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St. Louis Regional history comes alive in this joint production by KDHX and the Missouri Historical Society. Stories of our past are connected with the present in these well researched and entertaining short presentations about the people, places, and events that have shaped who we are and who we are becoming. 

May 3, 2022

The first Modernist Style Church in St. Louis was St. Mark's. Instead of the vivid images of cherubs, saints, and sunbursts usually found in religious stained glass, these windows would carry abstract visions of the current era’s deepest challenges, including war, poverty and union issues. Just press play to hear the whole story. ———

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Podcast Transcript: I’m Andrew Wanko, Public Historian of the Missouri Historical Society, and here’s history, on 88.1 KDHX. ———
St. Louis’s churches have no shortage of dazzling stained glass windows. But in the small south city church of St. Mark’s Episcopal, you’ll find a set of radical and controversial windows that didn’t use visual grandeur to leave their impression. ———

Built in 1939 in St. Louis Hills, St. Mark’s Episcopal was the first Modernist style church in St. Louis. The budget-strapped church had just eight thin window openings. Instead of the vivid cherubs, saints, and sunbursts usually found in religious stained glass, these windows would carry abstract visions of the current era’s deepest challenges. To amplify their serious social messages, glass artist Robert Harmon used only washed out shades of blue, purple, and yellow glass. ———

One window spoke to the human and economic toll of modern warfare, showing soldiers marching beneath trees that sprouted bullets, bones, and money. Another depicted the importance of labor unity, with two workers pounding away on a gigantic nail twice their size. Yet another featured a striking union worker yanking a rope held by his feather-capped employer, and a shirtless black laborer battling a wealthy white man. These challenging modern images were counterbalanced by depictions of Biblical stories, including Jesus feeding 5,000 people with just five loaves of bread and two fish. ———

At their 1939 unveiling, the windows of St. Marks were so controversial that they incited suspicion and outrage from neighbors. A complaint that the church could be secretly spreading Communism was even lodged with the FBI, and officers from the St. Louis Police Department’s anti-Communist “Red Squad” made threatening house visits to congregation members. ———

At a time when the weary faithful struggled to make sense of World War I, the Great Depression, and the staggering inequality in the United States, the stained glass windows of St. Marks Episcopal reflected their fears, hopes, and frustrations. Over 70 years later they still feel provocative, and continue to remind St. Louisans that the struggle for peace, justice, and equality is an effort that transcends generations. ———

Here’s history is a joint production of the Missouri Historical Society and KDHX. I’m Andrew Wanko and this is 88.1 KDHX St. Louis. ———