In time for the holidays, at the gift shop located at Trinity Church in Copley Square, you will soon find items featuring one of the most striking and provocative images that I have ever taken … probably because the source of the image is so striking and provocative. I think of them as angels though they are harpists robed in white in one corner of the stained glass window, David’s Charge to Solomon, by Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris & Co.
The women stand in a gallery at the rear of King David’s throne as the aged King delivers his charge to young Prince Solomon, and resting upon the King’s knees are the plans of the future Temple that he will not live to see. The window was presented to Trinity Church in the City of Boston by Frederic Dexter in memory of his father George Minot Dexter (1802-1872). As described in an 1888 church description, “the design is considered especially appropriate as Mr. Dexter lived but just long enough to see the plans of the new church completed and the work begun.”
George Minot Dexter was member of a prominent New England family that traced its roots to England and Ireland. It was a family of farmers, merchants, ministers, doctors and politicians. Dexter would become an architect and civil engineer. In 1836, he was commissioned to design the houses for Boston’s Pemberton Square and all of the accompanying ironwork. Today, 1300 of his architectural drawings for 85 different projects can be found at the Boston Athenaeum, in a building he would help to erect between 1847-1849.
In 1863 Dexter, then senior warden of Trinity Church, would call upon Phillips Brooks. Brooks, the descendant of several New England families of note, was a young minister attracting great attention as he served a Philadelphia parish. The young minister was in demand by many parishes across the nation and Trinity Church was especially active in its attempt to acquire him. It would take six years, in 1869, before Brooks would accept the call.
The church at that time was located on Summer Street in downtown Boston. Forward thinking, Brooks determined that it was time for the church to move to a new location, Boston’s Back Bay. Land had been bought and a building committee had already been formed when Boston’s Great Fire of 1872 destroyed the Summer Street church.
Dexter served on the building committee that selected the design of architect Henry Hobson Richardson. The building, which revolutionized American architecture, would be constructed between 1872-1877. Dexter would not live to see the building’s consecration in February 1877. He died November 26, 1872.
In addition to what has been referred to as The Dexter Window, his service to his church is also featured on a wall tablet, with the inscription by Honorable Robert C. Winthrop. It is located in the North Transept. Winthrop refers to Dexter’s self-sacrificing nature and how he remained “active to the last in good works and particularly in his tender care for the interest of the living and the remains of the dead during the trying scenes which attended the burning of our old house of worship in Summer St …”
He refers to the fact that beneath the Summer Street church was a crypt with family vaults. That crypt was laid bare by the destruction of the building overhead. Dexter would tend to those remains until he lost his life. In a letter to his friend Miss Mitchell, Phillips Brooks would write:
If you have the opportunity to tour Trinity Church, you’ll notice not only magnificent stained glass windows like David’s Charge to Solomon but also wonderfully decorated tablets with words that provide just a glimpse into the lives of people who considered that space their home. Well worth taking a moment to read. Enjoy!
Sources, Additional Reading and Opportunities
The Garden Square of Boston by Phebe S. Goodman