Reject Not at First Glance : Stained Glass Church Art

Two decades ago, I tossed out my 30-lb. stained glass artwork into the garbage a few years after I finished two stained glass art courses.  I dubbed the art piece, “Spring Thaw”.

Spring Thaw -first and only stained glass art I did. Thrown in garbage later. 2002.
“Spring Thaw” -first and only stained glass art I did. Thrown out into garbage later. Toronto, ON 2002.

“Spring Thaw” was hoisted out into the garbage room,  because I thought it was unworthy of transporting 4,000 km. in moving  to Vancouver from Toronto.  Yes, it was ugly with crooked lead channels which you can’t see in these photos.

I still have strong appreciation of stained glass art.  What I learned from the course, fed my ongoing appreciation.  In a past blog post, I showcased some fabulous church stained glass art I saw during our 2010 European trip.

Blacksmiths hammering out their work. Dijon Cathedral, France 2016. Photo by J.Chong

However stained glass church art is probably art that fascinates, yet repels some people. For some, they love the artistic light-play while others are remotely mystified, even mildly disgusted.  Is it because they don’t understand Christianity or is it negative experiences or stories about corruption involving the Church, etc.?  Is it because of centuries of worshipper’s donations spent on lavish decadent liturgical artwork?

Barcelona Cathedral, Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Barcelona Cathedral, Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong

In the end, it doesn’t bother me.  They are  still art masterpieces. It’s there for us to appreciate –a gift forever from artists and craftsmen. (No women did this work.)  I look for colour, composition, light-play and if I understand the scene, storytelling. And I’m not even Christian.

During our 2016 European trip, I loaded up on visits and my camera, on more different cathedral stained glass art in France, Spain and Germany.  It was also my first time in Spain and only city of Barcelona since my vacation time was limited.

Barcelona Cathedral, Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Barcelona Cathedral, Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Gallon ship as metaphor of Divine guidance. Santa Maria del Mar. Barcelona, Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Galleon ship as metaphor of Divine guidance. Santa Maria del Mar Cathedral. Barcelona, Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong

We saw stained glass art ranging from medieval to contemporary 20th century stained glass –sometimes several, different artistic centuries in a single cathedral.  For very old cavernous cathedrals, I was drawn to these all-in-one cathedrals. To some visitors, it may appear confusing, jumbly to have multiple styles within one building.

Notre Dame Cathedral. Strausborg, France 2016. Photo by J.Chong

It’s not as erratic as it sounds.  Each different “station” in the church or corner provides its own space for reflection or prayer. To me, I’d like to think that’s how a church should reflect over the centuries:  a sacred place which quietly embraces different visual expressions of the same shared faith.  A church should visually reflect change and transformation with each social revolution, while still embodying core beliefs and values over hundreds of years.

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Admittedly, it takes time to determine any religious interpretation for the stained glass art design by Jose Fernandez Castrillo, in Santa del Mare Cathedral, Barcelona. His piece was in commemoration of the 1992 Summer

Title unknown. Stained glass art in commemoration of 1992 Summer Olympics. By Jose Fernanez Castrillo. In Santa del Mare Cathedral. Barcelona, Spain 2016. By J.Chong
Title unknown. Stained glass art in commemoration of 1992 Summer Olympics. By Jose Fernandez Castrillo. In Santa Maria del Mare Cathedral. Barcelona, Spain 2016. By J.Chong
Rainbow sunwashed light pours through stained glass artwork. Contemporary designs grouped by colours carefully planned by church architect, Antonio Gaudi. Sagrada Famila Cathedral, Barcelona Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Rainbow sunwashed light pours through stained glass artwork. Contemporary designs grouped by colours carefully planned by church architect, Antonio Gaudi. Sangrada Famila Cathedral, Barcelona Spain 2016. Photo by J.Chong

Olympics. More intriguing were the myriad contemporary stained glass windows at the ultra-curvy cathedral of Sagrada Familia  Cathedral, where architect Gaudi planned different colour groups of stained glass art to create large rainbow ocean-like swathes of light pouring into the church.

You will never know what may light up inside, if you step into a great old cathedral.

"Spring Thaw". By J.Chong 2002.
“Spring Thaw”. By J.Chong 2002.
Many biblical stories embedded in old stained glass art windows. Notre Dame Cathedral. Strausborg, France 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Dijon Cathedral, France 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Dijon Cathedral, France 2016. Photo by J.Chong
Contemporary design in centuries old churches. Notre Dame Cathedral. Strausborg, France 2016. Photo by J.Chong

Some Interesting Reading
Chong, J. Stained Glass Art: An European Sampler of Refracted Light and Colour. In Cycle Write Blog, Jul. 17,  2010.

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22 Comments Add yours

  1. Peter Klopp says:

    I am so glad that I followed my instinct and followed your blog. You posted some of the finest stain glass pieces. I was impressed how you emphasize the value of art apart from its origin, about which we may or may not have some reservations. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and amazing photos!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Thx for your compliments, Peter. I feel fortunate to have some basic knowledge on the craft of stained glass art to even dare to comment on the centuries old pieces.People should truly learn to separate the human artistry of the art itself from the original purpose of it. It would apply if we went inside a temple or mosque worldwide also to look at the art inside also.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. livelytwist says:

    Thanks for giving me some historical background about stained glass art. The ones you shared are lovely. I especially liked the ones you shared from the Sangrada Famila Cathedral, in a previous post. I see you’ve included one photo here. True, we don’t always have to understand religion to appreciate its artwork.

    p.s. at least you kept a photo of Spring Thaw.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Yes, I kept that photo. Slightly sad, I didn’t keep it at the time. It actually felt vaguely dangerous to me to store it. It was heavy and glass. Hanging it safely would have required some serious planning. If one sticks around inside some of the cathedrals, there are some cool artistic storytelling vignettes/imagery.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What wonderful pieces of art. I always loved the stained glass in old churches/ cathedrals but except the Cologne Cathedral I do not have any pictures of them

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      There’s some intriguing imagery, CCF. Well, one day later for you.. Hope spring is moving fast for you away from winter.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Spring was here for a few days but now it got cold and rainy again

        Like

  4. What a lovely and thoughtful post! My personal religious beliefs don’t keep me from appreciated the art of many religions. I guess I would say that since I come from a majority Christian culture, though I am not a Christian, I feel most comfortable having a sense of humor about Christian art. I absolutely adore medieval stained glass!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Your blog indicates you seem to know a lot about biblical stories, Wife of Bath. It’s your sense of gentle humour that draws a lot of your readers. And they get some good information also!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Mabel Kwong says:

    That is quite the stained glass you painted. Heavy and sizable, and sounds like you had a strong appreciation and dedication to the art though it wasn’t that long. I’m not religious and don’t folloeca religion, but I do like admiring stained glass works for what they are and the intricate patterns and textures within each one. I take that to make something like that, it is more than just swiping a paintbrush over the glass.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      It’s difficult to do stained glass art at home because of the broken glass and fragments at home. One needs a large studio area with a concrete floor and be meticulous to clean it all the time. There are some safety considerations.

      Mind you, painting is a different type of effort but some paint media is easier to do in different places on the spot vs. set of solvents, clean water, rags and paints.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. If you’re ever in Liverpool go see the stained glass in the Catholic cathedral, also known locally as Paddy’s Wigwam. It’s been designed to illuminate the space and changes all the time according to exterior conditions. It’s a real psychedelic light show. Worth looking it up online.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      I did check it out –very unusual in the U.K. Must have caused a public hubbub over its design! I couldn’t quite see the stained glass art design imagery itself..

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Excellent examples – always good to see the variety that is possible. I liked your piece too.

    Like

    1. Jean says:

      Thx for visiting!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. No problem – enjoyed it. 🙂

        Like

  8. The making of stained glass is intriguing, though it feels often relegated to religious purposes. Are there any contemporary ones made for outside cathedrals?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      There’s actually a lot of designs with no religious themes. Large old historic hotels, courthouses (such a historic one that I worked in Ontario) that tend to be luxury or nice, might install a piece. One can see it in any structure. It’s a question of desire, money for the art installation and location for everyone to enjoy.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. “A church should visually reflect change and transformation with each social revolution, while still embodying core beliefs and values over hundreds of years.” Wow. What a wonderful insight.

    Like

  10. Sue Slaght says:

    Jean I think Spring Thaw looks amazing! If I tried to create stained glass I can’t even imagine how horrid it would look. I’m not a religious person but I am in awe of the stained glass art in cathedrals. the photos in this post are gorgeous. I can never seem to get the lighting right to show off the beauty.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jean says:

      Certaintly some of the cathedrals are quite dark and the sunlight is not best time of day when one is there, to photo shooot for certain sides of the cathedral interior shots for stained glass art.

      So yes, my photos are just a moment in time. And many others I could not take because no light beaming through at the time. I enjoy looking at the lighted artistry of stained glass because for certain very few churches in North America have the range and breadth of work because of less history.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. lifeintrips says:

    Incredible glass paintings…

    Like

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