St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Dubuque has a catchy slogan: “If you think our windows are beautiful, you should meet our people!”
Two church members spent their Saturday morning trying to show visitors just that.
One of them, Margie Breese, led tours around the church, introducing visitors to St. Luke’s collection of authentic Tiffany windows, one of the largest in the United States. The church is located at 1119 Main St.
“It’s a very warm and welcoming church, both in the structure and in the people,” she said.
St. Luke’s, home to Iowa’s first religious congregation, has more than 100 stained glass windows by the renowned artist Louis Comfort Tiffany. Most feature simple geometric designs, while some have symbolic emblems of Christianity. Others are large, colorful panels depicting stories from the Bible.
The first window, installed in 1896 as the church was being built, is called “The Good Shepherd.” Dubuque’s Cooley family purchased it at the Chicago World’s Fair and dedicated it to a deceased family member.
Breese said that window is her favorite, for the way the sun lights up the glass behind Jesus’s figure.
Eight more pictorial windows were installed through 1931. The newest is “David Set Singers Before the Lord.” It is the only window signed by Tiffany himself and features real wire strings on the depicted harp. During services, it shines light onto the church musicians.
At the time, the window cost about $10,000. In today’s money, that would be about $168,500.
Just one stained glass window in the church is not a Tiffany.
“Every time I come, I see something different,” said member Sue Hattel. “That’s why I like to sit in the balcony on Sundays.”
Hattel helped with the Saturday tours. She said guided tours are available every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and now one Saturday per month, though the church is open to anyone who wants to visit for a self-guided perusal during regular hours.
She said the church is on the route of several Mississippi River tour boats, but many locals still don’t know about the collection. The church wants to change that.
“Yes, its St. Luke’s, but it’s our gift to the community, too, to share the beauty and actually the message it shares,” Hattel said.
Dubuquer Ken Cook visited for the first time Saturday morning and was impressed with the collection. He said he did not realize the church was normally open to the public.
“You could spend hours just gazing at them,” he said. “The detail and the work and the colors are so vibrant.”
For him, the experience was more cultural and artistic than spiritual. Hattel said she thinks the windows have meaning for anyone, religious or not.
“The windows share a beautiful message to whoever the beholder is,” she said.
For her, the windows connect to the stories’ relationships to God, she said. She loves to find symbolism in the pictures.
She pointed to “The Ascension of Christ,” the church’s largest window. The third of six medallions lining the top is turned 45 degrees from the others. She believes Tiffany did that intentionally because, “the only thing perfect was Christ.”
Linda Hubbard, from London, was in Dubuque for a conference and stopped by to see the windows on a friend’s recommendation. She said she loves Tiffany’s work and was impressed with the size of the collection. She said she thought it was rare to have so many Tiffany windows in one place.
“To have windows like this I think is special and should be shared with as many people as possible,” she said.
Hattel and Breese said the windows have great meaning to those inside the church as well.
Hattel said the church was “justice-minded” and externally focused. Breese agreed, connecting her friend’s point to the windows.
“The art is inspirational,” Breese said. “The inspiration for me leads to the church reaching outside its doors to serve others.”