Glencairn (1928-39) is a perfect example of what to do with lots and lots of money and a passion. The money came from Raymond Pitcairn’s father, John, who was founder of the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company, and the passion was for religious art and architecture. Raymond first supervised the building Bryn Athyn Cathedral, which John provided funding for (it’s is the mother church of the New Church, whose origins lie with the eighteenth century theologian Emanuel Swedenborg). After that, Raymond moved on to working on his own home, Glencairn. His mansion contains more than 90 rooms that housed both his family and his collection of medieval objects (many of which were purchased as inspirational models for the artists who worked on the cathedral). After Raymond and Mildred’s death, objects from the New Church’s museum were moved to Glencairn, turning it into a museum of religious art and history, covering civilizations from Egypt, Greece and Rome to Native America.
Today, the ground floor of the museum is free and open to the public. To see the rest of the house and collections, you must attend one of their open houses or go on a guided tour. The photos in this post are from our 2021 Christmas tour, but we’ve also attended several terrific school tours that focused on medieval symbology and comparative religion.
At Christmas, they have a display of world nativities, showcasing nativity scenes from around the world, mixed in with the medieval artworks.
On view are also some of the Pitcairn family Christmas traditions, such as the adorable Steif donkey, ridden on by the children:
and their personal nativity, whose curtains were opened on Christmas Day to reveal the scenes within. The Pitcairns commissioned a similar set for their friend Dwight Eisenhower’s White House.
Guided tours always include the balcony (accessed by a tiny elevator), with its view of the cathedral and Philadelphia:
and (depending on the tour) the Pitcairn’s fabulous bathroom:
Make sure to check out the cloister, with its collection of carved birds:
Great field trip opportunities.