Navy Colt revolers and Christian symbols decorate this church – a unique monument to one of the world’s greatest arms designers
By Phil Spangenberger
Have you ever heard of a church using firearms art to embellish its architecture? There is such a holy structure in Hartford, Connecticut-the home of revolutionary arms inventor and manufacturer Samuel Colt. When Samuel Colt passed away in 1862, his widow, Elizabeth Colt wanted to build a lasting memorial to him. After a few years, when it was realized that the congregation of the Episcopalian parish mission in the South Meadows area of Hartford, was outgrowing its original facility, Mrs. Colt decided that the construction of a new house of God would be a fitting memorial to her late husband, while providing a place of worship for the workmen at the nearby Colt's Armory.
After rejecting the original traditional drawings for the church, Mrs. Colt settled on the more inspired designs of Edward Tuckerman Potter, one of the most talented American architects of the Victorian age. Plans for this elaborate, and very ambitious, project were finalized, and on September 7, 1867, the cornerstone of the new church was laid. After nearly two full years of continuous work by a legion of artisans including woodcarvers, masons, stone cutters, stained glass artists, painters and upholsterers, the church was completed in January 1869-built entirely at the cost of Mrs. Colt--at the 1860s cost of $175,000 (over $7 million in today’s money)!
Named the Church of the Good Shepherd, it was built in the popular English modern Gothic style of the era, and was richly decorated with a multi-hued, ornately patterned slate roof, richly polished red granite columns, a colossal array of doors, stained glass windows, steeples, archways, and turrets-all heavily ornamented with wreaths of ivy, scriptural passages, and other religious icons. Hailed as a “gem of Ecclesiastical Architecture,” the church quickly became the pride of Hartford, and was considered a technological marvel of its time.
However, one particular portion of the intricate décor of this cathedral is truly unique. An entrance way, located at the side of the church, and known as the armorers’ door, employs decorations of detail-perfect likenesses of various component parts of 1851 Colt Navy revolvers-carved in sandstone! In this intriguing doorway, the elaborately ornamented columns and archway is festooned with Christian crosses intermingled with the ’51 Navy Colt's hammers, pistol grips, trigger guards, barrels, bullet molds, and percussion cylinders-all worked in amongst accents of ivy leaves. It’s as if the sixgun had become a sacred icon for the role it played in bringing Christian civilization to the far-flung corners of the world, during the Victorian age of righteous colonization. While such décor may not be politically correct in modern times, as author William Hosley wrote in his book Colt, The Making of an American Legend, by the University of Massachusetts Press, “Whatever one thinks of the politics, the kinship of religion, industry, and empire has rarely been so boldly proclaimed” This church’s distinctive ornamentation also brings to mind a biblical proverb...“Blessed are the Peacemakers.”
Photo 1: Hartford’s Church of the Good Shepherd, built in the late 1860s by Mrs. Elizabeth Colt, as a memorial to her late arms-inventor husband was considered a technological marvel of its time. The “armorer’s entrance” at the right is ornamented with sandstone carvings of THE 1851 Navy model, one of Colt’s most popular sixguns of the era! Author’s photo
Photo 2: A close inspection of the décor over the armorers’ entrance reveals component parts of the 1851 Navy Colt revolver, intermingled with Christian crosses, and ivy leaves!
Photo 3: This view of a portion of the church reveals the heavy use of Colt’s “Rampant Colt” logo, along with a specially designed version of Colt’s “Armsmear” crest that includes the rampant horses and Christian crosses. Author’s photo
Photo 4: Here you can see the rear end of a percussion cylinder, a bullet mold, trigger guards, pistol grips, barrels, and other parts of this famed six-shooter. Author’s photo