerto Rico, with English as a (not-quite) second language. He earned A's while learning English, and soon was assisting Spanish teacher Dante Fiore in teaching his classes. Paul was also an accomplished musician, taking piano and conducting lessons from faculty member Avery Rogers, to whom he was very close. When the war came and Avery Rogers was drafted, Paul filled in as the music director of the annual Gilbert & Sullivan performance, while also teaching Spanish and carrying his own course load.  Paul himself was drafted soon after graduation, and was killed during a plane accident while on furlough.

Paul's window panel depicts Saint Francis of Assisi (r). Because of Paul's love of music, Weld appreciated that his panel was placed close to the organ, depicting the saint who "was called the Troubadour of God, and had music in his heart."

My goal this morning was not for you to memorize details about the lives I just shared. But I do want you to leave with something deeper than you had before today's chapel. Connick, the artist who made these windows, once said that

"If churches are made radiant and beautiful places of worship, we can have a spiritual regeneration without anyone knowing what is going on. Beauty can preach as very few men with bundles of words can preach. I want to make beautiful interiors for both churches and souls. I want men to hear my windows singing…"

Someone visiting our school may well walk into this chapel and be inspired by the beauty of these windows. They may even walk past to read the memorialized names, or ponder the Biblical passages. But these windows have more to impart to all of us who are part of the Holderness community. The three values that they represent are ones we can all aspire to carry forward with us into the world: generosity toward those in need; the ability to find joy in spite of pain (or even to find joy in our own ability to meet the challenge of our pain); purposeful dedication – and sometimes sacrifice – when faced with a wrong that demands righting.

The most important thing to remember about those three values is that – although they can be demonstrated by a grand gesture – they are best upheld through daily, small choices. If that student from 1885 were here today, he would recognize this building, but he would also recognize those values. They are Holderness School values. So when you come this chapel, please, be inspired by the beauty. And do think about these individuals. But remember to use the windows as windows: windows into our shared past, windows into your own conscience, windows into your aspirations for your own character. Because for all of us sitting in this Chapel, that is their purpose.

[Addendum: In addition to the memorial windows, the smaller grisaille windows flanking the Balch windows are also Connick creations. All Saints Church in Peterboro removed three Connick windows, which they donated to us and which were made over into five windows for the Chapel of the Holy Cross by Connick himself. They were dedicated here in 1941. More about Connick stained glass can be found at]

You Might Also Enjoy

List of 3 news stories.


    The Honor Roll recognizes and commends outstanding achievement and effort in the academic program. Holderness School recognizes that each student's growth and progress is complex. Quarterly comments written by faculty better reflect the unique path traveled by each student, and the Honor Roll and Effort Honor Roll are simplified but significant markers of the engagement of our students in the most recent marking interval.
    Read More
  • Distance Learning Begins April 9th

    Kelsey Berry
    Holderness School will offer its program via distance learning beginning on Thursday, April 9. Watch the video below to learn more about Holderness School’s distance learning program.
    Read More
  • Holderness School Names Ben Drummond Director of Snow Sports

    Andrew Herring
    Holderness School is pleased to announce that Ben Drummond has been named the Director of Snow Sports.  
    Read More

Holderness School
33 Chapel Lane, Holderness, NH 03245
mail P.O Box 1879 Plymouth, NH 03264-1879
phone (603) 536-1257