The reredos, or back altar, at St. James’ Episcopal Church has evolved over the years – The reredos seen in 2013 is not the original that graced the sanctuary.
1874-1891: No Reredos
Between the present church’s completion in 1874 and the enlargement of the sanctuary in 1901, the Children’s Window (today on the east side of the sanctuary) was in the south wall over the altar, as shown above. And before 1892, there was no reredos (or rood screen). Rather, as you can see, there was a type of mantle and a curtain behind the altar.
1892-1901: The First Reredos
In 1891, a new altar was planned, and the Christmas offering was dedicated to its construction. In February of 1892, the altar was completed, and the Skaneateles Free Press (February 27, 1892) noted:
“The handsome new altar just erected in St. James’ Church will be consecrated or blessed next Sunday morning, the exercises taking the place of the usual service. The altar is of oak, with mahogany panels, the top covered with Italian marble, and reflects credit upon its designer, Rev. F.N. Westcott, rector of the church. The joiners’ work was executed by Messrs. Edward Dent and Thomas Wilkins, and hardwood finishing by Frederick Williams, all local workmen, while the marble was furnished by T.S. Hubbell & Son of Elbridge.”
This reredos, shown above, was lower than the one seen today, given that it had to fit beneath the Children’s Window. Here you can clearly see the mahogany panels.
As for those who built it, Edward Dent was a contractor whose projects included a new interior for Theodore Specht’s “Hazelhurst” (today’s Athenaeum) in 1906 and a new interior for the Packwood House (today’s Sherwood Inn) in 1919. Thomas Wilkins was born in England; he came to Skaneateles when young and lived here for 60 years; he was probably the primary woodworker on this project.
The marble came from the firm of T.S. Hubbell & Son, founded by Theron S. Hubbell in 1844; his son, Elliston E. Hubbell, entered into the partnership in 1875. The firm also provided scores of stone monuments for the Lake View, St. Mary’s, Mottville and Shepard Settlement cemeteries.
1901-1925: The Second & Third Reredos
With the enlargement of the chancel in 1901 (as a memorial to Robert Minturn Grinnell), the Children’s window was moved to the left (east) and the Tiffany window was installed in the west. The reredos was raised and enlarged, becoming a “high reredos” as noted in the Skaneateles Press, October 4, 1907: “It [St. James’] contains many handsome memorials, the most conspicuous among these being possibly the new sanctuary, which was recently built and furnished with a fine altar and high reredos.”
This was the second iteration of the reredos: raised and “high,” with a statue of Jesus at the top. (But not the statue seen today.) Again, it was designed by the rector, the Rev. Frank Nash Westcott. Minnie Evans, in her A Reminiscence of St. James’ (1909), added this description:
“One feature in particular that should not escape mention is that pertaining to the reredos which rises in the semblance of a throne projecting some distance above the cross and whereon stands in bas-relief a figure of The Christ in majestic grace. Unlike the nave, this spot rejects all shadow; two large stained windows of recent construction admit the sun’s rays to play in myriad colors until all is enveloped in their soft golden light.”
In 1915, the reredos was again modified – the mahogany panels removed, oak inserted, and refinished – as below:
“The beautiful altar and reredos have been refinished to match the other woodwork in the church. The mahogany panels have been removed and oak panels substituted, thus making the sanctuary much more harmonious. Instead of three kinds and colors of wood, the reredos is now all oak and matches in color the fine old chestnut wainscoating.” — Skaneateles Free Press, April 29, 1915
(Also in 1915, the rood screen was added. There is a fuller account of that here.)
This was the third iteration of the reredos. The refinishing was donated by John E. Palmer, who had a paint & paper store in the Legg block (on the first story of today’s Legg Hall).
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Ten years later, in 1925, the reredos as we know it today came into being when the original statue of Jesus was removed from the reredos and replaced with a new statue, which was slightly larger and painted.
“A memorial to Rev. Frank N. Westcott… has been erected in St. James Episcopal Church. Skaneateles, of which he was rector for upwards of 30 years. The memorial consists of a statue of Jesus of the Sacred Heart. It was dedicated by the present rector, Rev. Donald C. Stuart. It was given by friends of Mr. Westcott.” — Auburn Citizen, September 24, 1925
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1873-1892 No reredos
1892-1901 Low reredos
1901-1915 High reredos with mahogany panels, statue of Jesus in natural wood finish
1915-1925 High reredos with new oak panels, original statue of Jesus
1925-Present High reredos with larger, painted statue of Jesus.