Seal of the General Church of the New Jerusalem

gcsealglencairnjuly8.jpgDaily life exposes us to a stream of familiar advertising images: McDonald’s golden arches, Starbucks’ mermaid, the Prudential rock, etc. These commercial symbols are designed to create “brand recognition” for the companies they represent. Religious organizations also adopt logos and attempt to create a certain brand identity, but for a very different purpose. The logos, seals and emblems of religious bodies are meant to convey a sense of the spiritual truths they believe in. The General Church of the New Jerusalem, headquartered in Bryn Athyn, Pennsylvania, developed their seal in the early 1900s.

gcmemthumbjuly8.jpgThe design for the earliest form of the General Church seal was inspired by these words: “Then I turned to see the voice that spoke with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man. . . . He had in His right hand seven stars . . .” (Rev. 1:12-13, 16). Rev. C.T. Odhner is credited with the initial 1904 design, which was used on membership cards (click here) (New Church Life 1940, 394). Here a single, seven-branched lampstand provides a simplified form of the seven lampstands mentioned in the Book of Revelation. A star is above each arm, with rays of light surrounding them. These rays represent the “Son of Man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:30). The Greek inscription, written on a flowing banner, is Idou kaina panta poio: “Behold, I make all things new” (Rev. 21:5). Emanuel Swedenborg’s work, Apocalypse Revealed, explains that the seven lampstands and seven stars represent the New Church on earth and in heaven.

The original form of the seal was eventually modified by Raymond Pitcairn, working in collaboration with Parke E. Edwards, the head designer in Bryn Athyn Cathedral’s metal studio (see photos, top, below). In this version the Greek inscription is no longer on a separate banner, but instead forms the outer edge of the seal on both sides. The rays along the top edge are triangular in shape. A large bronze plaque (see photo, top) was cast according to this design and made available to church members; many of these can still be seen in General Church homes today.

gcsealcouncilhalljune8.jpgSeveral examples of the General Church seal can be found on the exterior of Bryn Athyn Cathedral. The south side of the Council Hall has a version carved in stone (see photo, left). This version of the seal is unusual because, although the lampstand has seven arms, there are only six stars. In addition, six stars have been added along the bottom—three on the lower right and three on the left. We can only speculate as to the reason for this alteration from the traditional design. The addition of six more stars provides a total of twelve, a correspondentially significant number, and one that is used many times in the Cathedral. The editors of NewChurchHistory.org would welcome ideas from readers about this apparent anomaly.

southdoorjune8.jpgAnother example occurs on the bronze tympanum above one of the south doors (see photo, left). And finally, on the north side of the Cathedral, one of the traditional bronze plaques is secured to the wall of the porte cochere, just above the windows looking out on the garden.

Photos: Ed and Kirsten Gyllenhaal, Michael Pitcairn.

Questions and comments may be addressed to the editors at [email protected].

July 18, 2008 | Posted by: Ed and Kirsten Gyllenhaal in New Church History Fun Fact