Architecture, Sanctuary, Music, Chapel, and Author.

A Brief History Of the East Liberty Presbyterian Church

In the year 1778, Alexander Negley, one of the first white settlers in the East Liberty Valley and a son of the Reformed Church in Switzerland, built a home on the present site of Highland Park. For some time he held monthly worship services there for the benefit of his family and newcomers to the area.

His son, Jacob, following his marriage to Barbara Winebiddle, set up housekeeping in 1796 at the corner of what now is North Negley Avenue and Stanton Avenue. For the growing number of children in the community, a schoolhouse was needed. On the site now occupied by East Liberty Presbyterian Church a schoolhouse was built, in which, on the Lord's Day, services were held.

In 1819 a church was built on this site. Pittsburgh by then was a town with fourteen hundred houses. The church which now stands on this site is the fifth house of worship to be built; each new church building being larger than its predecessor in order to accommodate the needs of a steadily growing community.

In 1931, as a result of a gift from Mr. and Mrs. Richard Beatty Mellon for the erection of a church of "cathedral proportions" in memory of their parents, construction on the present building was commenced. It was completed in 1935 and dedicated on May 12 of that same year. The architect was Ralph Adams Cram (who also designed the Calvary Episcopal Church (1906), Holy Rosary Roman Catholic Church (1928), Heinz Chapel in PIttsburgh, and the Princeton University Chapel).

If you're interested there is a longer essay on the history of ELPC available. Written in the late 50s it covers the buildings and ministers from 1819 through Dr. Robshaw's tenure.

Gothic Churches

Like many of the most famous cathedrals of Europe, the East Liberty Presbyterian Church is built in the Gothic style which emerged in the twelfth century, largely under the influence of the Cistercian Order and the remarkable Abbot Suger of St. Denis, Paris. It is characterized by the use of ogival (pointed) arches and by the emphasis on light mediated through magnificently colored stained glass. It is the first type of Christian architecture which seeks to express in virtually every detail the essence of the Biblical faith, hence its cruciform floor plan. Form and function are perfectly combined in every detail to a degree rarely, if ever, realized in other types of Christian architecture. Visitors who study the symbols on the exterior of the building have no difficulty in identifying this church as being in the Reformed tradition. The interior art proclaims its inescapable ecumenicity as a living part of the Holy Catholic (universal) Church.

Some pictures of the church

The Sanctuary

Enter by the central doors of the Narthex. The Narthex ceiling is a copy of one found in Cambridge University, England. The inner doors to the sanctuary are made from English oak. The set of windows show angels holding instruments of praise and a copy of the Scriptures. English oak was also used for the exterior doors facing Penn Mall while the inside ones, weighing four tons, are of Siamese teak. In the Narthex area are an Usher's Room and a Bride's Room.

As you stand at the head of the nave you will see the large clerestory windows (upper level) which depict Old Testament themes on the left side and New Testament ones on the right. The aisle level windows were inspired by various psalms on the left and corresponding series on the right by nine of Our Lord's miracles. One of the Psalm windows was removed when the congregation elected to add the Trinity Chapel, half-way down on the left side, as a memorial to Mr. and Mrs. Mellon, who are interred in its vaults.

Directly in front of you in the chancel are five large windows. The three central panels tell the story of the last days of the Savior, His Crucifixion, death, burial and resurrection.

The Trinity Chapel was erected in 1942. The carving on the interior side of the Siamese teak doors was inspired by Peter Paul Ruben's paintings of the descent from the cross and the entombment of Christ. The marble legs of the altar bear the symbols of the twelve apostles and the windows depict the affirmations of the Apostles Creed in brilliant and whimsical stained glass. I've heard that only one other church has also depicted this creed in stained glass -- if you know which one it is, please let me know.

You might like to spend a moment examining the central panel of the last of the Psalm windows to see if you can detect an error made by the stained glass craftsman.

The large circular window over the East Transept represents the New Jerusalem "prepared as a bride adorned for her husband". (We let our Roman Catholic friends think it's the Blessed Virgin Mary.) The upper window to your left relates significant events in the story of American Presbyterianism and the people connected with them. It begins with the first meeting of General Assembly in Philadelphia in 1706 and includes William Tennant, Samuel Davis, Francis Makemle (father of American Presbyterianism), John Witherspoon (the only clergyman to sign the Declaration of Independence), John Lowrie, David Brainerd, Sheldon Jackson, Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson (Confederate General) and Robert Speer. The three figures in the lower window show Samuel Mills and friends, John Eliot (pioneers in Christian missions) and Benjamin Franklin praying at the Continental Congress. On the opposite wall is a tablet honoring the Rev. Dr. Stuart Nye Hutchison, pastor at the time the Church was being built.

The three panels in the pulpit deal with the preaching of God's Word. Jesus is in the center. On the left is St. John Chrysostom, a patriarch of the Eastern Church and the creator of its liturgy in the 4th century. John Knox, the Scottish Reformer, is on the right. The pulpit thus illustrates the ecumenicity of the congregation as stated in the hymn, "In Christ there is no east nor west."

The chancel floor with its Jerusalem Cross at the center is constructed with marble from many parts of the world. The Communion table (Algerian marble) has the symbols of the disciples with Matthais replacing Judas Iscariot.

You will discover Calvin, our Church mouse if you examine the choir-stall heads carefully. High above you are two small rosette windows honoring sacred musicians. David, the Psalmist, on the south wall, and Pope Gregory I on the north wall. Two other corresponding windows on the transept walls show Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (east) and Johann Sebastian Bach (west).

Beneath the main chancel windows, which deal with the passion, death and destruction of Our Lord, arethe figures of Peter, James, Paul, John and Andrew (left to right). Below these the magnificent sculpture of the Lord's Supper by John Angel was carved from a single 22-ton block of marble and weighs almost 14 tons. The small stone panels below the scuplture depict instruments used in the crucifixion. As you leave the chancel, note the exquisite wood carving on the lectern and the baptismal font.

The windows on your right deal with the past centuries of Church history. Heroes of the faith include Paul, Luke, Pope Gregory I, Emperor Constantine, St. Francis and Count von Zinzendorf - a truly ecumenical group of believers. One panel (bottom right) contains the three ships of Christopher Columbus. Directly facing you is the Reformation window which displays a series of historical persons and events: John Calvin; John Knox; the Scottish Admiral Coligny; Savanorola of Florence; Zwingli of Switzerland; and William of Orange, all of whom, in various ways, sought to improve the spiritual life of the Church.

The small window on the left shows the first church in New Amsterdam (now New York), the Landing of the Pilgrims, and the James River settlement of 1607. A tablet recognizing the generosity of Mr. and Mrs. Mellon is placed on the wall.

As you proceed down the west side-aisle, you will see the windows which depict miracles performed by Christ. The large clerestory windows on both sides can best be observed from the center aisle, with icons and stories from the Old Testament on the east and the New Testament on the west side of the nave.

From the chancel a view of the magnificent Revelation window can be obtained although it is best seen from the balcony. The stairway to the balcony is located in the narthex. The Revelation window contains every symbol referred to in the last book of the New Testament. The panel showing the Lamb of God, victorious on His Throne, makes this window a special source of inspiration and hope.

The Chapel

The Chapel, used for Prayer services, weddings and memorial services contains a number of stained glass windows and the pews from the fourth church. One memorial window honors H.J. Heinz, a trustee of the congregation. One of the interesting features of the Chapel is the private "Mourner's Room".

General Information

The cost of the entire complex, which occupies one city square block, was approximately four million dollars in 1931-35. Interior dimensions of the sanctuary are as follows: length-202 feet, nave height-75 feet, breadth of transepts 117 feet. The windows are the work of five stained glass companies and a number of skilled craftsman in wood and stone who contributed their remarkable talents.

The organ in the Sanctuary is a fabulous and lovingly maintained Aeolian-Skinner (1935) instrument of four manuals, 125 ranks and 7,185 pipes.

The congregation at East Liberty Presbyterian Church is truly a diverse and cosmopolitan one, which is deeply involved in Christian ministry to its community. It was a founding member of the East End Cooperative Ministry in 1970 and continues to be an active participant in the East Liberty community providing accommodations for a Men's Shelter, a Food Pantry and a Soup Kitchen. Its recreational facilities include a bowling alley and a basketball court which are available to neighborhood groups and organizations.


For fuller details you may wish to consult The Art And Architecture of East Liberty Presbyterian Church, available in the Church Library. This fully illustrated book with gorgeous color photographs and text by Pastor Emeritus
Charles P. Robshaw, S.T.D., may be purchased in the Church Office for $10. It will supply the photographs that may soon adorn this web page.

The Cathedral of Hope