Friends of Historic Two Saints, Inc.

nonprofit organization

Friends of Historic Two Saints, Inc. is a nonprofit secular organization formed for the purpose of raising funds for the maintenance and ongoing restoration of the Episcopal Church of St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene.

Friends of Historic Two Saints, Inc. - and subsequently, Two Saints Events - were founded in 2017 after the small, urban, inclusive congregation of the church discovered that their historically significant house of worship desperately needed major repairs. Unfortuantely, the mounting cost of these repairs would bankrupt the parish and leave the building to fall into disrepair.

The congregation commissioned a building needs assessment. The results of this assessment indicated that urgent repair was needed to replace the roofs on the building; there was also interior damage due to leakage. The roofs were patched in 2017, but the patches are only temporary. The estimated cost of a new roof and damage repairs currently sits between $75,000 and $100,000.

1900 St. Luke's Exterior

Some History of the Building

In 1817, a Protestant congregation gathered together and was called "St. Luke’s Church, Genesee Falls.” This congregation started with a wooden building on the site of the current church building in 1820. Growth led to building the church in 1824 - that structure is essentially what one can see at 17 S Fitzhugh Street today.

The architect was Josiah R. Brady of New York City, one of the leaders in Gothic Revival. The church is patterned after a New England meeting house in that it is rectangular, but it heavily features Gothic style attributes, such as the 90 foot tower and pointed windows and arches. The church was renamed St. Luke and St. Simon Cyrene in 1987 after St. Simon Cyrene's Episcopal Church merged with St. Luke's congregation. 

More History

St. Luke & St. Simon Cyrene

The exterior is roughly dressed grey limestone brought on the Erie Canal from Auburn, where it had been quarried by prisoners. Current day Broad Street, beyond the parking lot on the side of the church, was the path of the Canal through Rochester at that time. Red Medina sandstone was used for the quoins (large stones marking the corners of the building), window and door trim, and water table. 

The sanctuary dominates the interior of the buidling. Here is the Gothic style seen in the tracery plaster above the cross, decorative wooden canopy, rear panel and the tiered pulpit. The triple decker pulpit was added between 1835 and 1839. It was inspired by Bishop John Henry Hobert, Bishop of New York. The altar is the first level, a reading desk the second, and the pulpit the third. This was to give equal emphasis to word and sacrament. Many of this style of pulpit were built but only about a dozen survive. The pulpit was originally reached by a set of steps to the right. There is evidence of a door on that side. The altar rail dates from 1843 and gas lighting was installed in 1849. By 1887, electric lights replaced the gas.

The original pews were “box pews.” Each pew had a door and each “owner” not only paid a yearly rent, but also furnished his own cushions, prayer book, hymnal, arm rests, carpet, and foot warmers. The pews were about five feet high with benches on two sides so that the congregation could face the musician when it was appropriate to do so. The box pews were replaced by the current pews in 1867. Note that the pews did come closer to the altar rail at one time. In 2013, pews were removed to be replaced by the moveable chairs seen today to provide a space to accommodate different uses. Part of the chairs were made with some of the wood from the removed pews.

The iron tie rods visible in the ceiling were placed there in 1899 and 1906 to keep the roof timbers and the columns from spreading outward. The timbers were (and still are!) fastened together with pegs. The ceiling features intersecting vaults with carved ribs. Four-cluster pillars support the roof along the side aisles and rear gallery. They are iron pipes but painted to look as if they were marble, just as the walls are painted to look as though they were stone. The woodwork was painted to look like grained wood. Under the paint is a variety of wood. The original builders simply cut down trees and painted so that it would all match. 

There are two baptismal fonts: the stone St. Luke’s font sits to the left of the sanctuary and is rarely used. The marble font from St. Simon Cyrene’s Church has been made moveable. It normally sits near the entrance to the church, but is moved to the middle of the church for baptisms and during Eastertide.

At first there was no organ, so the hymns were accompanied by various instruments, such as flute, violin, clarinet and bass viol. The first organ, the first in the city, was installed in 1832, originally in the rear gallery. In 1925, a Skinner organ was installed in the front of the church. In 1967, the Skinner was relocated to the rear gallery where it resides today as part of the restoration of the sanctuary that had begun in 1966. The restoration sought to bring back the interior original design and décor found in photos from the 1860s. 

A bronze plaque tells of the “Rochester stone” embedded in the north wall of the church, which was a gift from the Cathedral in Rochester, England, in 1927. It bears the seal of Ernulf, Bishop there from 1115 to 1124 and builder of the cathedral. One outdoor curiosity: near the historical plaque you will see a small metal plate. In the days when few public clocks were available, the pastor of First Presbyterian Church across Fitzhugh Street (where Irving Place, the first City Hall now stands) built an elaborate sundial in the area between the church and the first courthouse, and he oriented true west on the dial to the plate on the wall at St. Luke’s. First Church, the courthouse, and the dial have been gone for well over a hundred years, but that little plate is still fastened to the wall. 

The stained glass windows were installed in 1855. Early American stained glass windows reflect the lack of available colored glass at that time in this country. The shortage and expense of materials and the craftsmen’s European roots resulted in many 19th century windows using areas of diamond-shaped glass called quarries, with an overall effect called grisaille (meaning “grayness” in French). This effect is based on the 14th-15th Centuries’ style popular with the Cistercians. These windows are also the beginnings of a revival of stained glass in the 19th century. It emerged from the interest in the medieval period, signified by the Gothic arches in the nave windows. Gothic revival architecture was promoted first in the Hudson River Valley, but was soon accompanied by many other revivals, creating an incredibly eclectic atmosphere that continues today. 

In most grisaille or “quarry” type windows, the diamond patterns consist of painted clear glass. The details on the glass are painted with iron oxide-based vitreous paint, which is fired onto the glass in a kiln, like ceramic paint. Most of the pieces of glass in the sanctuary have several layers of hand-applied paint on them, and each application requires a separate firing. The first layer is either screen-printed or stenciled onto the glass and fired on permanently. The second layer, called a matte, is the pinkish tone that is brushed onto the glass, creating a thin film of opacity and color. The result is an effect that gives uniformity to the windows, controlling the light from the sun by reducing glare. In the border pieces, when the brownish-black matte application dries, artist’s tools are used to remove some of the paint, creating depth and texture, and an additional layer of the same paint in an oil base is painted over the water-based paint layer before firing to create even more dimension (the darkest shaded areas). Another painted element is applied in areas that look golden yellow. This is actually a stain of silver oxide that is applied onto the exterior of the pieces of glass. When fired, it chemically changes the glass to appear yellow. 

What may appear to be dirt on the windows is the traditional stained glass painting technique that is an integral part of the windows’ design. The firing facilities of the early American craftsmen were more primitive, and did not produce results as uniform in quality as those we can achieve today. The result is the “balding” of paint from the glass in varying degrees throughout the Gothic Revival style windows. The low firing also results in a porous surface, which traps dirt. 

The symbols incorporated in the windows were quelled from medieval teachings, when every color, number, letter, tree and flower had symbolic meaning. Every quarry holds an abstraction of the fleur de lis, a symbol of the Virgin Mary, and the borders include vines, leaves, and grapes: symbols of Christ. In the 1800s, the congregation would appreciate the use of such symbols as the business of the city was built on agriculture, hence Rochester’s early title of “Flour City.”


Sources include: St. Luke’s Church Genesee Falls, 1817-1967 by Virginia Jeffery Smith as well as Valerie O’Hara, President and Designer at Pike Stained Glass Studios.