“The Jewel Box Church” is a fitting nickname for Patagonia’s little 100-year-old Methodist Church. Its contemporary stained glass windows provide clear, jewel-like colors shimmering throughout the sanctuary in the day and glowing out to walkers and highway drivers at night. You might call it an installation piece of radiant art, created primarily by a gifted Patagonia artist, the late Jean Burger.
Back in 1988, the church’s interior was described as “neutral box.” There were two recently completed stained glass windows, a small one in the tiny entrance and a large Mary Myers one on the west wall dedicated to Carrie Thurber, the wife of Harold Thurber who had built the large, very high-ceilinged adjacent hall for church and community events. The other windows in the church were one-colored amber.
A longtime church member, Burger imagined the sanctuary alive with blue, gold, red, violet and green refracting from the incoming sunlight. She put together a proposal for 18 panels of stained glass. Then-pastor Stewart Lewis and the church’s trustees and congregation enthusiastically approved her designs and project.
As they fundraised, Burger set to work on what would be an immense undertaking for a single artist by anyone’s standards. “Each piece was hand-cut and hand-soldered,” she told Posy Piper in the Nogales International in 1990. “It is the same process as Louis Tiffany used for his leaded glass windows.”
Prior to this, Jean’s art was painting and silversmithing. She now began what would take four years of seven-days-a-week work.
The church’s front window alone took 90 hours to complete. Set against a blue sky background with a flying dove in each corner, it features a softly-shaped, pink-bordered cross made up of a pastel multitude of spring blooms found in Palestine. Containing 1200 pieces of glass and 17 pounds of solder, it was a personal gift from Burger and her husband, Jim, to the church.
Burger and her stained glass project were featured in a national television show produced by the United Methodist Church in 1990. Two years later, all 18 panels were completed, and a dedication service was held. That’s when Rev. John Jenkins came up with the moniker, “The Jewel Box Church.”
Each of Burger’s 18 panels is accompanied by a title and an explanation of the stories and meanings behind the symbols. There are crosses and chalices, of course, but also a lush and delightful array of butterflies, roses, violets, birds, and even a peacock. People talk about the joy and peace they feel in the presence of light streaming through these beautiful images.
To really appreciate the artistry, craftsmanship, and uplifting spiritual experience of the church’s stained glass windows, take a look inside the sanctuary. You can feel the magic of being surrounded by ever changing colors in the sunlight, but also the magic of the details, like carved orbs of sparkling glass catching light in a way that nothing else can. It is an opportunity to step into an exquisite jewel box, a Patagonia treasure.
To celebrate its 2023 Centennial, the Patagonia Community United Methodist Church’s doors will be open to the public during the Fall Festival and Art Walk and every Sunday morning. patagoniaumc.org