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Photo by Simon Wilson

Stories in the glass

By Anne Bokma


It’s a small church with a big history.

Her Majesty’s Royal Chapel of the Mohawks in Brantford, Ontario, was the first Protestant Church in Upper Canada (built in 1785) and is the only royal chapel in North America located on First Nations’ territory.

Its eight stained glass windows tell the history of the Six Nations and their connection to Christianity. The Observer is the first national publication to publish photos of these windows.


Photo by Simon Wilson

1. The Great Peace depicts the formation of the Confederacy of the Five Nations (Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca and Oneida — later a sixth, Tuscarora, was added) between 1570 and 1600 in the Mohawk Valley, in what is now upstate New York. Tension was common among these nations until the arrival of the Peacemaker who unified them, thus giving them the political clout that made them attractive to the English during battles for control over North America, including the American Revolution. Here, the Peacemaker and his spokesperson, Hiawatha, are shown with the representatives of the Five Nations in front of white pine tree, a symbol of unity. An eagle at the top of the tree watches over the Five Nations, ready to warn of intrusion.


Photo by Simon Wilson

2. The Queen Anne Window documents the introduction of four Six Nations chiefs who were presented to Queen Anne in 1710 by the mayor of Albany, New York, who hoped a royal visit would maintain the chiefs’ loyalty to the British. “The Chiefs were impressive guests at court, and stirred within the British…the desire to save the souls of the native peoples and also to educate them,” writes historian Barry Hill, chair of the Mohawk Chapel. As a result of this visit, the Queen commissioned a chapel in Fort Hunter, New York, in 1711, which was destroyed. The original silver communion service and Bible provided by Queen Anne were salvaged and are kept at the Mohawk Chapel today.


Photo by Simon Wilson

3. The Arrival of Brant shows war chief Joseph Brant leaving New York to establish a Mohawk village in Upper Canada after the Crown agreed to provide his people with a land grant to replace the ancestral U.S. territory they had lost in the American Revolution. In an agreement with Sir Frederick Haldimand, who was a British general, the 1784 Haldimand Proclamation was issued, granting 950,000 acres to the Six Nations. Today, this has been reduced to 45,500 acres and is the subject of ongoing land claim disputes. Within a year of his arrival, Brant arranged for the building of Her Majesty’s Royal Chapel of the Mohawks.



Photo by Simon Wilson

4. Reunion of Old Friends illustrates the meeting of Joseph Brant and Rev. John Stuart, who had been the minister at the original Fort Hunter chapel. Rev. Stuart blessed the chapel as a site of worship and is quoted in the window’s inscription as having “preached and administered the Sacrament to 16, baptized 65 persons and married 3 couples” on July 2, 1788. The window also depicts the red and white Two Row Wampum belt of the Six Nations. The white belt represents the river of life while the two red rows represent the paths of two vessels travelling side by side — one the canoe of Aboriginal people and the other a colonist’s ship. The belt represents an agreement that “we should co-exist and help one another…not steer into each other’s vessel,” Hill explains. “This means we are not to impose our laws or ways on each other, that we would respect each other’s right to exist on our own terms.”


Photo by Simon Wilson

5. The Consecration of the Chapel took place in 1830 with a visit from the Anglican Bishop of Quebec. Before this, the chapel did not have a full time priest for 40 years and Mohawk lay readers conducted services until missionaries were sent out by the New England Company, whose goal was to “civilize” Aboriginal people and spread the gospel. Note the words “Come over and help us” at the top of the window.



Photo by Simon Wilson

6. The Queen’s Window is thus named because Queen Elizabeth II gave permission to include the image of her royal cypher (her monogramed initials) in this window. Capt. John Norton, an adopted nephew of Joseph Brant and a military leader of Iroquois warriors in the War of 1812, is commemorated here for his work in translating the gospels into Mohawk, copies of which are being handed out in this image.


Photo by Simon Wilson

7. The Residential School Days window pays tribute to Susan Hardie, an Aboriginal teacher at The Mohawk Institute, Canada’s oldest residential school, for 50 years from 1886 to 1936. The school was built by The New England Company in 1831. The window promotes an idyllic image that belies the harsh reality of the school, which separated children from their parents and aimed to “take the Indian out of the child” through forced assimilation in the white Christian culture. As European settlers encroached on Six Nations’ lands, Aboriginals in the area were relocated to the site of the present-day Six Nations Reserve and attendance at the chapel dropped off. The Mohawk Chapel came to be used primarily as a chapel for the children of The Mohawk Institute. Of the original Mohawk Village, only the chapel remains.



Photo by Simon Wilson

8. The final window, Returning Home, “is a forward-looking window,” says Hill, the historian, noting the image of the teepee behind the ascended Christ represents “a lodge of hope and resting place in the spirit world.” The three petals of the trillium at the top represent the trinity while a figure at the bottom offers up wampum, the sacred beads of the Six Nations, while weapons of war are buried. “This last window therefore represents the hope that we all have for this life and our life in the next world,” Hill writes. “It also represents a reconciliation that is taking place.”



Author's photo
Anne Bokma is a Hamilton-based journalist. Her column, "Spiritual But Secular," appears monthly in The Observer.
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