“Vineyard Lights,” a new book that catalogues and highlights some of the history behind the stained-glass windows of all the Island’s Catholic churches, was a labor of love for photographer Sara Piazza. St. Elizabeth’s is her home parish, she explained, and in 2012 she moved full-time into the Edgartown house she grew up in. Good Shepherd Parish Pastor Father Mike Nagle asked Piazza if she’d be willing to photograph the windows about five years ago.
“The original idea was to document the windows, then I wanted to add a little context and a little history,” Sara explained to me on a Saturday afternoon visit at her 200-year-old home and gallery, the Alison Boylston Piazza House on Main Street in Edgartown.
Instead, the fruits of her labor resulted in an impressive coffee table book with beautiful photographs of the stained glass from St. Elizabeth’s, St. Augustine’s, and Our Lady Star of the Sea, and as it turns out, from the old St. Augustine’s Mission Church and Sacred Heart Church.
On Wednesday, May 2, at 7 pm at St. Augustine’s Church, Sara will unveil the book and give a talk about how it came about; the first copies of the book will also be for sale.
Father Nagle is happy to have this documentation of the parish.
“Sara has gathered together in one book all of the beautiful stained glass in the churches and parish center,” he said in an email. “Each picture can be a meditation on the light shining in and through us. I hope people enjoy this gift.”
A cantor in the Jewish tradition, a Roman Catholic, and in charge of children’s religious education at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Sara seems to have her hand in religion on so many levels.
“Sacred music is the love of my life,” she told me, and she loves being Catholic.
Sara said she found herself doing some detective work with Father Nagle to uncover the stories behind a few of the windows. One window was hidden behind a dropped ceiling, and found after a 1990s renovation, another was thought to be a stained glass depiction of Jesus, when it’s actually St. John the Baptist. A beautiful stained glass window of St. Elizabeth of Portugal was found in a box in a closet of one of the rectories in the 1970s. Some of the windows seem to be a good match for the old ones that used to be in St. Augustine’s Mission Church (now the school superintendent’s office), and others were once in the now closed Sacred Heart Church on Wing Road in Oak Bluffs. CD
She said each church has its own distinctive architecture and stained glass. The theme of the stained glass in the Edgartown church is the latter-day saints and doctors of the church, and the four gospel writers and the church’s patron saint. The windows at the Oak Bluffs church depict the life events of Christ and of Mary. The Vineyard Haven church is more modern, built in the 1950s, and it depicts the liturgical life of the church in the sacraments.
Sara’s immense love of her faith and her church are abundantly clear in the exhibit of the stained glass window photographs in the main gallery of her home. There are also many photographs of Vineyard scenes on the walls, and a collection of her son’s wampum jewelry in the home gallery.
We talked about her faith as well as her work on “Vineyard Lights.”
“I’m a shameless advocate for organized religion,” Sara said. “There’s so much loneliness and disconnectedness; we need the church now more than ever.”
For her, she said, the church has all the answers, and “there’re a lot of people who don’t understand that.”
Many people say they don’t need religion because they’re already a “good person,” Sara said. That goodness, she explained, came from someplace, and more than likely it was passed down by parents, grandparents, or other friends and family who did go to church or synagogue.
“These are teachings that have passed the test of time, and are the essence of everything we believe as a sophisticated society,” she said.
I asked Sara if she felt the book was one way she could use her gifts for her church. She thought for a moment and admitted that she has “lots of gifts.” That’s when I found out that this writer, photographer, cantor, religious ed teacher, and musician who lives in a sea captain’s antique house, the same one she grew up in, has a refreshing philosophy.
“When I moved back to Edgartown, my vision was to create a gathering place. I played Irish music when I lived up in Brookline, and transposed a lot of that here,” she explained. She hosts Irish music sessions, rents out a room to vacationers, and has five grandchildren running around on any given day.
Her front porch is a gathering spot, where she sometimes sits outside and plays the guitar and sips on a cold beer. Passersby are always welcome to visit with her. They’ll find an Irish flag flying alongside a U.S. flag.
“I love living here,” she said; “during the parade we start to play around 3 pm … People come in off the street. I want to be open here in this house, and while the world is building high fences, I’m knocking mine down.”
Sara has a couple of other books in the works; one is a book of her mother’s poetry illustrated with Sara’s photographs. Her house is named for her mother, she said. The other book is a children’s book with music, that takes a trip to the Edgartown Fire Station. When I was there, Sara got her guitar and sang a few lines from the children’s book:
“I love to go to the fire station to look at all the trucks,” she sang. “Captain Kelly is my friend, and he shows me all the stuff …”
So the next time you’re strolling down Main Street in Edgartown and you think you hear a guitar, or maybe an Irish fiddle, follow the sound, and you’ll probably end up on Sara’s porch, where you’ll feel welcome and the hospitality is free.
The Neighborhood Convention meets on Tuesday, May 1, at 11 am at St. Augustine’s Church. Kevin Ryan, artistic director of Island Theater Workshop, will talk about 50 years of the group’s Island performances. St. Augustine’s is now accessible; all are welcome.
The Federated Church in Edgartown hosts a fun dinner next weekend, Saturday, April 28, at 6 pm. It’s a Celebrity Waiters Dinner, with the proceeds benefiting the Haiti PeaceQuilts project. Dinner includes a salad, spaghetti (with or without meatballs), garlic bread, dessert, and a beverage, and will be served by ordinary people dressed up as celebrities. Past waiters included Miss Piggy, Cleopatra, Lawrence of Arabia, Queen Elizabeth, Bill and Hillary Clinton, and Sarah Palin, to name a few. Cost is $15 per person, $10 for children, with a $35 cap for families. Call 508-627-4421 for more information.