St. Luke’s Episcopal Church donates historic book to Emily Knapp Museum

By on December 24, 2018
Bill Plews and Norm Knapp, son of the late Emily L. Knapp, present a copy of the book “The Christmas Font,” penned by Brockport resident Mary Jane Holmes, to Susan Savard, head of volunteers at the Emily Knapp Museum. The book is a gift from St. Luke’s Episcopal Church to the Emily Knapp Museum.

Bill Plews and Norm Knapp, son of the late Emily L. Knapp, present a copy of the book “The Christmas Font,” penned by Brockport resident Mary Jane Holmes, to Susan Savard, head of volunteers at the Emily Knapp Museum. The book is a gift from St. Luke’s Episcopal Church to the Emily Knapp Museum.

Book completes museum’s
Mary Jane Holmes Classic Collection

It all started with a conversation between Bill Plews, rector’s warden at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, and Sue Savard, head of volunteers at the Emily L. Knapp Museum. Sue mentioned to Bill that the museum had a complete collection of the writings of Brockport’s famed 19th-century author Mary Jane Holmes, except for The Christmas Font. The novelette, which was published in 1868, tells the true story of how the children of St. Luke’s raised the money to commission the church’s Baptismal Font. The beloved Font has been used to baptize infants, children and adults since its dedication on Christmas Eve 1867.

St. Luke’s has its own copy of The Christmas Font and treasures it. So, following the fateful conversation with Sue, Bill came up with the idea to purchase a copy of the book and donate it to the museum. He took his idea to the church’s vestry and everyone agreed it was the thing to do. Bill turned to the Internet and found an original copy of the book.

During worship services on Sunday, December 16, standing before the same Baptismal Font depicted in the story, Norm Knapp, son of the late Emily Knapp for whom the museum is named, presented a copy of the book to Sue on behalf of the people of St. Luke’s. It was on this spot more than 150 years before that the Italian marble Font was presented to St. Luke’s by the children who made the gift possible. Carved into the lovely Font are these words:

Presented by the children of St. Luke’s Sunday School, Christmas 1867, which is followed by the scripture, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not. (Matthew 19:14)

Mary Jane and Daniel Holmes commissioned the stained-glass window Flight Into Egypt, which was crafted in antique glass and painted in England circa 1890. It is one of 14 stained glass windows which tell the story of the life of Jesus and include five windows created by Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Mary Jane and Daniel Holmes commissioned the stained-glass window Flight Into Egypt, which was crafted in antique glass and painted in England circa 1890. It is one of 14 stained glass windows which tell the story of the life of Jesus and include five windows created by Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Holmes writes of the children those many years ago:

 “and as, while writing this story of The Font, the actors in the fair have one by one passed in review before me, I have kissed and blessed them all, and asked that God would keep them to a green old age, when, perhaps, they may read, with strange, curious feelings, what I have written of them.

“And to the children I have never seen but who may read this story, I would say, I love you, too; — l love you because you are children and parts of God’s great family, and I pray him that you may one day meet in the better world with every one of those who helped to buy the Font, and her who wrote its story.”

Receiving the copy of The Christmas Font, Sue said, “Mary Jane Holmes was noted for her kindness, generosity, and love of St. Luke’s Parish and her Sunday school children. Today’s parishioners followed in her footsteps by donating an original copy of her book to the Emily L. Knapp Museum. This endearing book will complete our collection of her works. Blessings to all as you celebrate the season.”

Mary Jane and her husband Daniel, long-time parishioners of St. Luke’s, were active in the church throughout their years in Brockport. Mary Jane taught Sunday school and whenever the couple travelled, they would always leave a sum of money with the rector of St. Luke’s to be used to help anyone in need during their absence. They also commissioned St. Luke’s stained-glass window, Flight into Egypt, one of 14 windows that tell the story of the life of Christ. Daniel also dedicated the church’s original pulpit.

Mary Jane Holmes was born April 5, 1825. She and her husband Daniel moved to Brockport in 1852 where she remained until her death in 1907. The couple lived in what Mary Jane referred to as the “Brown Cottage,” located on College Street. Mary Jane is buried beside her husband in the High Street Cemetery, not far from where she spent much of her adult life.

Over the course of her writing career Mary Jane published 39 novels, as well as short stories. Her first novel sold 250,000 copies and she went on to see a total sales of two million copies in her lifetime, second only to Harriet Beecher Stowe. Her books Tempest and Sunshine, and Lena Rivers were made into motion pictures.

Critics of the time and into early 20th century classified Holmes’ and other women authors’ work as “sentimental.” The critics downplayed Holmes’ books because of their appeal to the common reader. Recent critics, however, recognize Holmes for her courage for dealing seriously with issues of gender, race and class, as well as slavery and the Civil War.

St. Luke’s welcomes visitors to see the historic Baptismal Font and the stained glass windows, which include five created by famed stained-glass master Louise Comfort Tiffany. The church office is open Monday through Thursday, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday services are at 9 a.m.

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