New light at St. Peter
Weyauwega church refurbishes rare stained glass
By James Card
The services at St. Peter Lutheran Church are aglow in a new and brighter light.
The antique stained glass windows were cleaned and refurbished by a specialist contractor over the course the past year. The results are breathtaking: during morning services, the sunlight comes in on the right side of the church with a cascade of colors and during evening service, the sunlight hits a red patch of stained glass and a crimson glow floods the room.
Colors that were lost to age and grime are now visible again.
The windows are approximately 110 years old and they were deteriorating in their framing. Ushers reported visible cracks with sunlight coming through. Some windows would sway if pressed upon and one west window was one windstorm away from collapse.
“This was not just an aesthetic project. Structurally – if we wanted to preserve it –it needed some attention and maintenance,” said Rev. Aaron Kristopeit. “They only had a life expectancy of 70 years and so the fact that we made it 110 years was an awesome blessing and a testament to the original craftsmen.”
In April 2021, the congregation voted to fix the windows.
They hired Cathedral Crafts of Winona, Minn. to tackle the project. The firm was founded in 1969 and has restored stained glass windows of churches and cathedrals throughout the United States.
There were 42 windows of various sizes and each had to be removed in a rotation cycle.
Aerial lifts parked next to the church were a common sight over the past year.
The windows were transported to a studio where they were photographed and then taken apart pane-by-pane.
The church was built in 1910 and pre-dates electricity. Oil lamps were used during the services and the soot and smoke darkened the stained glass.
Each piece of glass was hand polished and a wax was applied on the outside panes to prevent oxidation that dulls the colors.
The lead edging was replaced with a modern alloy and the windows were reassembled.
Back in Weyauwega, each window was installed and a one-inch clear glass storm window was placed over the exterior side of the stained glass.
Kristopeit pointed out one window that portrays Golgotha, the site where Jesus was crucified. The image is of a brown hill with three crosses and below is a forest with various shades of green. He said before refurbishing that part of the image was a dark gray blob.
“It is several shades lighter. It’s a huge visual difference. It’s beautiful and really letting in sunlight in an amazing way,” said Kristopeit.
New information was revealed as the project was surveyed.
A small metal tag was discovered and engraved on it is: “Made By Milwaukee Mirror & Art Glass Works, Inc. Milwaukee, Wis.”
It was re-soldered to a window where it could be seen at eye level.
When the stained glass was made in 1910, color was added to the glass, it was fired and cooled and another color added. Each firing and cooling makes the glass more brittle and delicate. However, the more colors added, the higher the quality of glass.
Four or five colors are standard. The stained glass at St. Peter has up to eight colors and is considered extremely rare. One craftsman referred to the glass as “irreplaceable.”
“That thought resonated with the congregation as we voted to approve this project, the fact that it’s irreplaceable. The fact that we have it here and the effect it has when you walk into that sanctuary. It made people think: ‘We need to preserve this because this is special,’” said Tom Buchholz, a church trustee.
The project cost $360,000, a huge expense for a small-town church.
Kristopeit explained the motivation of shouldering this cost by comparing it to a biblical story: “Solomon’s Temple, one of the wonders of the ancient world. There are times in the scriptures when it was refurbished and remodeled and rededicated to God’s glory – and the expense that put on the people of Israel. They were so moved by God’s word and promises to just give so this could be done so a future generation could also stand in awe of the glory of God. It’s through the craftsmanship of the people that God had gifted to do this kind of work. This is a recurring story in the history of God’s people all over the globe.”
The timing of this project is no coincidence as the church honors its heritage by restoring the stained glass to its former glory.
The church will celebrate the congregation’s 150th anniversary during the month of August and special services, activities and meals are planned.