"In Grateful Memory of..." St. Matthias' Episcopal Church, Asheville, N.C. March 5, 2011. Photo by Melinda Stuart

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Reader photo by Melinda Stuart
“In Grateful Memory of…,” St. Matthias’ Episcopal Church
Asheville, N.C., March 5, 2011

Photographer’s notebook

I love history, architecture, old churches and photography (among other things). My recent visit to St. Matthias’ Episcopal Church, along with other members of The Preservation Society of Asheville & Buncombe County, offered a grand opportunity to learn more about this wonderful old building from the Rev. Jim Abbott, rector of the church.

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Jim gave us a detailed overview of the building’s history as an African-American congregation founded at the close of the Civil War. The church began in a small wood frame structure situated high on a hill opposite the city’s public works yard on South Charlotte Street. The present church at 1 Dundee St. stands on that original site. A small adjacent school was part of the project in the early years. Both were mission efforts by Trinity Church to educate and prepare Asheville’s newly freed slaves for their new roles as freedmen in the larger society.

Trinity Episcopal Church member and ex-Confederate General James Green Martin, to whom the window is dedicated, and his wife, Hettie, devoted themselves for many years to the small St. Matthias’ congregation and their families, teaching both secular and sacred subjects. Martin died in 1878, but the congregation did not forget him. When a new brick church finally was constructed in the 1890s, this fine memorial rose window, located above the west-facing main door, was designed to honor Martin. An adjacent small chapel remembers his wife, Hettie. The dates shown represent the foundation of both the old and the new buildings.

In late afternoon the window is flooded with light; its maker is unknown. In 19th century religious art, an anchor often symbolized hope, faithfulness and stability. The image also was popular in cemetery art. Such themes were especially appropriate here for recognizing Martin’s contributions. I find it especially interesting that a former Confederate general devoted himself so whole-heartedly to aiding the post-war African-American population.

For more on soldier and lawyer James Green Martin, known informally after the Civil War as “Old One Wing” because of his amputated right arm, check out this Wikipedia link about him. Unfortunately, this account is largely military, with next to nothing given about his years working at St. Matthias’.

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I shot this image with my trusty 5-year-old Olympus SP500UZ, sometimes called a digital hybrid. Classified as a point-and-shoot, this older model camera also can shoot raw and has many features normally found on more expensive cameras. The setting here was f3.3 at 1/40 second, ISO 200. I stood just below the window.

Melinda Stuart, Barnardsville, N.C.
More photos by Melinda Stuart

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Kathleen O'Nan

Kathleen O'Nan is a contributing reporter to Carolina Public Press.

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