Professor English’s Window

I love the light this time of year. The sun’s rays arrive here softer and more golden, and the shorter days mean the sun is still low enough during the early service to stream through the stained glass window behind the Little Chapel’s altar. They land on the wall to the left of the lectern as bright smudges of color. From my position in the pew, they look like thoughts floating over the speaker’s head.

Virginia “Ginger” Smith, who coordinates Glenn’s lay readers, knows quite a bit about this stained glass. She was a good friend of the man who donated it, Thomas English, who was a professor of English at Emory and a Glenn Church member. Given in memory of his wife, Rachel Willet English, the window depicts the wedding at Cana, where Jesus turned water to wine. Henry Lee Willet, who designed the window, was Rachel’s brother.

Ginger points out a small orange shape in the right-side panel of the window – a rendering of the Princeton coat of arms. “Tom was a Princeton man,” she says. “But before that he was an Illinois farm boy who earned a scholarship to Princeton. This was in the nineteen teens.”

His wife, Rachel, was one of the Willets, a prominent Philadelphia family known as stained glass artists. One of their windows happened to be installed on the Princeton campus, in a building Tom frequented as a student.

“He was so taken by the window that he wrote a poem about it and shared it with someone on the Princeton faculty. This person knew the Willets and sent it to them. The Willets were so impressed, they invited young Tom to come visit and this is how he met Rachel,” Ginger says.

She wonders what this well-known family must have thought of their daughter falling for a farmer. “They were married for decades. It’s such a romantic story,” she says. I wonder at the storybook circumstances that bring people together and how sometimes art and love and poetry work together to create something beautiful.


Irene Hatchett
Communications Team