The use of stained glass windows in First Presbyterian Church, Norfolk dates back to the construction of the present sanctuary in 1912. The tower window picturing Christ in the Home of Mary and Martha was part of the dedication ceremonies on February 12, 1912. The window, along with half the money to construct the sanctuary, was donated by Mr. Frank Sheppard Royster. Designed by J & R Lamb Studios of New York, the window is in the opalescent glass popular at the turn of the century.
When Mr. Royster died in 1928, his widow commissioned and gifted the first of the Willet windows in his memory. This window, Christ Blessing the Children, is situated in the north clerestory. In December 1947, upon the death of Mrs. Royster, the second of the Willet windows, The Nativity, was given to the church in her memory by her children. The Willet windows, named for the Philadelphia firm that made them, are done in mouth blown pot -metal glass imported from Europe and constructed in the same manner as the windows of Medieval Europe. The colors are predominately brilliant reds and blues, with subordinate greens, yellows, pastels, and white from France, Germany, and England.
A discerning eye will notice small stylistic changes from the earliest Willet windows which are much darker, more detailed, with the painting baked in on both sides of the glass. Later windows, such as those dedicated in 1978, are painted only on one side and are slightly lighter in color tones to allowing more light to filter through. The newest windows, painted by Ann Willet, have more pastel colors, slightly heavier figures, larger pieces of glass, and a delicacy not seen in the other windows.
The overall iconographic theme, though never named as such, appears to be that of The Church Triumphant. The aisle windows in the nave show the Old and New Testament foundations for the life and ministry of Christ, represented in the clerestory and tower windows above. The chancel windows depict Christ of the Resurrection flanked by the two earliest leaders of the church. The lower windows in the transepts depict symbols of the church itself, communion, and the Presbyterian Celtic cross. The narthex windows make the theme specifically Presbyterian, depicting the leaders of the Presbyterian denomination.
Adapted from Stained Glass Windows in First Presbyterian Church, Norfolk, Virginia by Sally James, 1988