St. Francis Chapel

On the Northwest shore of Stone Pond in Marlborough, New Hampshire stands a tiny charming country chapel overlooking the water and a view of Mt. Monadnock. Designed by Francis S. Kershaw for his wife Justine Houghton Kershaw, the tiny peasant style wayside Episcopal chapel of St. Francis was built in 1926 on the grounds of Merrywood, their summer estate. The thick walls were constructed of pressed wood coated with plaster, a combination that eventually presented moisture problems. The vaulted ceiling is a lapis blue color and the wooden beams are painted beautifully in geometric designs of blue and gold. The curved wall of the apse, where the altar stands on the inside, features a 3/4 life-size oak crucifix on the outside. The lapis blue on the entry door, on the frame of the lunette over the door and on the exterior window trim introduces the blues found on the ceiling inside. Within the lunette frame, a bas-relief was installed by Frederick Warren Allen depicting St. Francis blessing the wolf of Gubbio with a child and birds around him. It is said that the lunette was originally colored with bright Della Robbia-like hues, but the colors have faded over time.

The chapel sat exactly 37 congregants for it’s daily Episcopal services and attracted summer people from around the pond who were welcomed for Sunday worship and a stroll around its grounds. It remains open for services, while special events and weddings in the intimate setting are still requested. The burial place of Justine and Frances Kershaw is a lovely sacred natural plot, in a grove of laurel behind the chapel under the watchful face of the Christ. A sweet birdbath is visible through the laurel where a kindly St. Francis, once carved in granite by Frederick W. Allen, held a bird in his hand for a blessing. The original statue was stolen and replaced with another less artistic one.

The author visited the chapel and recorded this account in a journal:

“10/29/10 I visited the St. Francis Chapel today in Marlborough, New Hampshire. Standing facing the carving [of the crucifix] on the outside, one sees the to the left the side of the chapel with it’s arched windows painted a dark bright blue, the woods past and behind it and the pond and the open sky to the left. I would imagine that this lovely natural scene would please St. Francis, Allen and the Christ, a fitting setting for a surprisingly active little summer chapel way up in the woods of the Northeast Kingdom.

The interior of the chapel is charming with a stunning lapis blue painted between the beams. I remember gold on the ceiling too, must be on the beams between the blue. The cross beams are surprisingly ornate, decorated with a geometric pattern of diamonds enclosing a fleur de lis. The floor is of a herringbone-patterned brick and the interior walls of a white stucco like the exterior. The curved apse contains a simple white stone altar with a simple cross above it. Formerly there was a framed icon on the wall behind. A kneeling rail separates the altar, on a platform, a step above the floor where simple chairs with book racks on the back are arranged for the congregation on either side of a central aisle. There is a small organ at the back left side operated with foot pedals. Memorial plaques, reliefs and photos are on the walls. Wrought iron sconces are placed between the high small arched windows, painted blue like the entry door. Above that door in a half moon under the arch over the door on the outside is a bas-relief of St. Francis on one knee with a wolf before his outstretched arm with a child behind and other animals and birds around him. The relief was donated to the chapel by F.W. Allen who was its sculptor. The inside of that arched space over the door contains a painting of the saint with similar animals. There is a sacristy to the left of the altar rail with a small ceramic high relief of the saint in a circle over the door glazed in the same bright blue and yellow.

The door to the chapel had been opened by the gracious and welcoming Rev. Cascius Webb who has taken over as Priest and manger of the St. Francis Chapel with his wife, the Rev. Ann Webb, a summer resident of the Stone Pond community. They reside in Peterborough and DC during the winters. The previous chaplain, William Hale had been the caring priest there for many years. He can now fully retire, knowing that the Chapel is in good hands.

Outside the entry is a rustic stone terrace, surrounded by a low stone wall against which lap the waters of Stone Pond. The other side of the terrace is entered through a stone arch housing a bell. It replaces the original bell tower on the chapel that was removed because it was unstable. The whole is under a canopy of leaves, brightly colored at this time of year. The rain makes a texture of tiny drops on the still water and the sun keeps trying to peak through the passing clouds. I can imagine the summer people gathering around the circle of driveway tracks to the side of the little white chapel with its bright blue trim. As I left, the sun shone for a few minutes with dappled light through the remaining fall leaves and made the white front wall of the chapel glow. This is a blessed place with a history of caring, humanitarian kindness and inclusion without regard for material or social position, a haven for people and the animals that St. Francis loved.”

“He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.” — St. Francis of Assisi


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