Pennsylvania Spiritual Heritage The State House

Peter Lillback:
The state capital of Pennsylvania, Harrisburg, is along the mighty Susquehanna River. And in the midst of this capital city, is one of the most magnificent state houses in America. It was dedicated by President Teddy Roosevelt. When he came, he saw it as an extraordinary building, representing the power and growth of one of the founding colonies of America.

Peter Lillback:
But woven into that story is the story of faith. Our founding fathers, as well as the founders of the State House in Harrisburg recognized that faith and government were not separate, but were united. That God and government worked together to make the story of Pennsylvania possible. From the planning of this whole region by William Penn, to its dedication as the State House, the message of God and faith and religious liberty are a seamless whole.

Rep. Gordon Denlinger:
It is truly a palace of art. It’s been called that. But it’s also a palace of faith, because we see the religious heritage that Penn gave to us, put into art all over this building.

Peter Lillback:
When you enter into the rotunda of the State Capital building in Harrisburg, you’re struck by its grandeur, its lofty ceilings.

Rep. Gordon Denlinger:
And as you look up into the dome, you see a distance of more than a football field. The dome is based on the Basilica St. Peter’s, the seventh largest freestanding dome in the world. And of course, the staircase, based on the Paris Opera House. So quite beautiful.

Rep. Paul Clymer:
The Moravian tile that we have, we’re standing on. That comes Doylestown, Pennsylvania. And there are 482 individual scenes. And they all represent items that were very popular in Pennsylvania at the turn of the century.

Peter Lillback:
And then when you look up, you see right here, you can’t miss it, if you read the words. And my God, make it the seed of a nation. This building has at it’s crown, a prayer. And it’s a prayer that has been answered by what happened in Philadelphia. And that’s the seed of United States of America. William Penn prayed that we would be here. And I’m so grateful that the Pennsylvanians who built this building remembered that Penn is really the real great founder of America.

Peter Lillback:
On each of the floors and in the magnificent rooms and chambers, you see different images. Down this dark hallway, as we look up at the paintings, we can see how the different religious traditions that came for liberty and Pennsylvania are remembered in the seat of government.

Peter Lillback:
The church and the state have been friends in the history of Pennsylvania. In the Governor’s Reception Room, you see the story of William Penn. A story that takes us from the Reformation and the translation of the Bible, right through his conversion to his establishment of Pennsylvania. Until we see this great experiment in religious liberty, his holy experiment as he called it, becoming a reality.

Rep. Jerry Stern:
And really, what’s unique about this room, in particular, are the paintings and the murals in here. There’s 16 of them in here. And they were done by Violet Oakley. She spent 25 years of her life just painting murals. They began here in the Governor’s Reception Room. All told, she painted 43 murals total. She painted everything in the Supreme Court Chamber and everything in the State Senate.

Rep. Paul Clymer:
We are now in the Senate Chamber. There are 50 Senate members. Currently the number is 27 Republicans and 23 Democrats. Work in here was done by Violet Oakley. You can catch the theme of faith and international peace and justice. And that is the theme that William Penn wanted to portray. A place where there would be freedom, where there would be justice, and free from strife.

Rep. Paul Clymer:
Over here to my right, we see a ship and it has slaves on it. And William Penn is negotiating the freedom of these slaves. And again, this is keeping with his philosophy that there should not be people put in bondage. And that all human beings, regardless of their race or religion, ethnic backgrounds should be treated fairly.

Speaker 8:
These are Bible verses that are inscribed in the bottom here.

Rep. Gordon Denlinger:
One that speaks to me is in the center at the bottom. And this know assuredly, that none ever trusted in the Lord and were confounded. And I think as you’re dealing with policy … And you feel called to this place. At points, you question that calling. And you say, “Lord, why am I here? What’s the purpose of this?” And we see the struggles and frustrations. But I think in that panel, you see that God’s justice, the outworking of his will, his timing is not our timing and his ways are beyond our knowing. But I think it’s powerful to see that shared right there. None were confounded in the end. And that’s, of course, by placing our faith in the Lord.

Rep. Jerry Stern:
Over here’s part of the Gettysburg Address. It quotes a famous saying, a part of that address, it is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated to the unfinished work. But he added two words, that this nation under God will experience a new birth of freedom. And so it was two words that he added that really set forth the future and continued unity of this nation.

Peter Lillback:
Right there in the center. We see the great words, let every man take heed how he build it thereupon. That’s Paul from First Corinthians Three that tells us that Christ is the foundation. What do we build on it? Wood, hay, stubble, or gold, silver, and precious stones? So the foundation of what we built.

Peter Lillback:
And what’s fascinating is look at the dramatic way in which these two scenes from Pennsylvanian history have a foundation. It’s a very interesting work of art. The foundation is the gospel narrative. And what they’re saying is that this is the foundation. And look what these people built on. They built ransoming and peace, liberating and peace. These who are here are also building on a foundation. What are they going to build? Will it be something that has eternal value and significance?

Peter Lillback:
So I had a seminary professor that loved this verse. He used to say this, “Don’t build a chicken coop on a foundation that was meant for a skyscraper.” Okay. So I want to say that to our fellow legislators and citizens. Okay. Don’t build a chicken coop on a foundation that was built for an extraordinary seed of government that’s brought liberty to the world.

Rep. Paul Clymer:
So now we have a Supreme Court. And we have 16 panels that she did. Violet Oakley certainly was a brilliant artist. And used allegories and much from the Old Testament and the New Testament. And the whole theme here is called the opening of the book of law, the opening of the book of law. And she said there are three main considerations in law. The law itself, love, and wisdom. Those three components are very important.

Peter Lillback:
We see in the Supreme Court Chambers, the importance of the law of God, as it engages the law of man. We can see this as the 10 Commandments and other images of the great law givers that surround this chamber.

Peter Lillback:
Immediately behind the justices is the 10 Commandments plaque. That painting represents the fact that there really was a belief in the common law concept when Pennsylvania courts were being developed. That all law finds its ultimate origin in God, himself. I’m very grateful, even if it’s only for artistic reasons that our Supreme Court in Pennsylvania still is willing to operate under an image of the law of God. And we have to pray that law would not be written on the walls, but as Jeremiah 31 says, it would be written upon our hearts.

Rep. Gordon Denlinger:
Welcome to the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth. This body, the house of the people was first gathered in 1682. I think you’ll agree with me, though, that it’s a phenomenal room. Again, just so beautiful with all the artwork that’s here.

Rep. Gordon Denlinger:
I want to direct your attention first to the front corner here, where you see William Penn signing a tree with the Indians. Penn was very much invested in a positive relationship with the natives. And in fact, it was a very peaceful relationship. During his time.

Rep. Gordon Denlinger:
The central photo, we call the Apotheosis. And in it, you will see many of the prominent figures of Pennsylvania history, of course, Penn being in the center with the red cape.

Rep. Jerry Stern:
But there’s also a Bible verse from Deuteronomy Chapter 32, Verse Seven. And it says, and you can’t see it from back behind. You have to get real close to see it. But it says, remember the days of old. Consider the years of many generations. Ask thy father and he will show thee. Ask thy elders and they will tell thee.

Rep. Jerry Stern:
And basically this, this verse is warning us, as a nation, as older individuals, as wiser individuals, to pass along this heritage, this history to the next generation.

Rep. Gordon Denlinger:
It’s an amazing, amazing portrait of Pennsylvania’s history and the prominent individuals that are in it. Woven into all of it, of course, is the story of faith and God’s blessings through the leadership of the state. Told in the story of all of the individuals that are there.

Rep. Gordon Denlinger:
In the center of the Chamber is the aisle. The aisle that’s very famous by reputation. Republicans, of course, being on as we face the back, left hand side. Democrats on the right.

Rep. Gordon Denlinger:
Some other points of art here in the Chamber, in the back of the hall, you see Baron von Steuben drilling the troops at Valley Forge. And you see that picture, which probably has been in every American history textbook in high school going back through time.

Peter Lillback:
I love this picture, because it reminds us that liberty is the product of people who believe in it. They were ready to sacrifice everything to be free. Washington says in one of his letters, “You can tell where our men have gone by the blood stains, their bare feet leave in the snow.” These men are starving to death. They’re naked. They are exposed to the elements. And there is nothing keeping them there except their commitment to what they believed in.

Peter Lillback:
And I think that heroism is something that we need to capture again. Washington’s character held these men in this country together. And Valley Forge is perhaps one of the most important places on our planet for America. Not because we fought a battle there against an enemy. They fought against discouragement, starvation, weakness, and they came out as victors.

Rep. Gordon Denlinger:
He was a provision of God’s blessing, Baron von Steuben, of German-Prussian background, who came over and helped to lead a rag tag band and turned them into an effective, fighting force.

Rep. Gordon Denlinger:
Other pieces of art adorn the hall. Of course, different aspects of Pennsylvania’s cultural and historical heritage, our industry, and so forth are beautifully portrayed in stained glass artwork that’s around the chamber.

Rep. Gordon Denlinger:
You’ll see, on the back, in the top from the Gospel of John, you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free. I think it’s instructive that it’s aimed toward the front of the chamber where the Speaker of the House can reflect on those words. And certainly visible to all who serve here.

Rep. Gordon Denlinger:
Just a really wonderful place to serve the people. And a lot of that’s about relationship beyond the incredible artwork that’s here. And, but again, humbling to have been selected to serve the people in this way.

Peter Lillback:
The wall of separation between church and state has been used to remove every vestige of faith, God, and spiritual values from our culture in the 21st century. But when we walk down these corridors of the Capital Building in Harrisburg, corridors of power to be sure, but they’re also corridors of faith. We see how the church and how faith in God and how various values of religious liberty and freedom of conscience from William Penn have come together to not just make aesthetic statements of beauty, but also foundational values that have shaped the history of this great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. A message that must not be forgotten. And in fact, must be shared throughout our nation.

Rep. Gordon Denlinger:
For those of us who are honored to serve in this place, some here with us today, our responsibility to protect that heritage and continue to make sure that this is a place of religious freedom and heritage for all of us on into the future. Not only for us now, but for our children and grandchildren, as well.

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