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WOLCOTTSVILLE – It’s been quite a long trip, but a 19th century painting of St. John the Evangelist that was removed in the 1950s has found its way back home to Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Wolcottsville.
The oil painting on wood was part of the original pulpit in the church building that was finished in 1868, according to a monograph provided by Cathy Bergquist, a fifth-generation member of the congregation and its unofficial historian.
Bergquist and church secretary Amanda Moore are preparing for the rededication of the priceless painting during the 9 a.m. worship service next Sunday in the small red brick church at 6369 Wolcottsville Road.
Many of the founders of Trinity Church came from Prussia, and a lot of the old records are written in German, making it somewhat difficult to accurately trace its long history, Bergquist said.
With the help of the pastor, the Rev. Joshua McGuffie, however, she has pieced together the story dating back to the middle 19th century, when men and women who fled religious persecution in the north of Germany brought their religious art with them and founded Trinity Evangelical Lutheran in Wolcottsville in September 1853.
Among the artworks were a crucifix for the altar, a plaster relief of the Last Supper and the paintings of three evangelists that decorated the original pulpit of the 1868 church building.
Paintings of the evangelists highlighted the connection between the preaching of the church and the scripture written by the evangelists.
“The painting of St. John had pride of place on the front of the pulpit, which stood above the altar,” according to the monograph prepared for its Oct. 28 rededication. Although the painting is back home, the original pulpit has been lost to the ages.
“After the high pulpit was taken down in the 1950s, then-Pastor Herman Ewald sent the picture to a colleague in Ohio who collected religious art,” today’s church leaders reported.
The Ohio pastor and his wife retired to Florida, and the picture was sold as part of their estate after they died.
The painting eventually came into the possession of Michael Wagner and Michael Mickett of Washington, D.C.
Bergquist said Wagner and Mickett had no clue to the origin of the painting, except for the word “Akron” on the back.
Doing a little detective work, Wagner tracked down Trinity’s contact information “in order to send St. John back home.”
Wolcottsville is a hamlet in the Town of Royalton in Niagara County, but its post office address is Akron – in Erie County.
Making the historical search more difficult, there is another Lutheran Church – St. Michael’s – in a yellow brick building at 6379 Wolcottsville Road, just down the street from Trinity.
Nevertheless, “We give thanks that our church has its evangelist back,” Bergquist said.
“In the tradition of our Evangelical Lutheran fathers and mothers, we will worship with St. John and look forward to a bright future in Wolcottsville,” he added.
The painting is about 2 feet wide and 3 feet tall, and it will have a place of honor in the church, Bergquist said.
The founders of Trinity “decorated their new church with the religious art they faithfully brought with them from Europe,” the historian said.
“As Lutherans, religious images had always been part of their tradition. Here at Trinity, they had a fine array of religious art and symbols,” Berquist added.
Bergquist said Trinity’s congregation numbers about 100 members, and reference sources indicate that average attendance at worship services is about 60.
Do you have an idea for religion news in Niagara County? Write to Richard E. Baldwin, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240 or email him at rbaldwin@buffnews.com