The Church of the Holy Comforter is located on the northeast corner of North Anglin and East Wardville.

Just to pass by and look at this wood frame building with its steep roof, bell tower with steeple, and oval stained-glass windows, you are reminded of many of the churches of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

This is the oldest church in regular service in Cleburne.

The Church of the Holy Comforter is a parish of the Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Fort Worth.

The building includes the 1893 church – Cleburne’s only remaining church building from that era. The 1985 parish house is located immediately to the east.

I had an opportunity during the Christmas Candlewalk to take a tour of the inside of the church.

The outside gives no clue as to the beauty inside. Here I met Melton Roberts, who gave a descriptive tour of the architecture of the building.

Once inside the sanctuary you are impressed by the height of the ceiling, which follows the pitch of the roof.

The ceiling is braced with beams criss-crossing in what is known as a herringbone pattern.

Melton said this was the same design used to brace the hulls of the early sailing schooners.

As your eyes come down from the ceiling you are facing the pulpit, lectern and rood screen.

These were carved in Wisconsin from quarter sawn oak.

The screen was installed in 1905 ,when the church was slightly enlarged in the east end.

A characteristic of Gothic design, the rood screen — rood is the Old English word for the cross which surmounts the screen — separated the monks’ choir from the nave of medieval church buildings.

The high altar was installed in 1905 — the original altar of cedar is now used in Saint James’ Church in Meridian, Texas — and this classic altar with a triptych reredos rising behind is at the center of the church’s design and the congregation’s worship.

It is carved from oak, with Romanesque pillars underneath the table and classic Gothic decoration above the three niches in the reredos.

As you turn to face the back of the auditorium, you see one large, leaded, stained-glass window with a smaller stained-glass window on each side on the west wall. Smaller stained-glass windows are located on each side of the auditorium.

The pipe organ, completed in 1982, was built by John T. Fort of Dallas especially for the Holy Comforter Church.

The console and cabinet work are of milled black walnut and have Gothic arches in their design.

With Dutch pipework, the organ has eleven ranks of pipes — a total of 622 pipes — and 21 voices in three divisions.

Melton showed me the kneelers used in the church’s worship beneath each of the pews in the nave.

During 1977-78, the women of the parish designed and executed needlepoint covers for each kneeler, using many symbols from the church’s rich tradition.

Each is different. More needlepoint of note is on the kneelers of the prayer desks, in the cushions of the Communion rail, and at the high altar, and on the bishop’s, rector’s, and lector’s chairs.

Holy Comforter Church was built in 1893 at a cost of $5,000.

The church was designed by Mr. William Sifred. It is the second church built by the parish, the first having served from 1871-93.

Visitors often ask when Holy Comforter Church was restored.

In fact, it has not been restored.

In continuous use by the parish since it was built, the church has been maintained in very much its original condition.

No major structural changes have occurred since 1905.

Additions to the fabric of the building have served only to increase the church’s beauty and to enhance the ambience of holiness, which is the purpose of good ecclesiastical architecture.

As I stated earlier, the church has a large bell tower.

I can remember going to town in the 1950s and hearing the bells ring.

It seems they rang the bells every hour on the hour during the day.

I had not noticed hearing the bells for some time and asked one of the members, Bob McAllister, about them.

Some of the neighbors had complained about the noise, and the church stopped ringing the bells.

A speaker in the tower plays a short recording of chimes each Sunday morning at 9, again at noon, and sometimes during the week for special occasions.

Another interesting story old by McAllister concerns a small, round, stained-glass window over the altar.

In the early years of the church, Dr. Gerstenkorn gave a round, stained-glass window containing four red roses to the church in memory of his mother.

The window was over the altar for a number of years.

In 1920, when Prohibition occurred, it was still there.

One of the most popular whiskeys of the day was Four Roses.

The joke got around town among some busybodies that those whiskey-drinking Episcopalians were advertising whiskey over the altar with the window with the four roses in it.

The vestry decided that was not good PR for the church and took that window down and put up the one there now.

“I have tried to find out what happened to that window as I have wanted to put it on display in the Parish Hall,” McAllister said. “I was told earlier that it was put up in the attic and probably is still there. A search was made of the attic, and it could not be found. I was told by one person that the Four Roses window was taken by one of the parishioners and might still be with that person.”

This is one church full of beauty and of great historical significance to Cleburne.

If you did not visit the Church of the Holy Comforter during this past Christmas Candlewalk, be sure to mark it on your calendar for next year.

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Monday I will do a PowerPoint presentation on the early settlers of Johnson County at 6:30 p.m. at the Cleburne Public Library.  My books will be available for purchase. No admission fee will be charged.

For more information, call 817-517-5395.



John Watson is a Cleburne resident who can be reached at texastraveler@sbcglobal.net.

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