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Saint Joseph the Carpenter (Part 2)


“A few figs from thistles…”

Howard A. Tabor

St Crispin’s Cabinet

Some buildings are great from the beginning. Others grow into their greatness. Agincourt’s Episcopal church, St Joseph-the-Carpenter, belongs in the latter category.

Saint Joseph-the-Carpenter

St Joe’s was certainly an exemplar of the Gothic Revival in 1878. But the next forty years only refined its original vision. Chancel and narthex sprouted at the east and west. Plain stained glass gradually disappeared, one window at a time, as donors stepped forward to memorialize an anniversary, a parent, a child, a spouse. The original baptismal font—a green enamel wash basin—survived twenty years until an Arts & Crafts replacement came from The Roycroft Shops in East Aurora, New York. And our own Tony Kraus designed and wrought the iron rood screen that separates nave from choir. It’s the little things that count.

The biggest of our “little things” materialized in 1915 when St Crispin’s Chapel blossomed at the south side of the chancel.

Nineteen fifteen was the 500th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt, the definitive contest between the English and French in the Hundred Years War, an anniversary neither celebrated nor even noticed elsewhere in America, I suspect. In 1915 the French and British were too busy fighting Germans. How this matters to us is fairly obtuse, since the Battle of Agincourt occurred on October 25th, St Crispin’s Day in the Anglican Church kalendar of festivals and feasts. It was, in fact, my own family who chose to commemorate that 500th anniversary by commissioning a chapel in the saint’s name.

Nominees for the chapel’s designer include Anson Tennant (my great-uncle) and Manuel Galvez, the furniture-maker who came from Albuquerque, New Mexico to build it. James and Martha Tennant took anson and his three sisters to New Mexico and Arizona in the winter of 1912, the year both territories entered the Union. In Albuquerque the family were smitten with the craftsmanship of a young woodworker named Manuel Jesus Galvez y Paz. And the rest, as they say, is history.

James and Martha began their relationship with Manuel Galvez modestly enough, purchasing a pair of chairs for their home. Manny was only a year or two older than Anson and the two young men struck a friendship, since Anson had become a devotee of William Morris, Elbert Hubbard and the Arts & Crafts Movement then sweeping America. Anson stayed in New Mexico an extra week to learn the rudiments of woodworking at Manny’s shop.

More of Galvez’ furniture found its way to Iowa: a library table, a wardrobe and a handsome buffet that eventually became part of the Fennimore County History Center collections. Recently, one of Galvez’ reclining chairs showed up on “Antiques Road Show” where I learned that all of his pieces are branded with “M.J.Galvez y Paz” and the date of manufacture.

Fast forward to the spring of 1915, while the Agincourt Public Library was under construction. Uncle Anson had sketched the Crispin Chapel addition to St Joe’s but left it incomplete when he sailed for Europe on the RMS Lusitania in May. Suddenly the chapel project gained a double meaning: marking the anniversary of an obscure medieval battle and the more immediate and probable loss of a son.

At James and Martha’s invitation, Manny Galvez came from New Mexico to build the chapel, the biggest “cabinet” of his career. He stayed in Anson’s old rooms above the stable and worked on the chapel for six months. I think it was Manny’s presence in the household that helped the family through its first awful Christmas. If you’re interested, there’s a standing $100 reward for the person who finds Manny’s brand; it’s in there somewhere, a signature authenticating his work.

The chapel idea expanded to accommodate a mausoleum in its basement; no doubt the Tennants believed their son’s body would be recovered and interred there. But it was his father James who became the crypt’s first occupant in 1919. As a grandson of Anson’s older sister Lucy, I’m also eligible to spend eternity there, but frankly, that shelf would be put to better use preserving some of Aunt Phyllis’ green tomato chutney.

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  1. […] Saint Joseph the Carpenter (Part 2) […]

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