Illuminating churches and cathedrals around the world, stained glass is one of the most beautiful features of any Christian place of worship. Rather than simply admitting light, these colored windows seek to control illumination through the use of colors, pictures, and stories, creating moving testaments to Biblical histories, saints, and martyrs of the Christian world.
The History of Stained Glass
Stained glass has been a recognizable part of churches for roughly 900 years. It was originally known as "the poor man's Bible", as its panes depicted many of the most recognizable stories from the Good Book. Since paper was expensive and fragile, glass was deemed a more durable, cost effective choice for many churches and cathedrals looking to spread the word to their congregations, and this trend continues today.
How to Choose Your Windows
The first step in choosing a stained glass window for your church is to find one that you like, which may inspire your own design. Some of the most beautiful windows of stained glass come from France and England, and are comparable to tapestries depicting famous stories from the Bible. Wonderful examples include Chartres and Sainte Chappelle in France and Canterbury Cathedral in the United Kingdom.
The next step (unless you have a skilled glass worker in your congregation) will be to choose a company with which you will create your design and who will ultimately manufacture and install your window. As with most businesses, longevity is often a mark of a company that makes a high-quality product. Research both online and off to find a company that is willing to work with you on all aspects of window creation, and one who's not shy about referring you to former satisfied customers.
What You'll Need to Do
In order to create a stained glass window, a church will need to take the following steps:
- The company you work with will ask for either window dimensions or a template of the space to be filled, as this will allow them to create the window in-house, rather than on site.
- Determine the subject matter of the scene. Make sure it is suitable for the location or theme you have in mind. It may be beneficial to have a window committee to help come up with a general design which you can then further refine with your window making company.
- Determine the format of the window. Narrative windows have panels which progress through a story, while figurative windows may have icons or pictures of saints. Think about including scripture or memorial information, when applicable. Your window design company may be able to offer suggestions and further flourishes to help make a beautiful presentation. The design company may also be able to create a small model of the scene to show you how the finished product will look. This ensures that there are no unwelcome surprises or dissatisfied customers when the real window is completed.
Subject Matter and Glass Type
Common subjects in stained glass include the Virgin Mary, the Last Supper, and other renowned religious figures through the ages. Stained glass may also depict simple geometric shapes or flowers and rosaries.
Though other types of glass have been used in the past, today table glass (or "cathedral glass") is the most common and durable type of material for stained glass windows. Created by pouring molten glass onto a cold metal table, table glass has a heavily textured appearance and is commercially available, making it an excellent choice for churches on a budget.
Stained glass is made by tracing a pattern on a sheet of glass and then cutting out the individual pieces like a jigsaw puzzle. They are then assembled using solder or copper foil and held delicately in place, seemingly defying gravity.
The glass itself is colored in one of two ways, either through the addition of specific chemicals while molten to create a given color, or through painted details and stains which may be annealed in a furnace.
Stained Glass Cleaning and Maintenance
Stained glass should be kept clean, using products designed for glass. This allows the sun to shine brightly through, illuminating the pictures. Because individual pieces do age over time, individual pictures may change in appearance. They may also require maintenance by a professional who knows how to repair stained glass, including pieces made with lead and copper foil techniques.