…a Scotsman searching for a little bit of home.
Set down in what was once a rugged landscape, Pasadena, California’s Church of the Angels is a little bit of home. At Christmas, children’s faces light the way and angels come out of the woodwork.
At other times of the year the small Episcopalian Church of the Angels is a favorite spot for weddings, but on Christmas Eve even brides take a back seat to angels and children. During the afternoon service the tiniest parish members, as solemn as the Magi, place toys under the Christmas tree for children at neighboring Hillside Home. Then as if tutored by winged guides, they settle down to hear the story of the Christmas angels.
The church has belonged to the angels ever since it was built in 1889, modeled after Holmbury St. Mary’s in Surrey, England. It was the intensely personal vision of Frances Campbell-Johnston, who constructed the church in memory of her Scots husband on their California ranch.
So remote was the spot she chose, high above the twisting Arroyo Seco Canyon, that the rough roads seemed likely to discourage worshippers. But Mrs. Campbell-Johnston, a woman of extraordinay resolve, was not to be dissuaded by mere earthly inconvenience. She rounded up members herself and arrived daily to watch the stones for the 44-foot tower hoisted into place. And in an inspired move, she had the building positioned facing west, contrary to tradition, so that the light of the setting sun would blaze through the stained glass window depicting the Angel of the Resurrection, above.
Since that day long ago, the city of Pasadena has grown up around the meadow where sheep once grazed and wild, pink chick-peas once blossomed. But the church has always remained faithful to the cherubim. The angels are part of the fabric of the building itself echoed in the shapes of the stonework and choir stalls as well as in the Gothic tracery of the windows. Among the more striking representations is St. Michael the Archangel, who was carved from a 400-year-old oak tree and who supports the lectern.
Go and see if you can find angels in the architecture of the building. I promise you before long you will discover them, especially on Christmas Eve.