New Brunswick

'It's part of my church:' Saint John group tries to buy back Pathfinder window

Some Anglican churchgoers in Saint John are hoping to snatch back their beloved Pathfinder window — an artifact that depicts Jesus with his hand on a boy scout — before a San Francisco museum or any other bidder can buy it.

Group sends $3,000 US to keep window of Jesus and boy scout from going to a U.S. bidder

Arlene Trask, left, and Kathryn Wilson are two members of a group trying to bring a window showing Jesus with a boy scout back to Saint John. (Submitted by Kathryn Wilson)

Some Anglican churchgoers in Saint John are hoping to snatch back their beloved Pathfinder window — an artifact that depicts Jesus with his hand on a boy scout — before a San Francisco museum or any other bidder can buy it. 

The window, considered a "national treasure" by amateur historian David Goss, is up for sale by a U.S. company.

"It's part of my church," said Arlene Trask, part of the group trying to bring the window back to Saint John.

"And now my church has been totally desecrated, so if I can just have one piece of it back, I would like to see that happen."

Starting in 1941, the window was part of the old St. George's Anglican Church on the west side of Saint John. But after the church building, the oldest in the city, was sold to new owners, it lost its heritage designation.

The new owner turned the church into a restaurant and sold its artifacts, including the window, in 2017.

Last October, the window showed up on the website of D.C. Riggott, Inc., a Minnesota company specializing in antique church artifacts. 

The Pathfinder window was based on a work by British war painter Ernest Stafford Carlos, who died in 1917. His family allowed only two windows to be made from the image, but only the St. George's one survives. The other window was in a British church destroyed in the Second World War. 

The Pathfinder was based on a work by British painter Ernest Stafford Carlos, whose family only allowed two windows to be made from it. (www.dcriggott.com)

Artifact company sells window at discount

Joshua Tollefson, sales manager for D.C. Riggott, said the company has estimated the window's value at between $40,000 and $90,000.

A San Francisco museum has put in a bid, and the Saint John group has heard a Seattle organization is also interested. 

But Tollefson said the company will give the former St. George's worshippers the window at a discount if they can collect $12,000 US, enough to cover some of the expenses the company incurred on a business trip to Saint John in 2017. 

"We have long been dedicated to finding the most appropriate house for this historical artifact since the moment we acquired it — and what more appropriate housing than where it came from," he wrote in an email.

"When we originally purchased the window along with other items, we were under the impression that the city of Saint John was not interested in the contents of the church, otherwise we would have inquired further with the local community concerning the items."

He did not say how much the San Francisco museum has offered or provide its full name.  

A hold deposit 

A group of parishioners and history lovers raised the U.S. funds needed to hold the Pathfinder until the rest of the $12,000 US can be raised. 

Trask is part of the group, but she has reservations about the deal.

"I've been very leery of this too," she said. "I've been questioning the validity of the telephone conversations that have been going on. And trying to nail down that this is a bona fide idea and not a scam."

According to records, the Pathfinder window was unveiled at a ceremony in 1941. (Submitted by David Goss)

Kathryn Wilson, a heritage advocate, has been working with the New Brunswick Historical Society and the parishioners to get the window back.

She said the company has been patient with the Saint John group and hasn't set a deadline for raising the cash. 

If we can get it back, it will be protected.- Arlene Trask

Because at least two U.S. bidders are interested in the window, she said, the Saint John group sent the hold deposit, which is non-refundable.

"There are already contenders in the United States that already have American currency," she said. "It's not as great of an expense for them as it is for us."

She said her group has to raise what amounts to another $15,000 Cdn.

Goss, one of the former parishioners of St. George's, said Carlos's painting of Jesus and the scout has been copied many times but not in a stained-glass window.

This weekend, the group will be collecting donations at Lancaster Mall and the following Saturday at the west side Sobeys.

Hopes to keep window at museum

Anything above $10 will receive an income tax receipt from the New Brunswick Historical Society.

Trask said if the group is successful, it would like to host the window at the New Brunswick Museum, since this seems a bad time to give anything to a church for safe keeping. 

The group has already begun plans to turn the window over to the museum, at least temporarily.

"It will always be protected," she said. "If we can get it back, it will be protected."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joe Tunney reports for CBC News in Ottawa. He can be reached at joe.tunney@cbc.ca

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