Where violent flames once ripped through the roof of John Wesley AME Zion Church, a peaceful image of four black angels now sparkles in the church's newly installed "Victory Skylight," a design of 12,000 pieces of colored glass.
The skylight's recent installation ended a five-year restoration project begun after a fire gutted the 133-year-old sanctuary at 14th and Corcoran streets NW in July 1979.
Artist Ron Anderson, the chief designer of the 30-square-foot skylight, said that the church's black roots inspired the design.
"The wing spans of the angels in the skylight is a unity symbol that is used throughout Africa," he explained. "It shows a weaving which has no beginning and no end."
John Wesley is often called the "Mother Church" for other AME Zion churches in the District. The congregation was founded in 1847 by two black men, John Brent and John Ingram, who along with seven other blacks started an independent worship group known as the "Little Society of Nine."
"The symmetry in the piece represents spiritual rhythms that are very much a part of people of African descent," said Anderson, a former chairman of the visual arts department at Duke Ellington School of the Arts.
Anderson, with the help of several assistants, also designed and created two stained glass windows for the church and carved all the woodwork that surrounds the windows and skylight.
"We also helped restore all the capitals tops of the columns . . . . Only one column was left after the fire and we had to cast it in rubber and make hard plaster reproductions for the other 20 columns," Anderson said.
The skylight is made of four types of glass: opalescent, antique, hammered and whisty. It is a symbol of cultural continuity, according to Anderson.
In it, symbols of eternity, royalty, heart and will, and purity of character are depicted, he said.
"It makes us realize that we did not start spiritually in slavery," he said. "The window sets up a kind of a bridge from what was once our rich cultural history in Africa to our rich cultural history now."