[Episcopal News Service] Pennsylvania Bishop Daniel Gutiérrez, after his consecration in 2016, embarked on a modest quest for relics from the diocese’s distant past and soon caught wind of one of the church’s lesser-known local legends, the mystery of the missing crozier.
Gutiérrez has had no problem getting his hands on a more modern crozier, the ceremonial staff commonly clutched by all Episcopal bishops, but the object of his fascination was a crozier rumored to have been created by the renowned blacksmith Samuel Yellin, a European immigrant who arrived in Philadelphia in 1906.
By the time of his death in 1940, Yellin’s Gothic Revival ironwork could be found in a wide range of prominent settings, from Washington National Cathedral to the banks of New York’s Wall Street, but Gutiérrez, in asking around his diocese, was unable to turn up hard evidence of a Yellin crozier, let alone the object itself.
“I think it’s important,” Gutiérrez said in a phone interview with Episcopal News Service. “Even though we continue to make history as The Episcopal Church and be innovative, we have to celebrate and honor our past history.”
Then last week, fortune smiled. Gutiérrez received an email from Davis d’Ambly, the liturgical artist who had tipped off the bishop to the story of the Yellin crozier a couple years ago. Attached to the email were two photos of the crozier, proof it was more than a tall tale.
Gutiérrez, who has a bachelor’s degree in history, could hardly contain his excitement in his thankful response to d’Ambly. “It was one of those exclamation point emails,” the Diocese of Pennsylvania bishop told ENS. But there still was no clue to what might have happened to the crozier. Was it stolen, misplaced or maybe hiding in plain sight somehow?
After sending an email with the photos to congregations in the diocese asking for their help, Gutiérrez decided to broaden the call to social media. On July 18, he posted the photos of the crozier to his Facebook account.
“Please let us know if you have any leads on where it might be stored,” he said in his post. “We would love to get it back in the diocesan office. Any detectives out there?”
As of July 26, the post had received more than 60 comments, and one of them came from someone with even better credentials than a detective: Yellin’s granddaughter, Clare Yellin, whose profile says she lives just outside of Philadelphia in Haverford, Pennsylvania.
She wasn’t able to identify the crozier’s location but provided some background information on it and offered to donate another ironwork of her grandfather’s to the diocese.
“This crozier was commissioned in 1921,” Yellin said, but “trying to pinpoint when this crozier went missing is a lost cause.” She noted that a local art curator had been researching the crozier for a book about her grandfather but wasn’t able to track it down.
The work she offered to donate to the diocese was “the study piece for the crozier in question,” she said. Gutiérrez responded that he was “honored to accept” the piece, which he would display in the diocesan office.
Gutiérrez told ENS he planned to meet with Yellin in August, since she currently is on vacation and he is traveling in New Mexico.
New Mexico provided another wrinkle to the story of the Yellin crozier. One of the responses he received to his Facebook post indicated that an ironworker in New Mexico had produced reproductions of Yellin’s work. Gutiérrez reached out to him and plans to meet with him while visiting the Southwest.
The Diocese of Pennsylvania has plenty of local history to promote, going back to 1787, when it consecrated its first bishop, William White. He is remembered as one of the independent Episcopal Church’s chief architects, its first president of the House of Deputies and its first presiding bishop. Documents with White’s signature that previously had been held in storage are now on display in the diocesan office, the present-day bishop said.
Gutiérrez may not be much closer to finding the Yellin crozier, but his hope has not run out.
“I always have faith,” he said. “You never know how the Holy Spirit will work, so I have faith that someday it will turn up.”
– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.