Painted Glass

Painted Glass

You might remember my writing about Washington National Cathedral last month. I was reminded of a funny conversation that I overheard. I should say that it is not difficult to overhear conversations – they speak so loudly here!

Referring to the glass a lady asked ‘Do they have to paint the glass every so often?’  The guide gave her a firm no in response pointing out that the glass is stained. ‘Stained?’ she replied, ‘ why – it looks lovely to me!’

Isn’t language interesting? If we have the misfortune to misunderstand physical language how much more problematic when it come to describing the spiritual.

I have a task today and that is to try and offer you the sheer wonder and awe that I experiences looking at another piece of art – and this time stained glass in the widows of a modern building – the Alice Millar Chapel at Nothwestern University. Competed in 1963 they overwhelmed me with their colour and light and symbolism. The chapel is a large square box – but the whole of the West wall is glass. It depicts the Creation, Redemption and Triumph. In the lower third we have the movement and energy of creation with the waters and all kinds of marine life. In the centre you can see the narrative of Eden and all this takes place under the shadow of the Cross and the open hand of God at the centre of the window. There is Eucharistic symbolism – and the movement of the drama draw the worshipper in and beyond.

The combination of the blues and greens and golds are an amazing visual delight. I was lost in time gazing and discovering what lay within. How quickly we get accustomed to things – if only we could see afresh with new eyes as if for the first time?

 I loved the detail of some of these scenes – the faces with their expression – they look on with us – participants in the drama.

Down the side of the chapel are ten windows – five on either side. They depict the work of the university almost as a response to the wonder of creation set out in the great West window.

Healing, Law, Discovery, Literature, and The Arts are shown on one side. Commerce, Space, Communication, The State  and the Races of Humanity on the other. Each of these works of art deserve a book in themselves!


 This gives you an impression of the dark but colourful effect of the building. I wondered what it might be like to worship here week by week. And how other Churches went about making decisions about what would go into their windows?

The artist? Unknown to me – but not now – Benoit Gilsoul. Another sabbatical discovery! Enjoy shape and colour.


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