Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Stained Glass

A footnote from history by Stephanie Grace Whitson

Do you have any stained glass in your home? Have you visited old mansions and wondered at the beauty of those windows? Have you been to Europe and marveled at the stained glass in cathedrals? Do you by any chance make stained glass? 

As a student, I attended school in France, and I remember ascending the narrow winding stairs up from the main floor of La Sainte Chapelle in Paris (built in about 1248 as a place to house precious Christian relics) and staring in open-mouthed wonder at the glorious stained glass windows soaring upward. The panels of stained glass depict over 1,000 scenes from the Old and New Testaments. It was as if I were standing in the middle of a multi-faceted jewel. I'll never forget it. 

How, I wondered, did artisans create such things so long ago?
Written records--among them, the writings of a German monk named Theophilus--describe the process. Sand and potash were heated until they liquified and formed glass. Powdered metals were added to the mixture to create various colors. Once cooled, pieces were cut to fit the outlines of a drawn design. Finally, the pieces of glass were joined with lead and surrounded by an iron frame. But we don't know everything. The "how" of the blue created 800 years ago for the stained glass windows at Chartres Cathedral remains a mystery. 

Why did stained glass become such an important medium during the Middle Ages? Mostly illiterate parishioners might not be able to read the Bible, but they could learn the stories as they were depicted in stained glass illustrations. The Bible teaches that God is light, and the light pouring through those windows called everyone to "look up." 

In America, the subject of stained glass will inevitably circle around to the name Tiffany. The work on display at the Morse Museum in Winter Park, Florida, will take your breath away. (Recent novels Tiffany Girl and Clara and Mr. Tiffany highlight the role women had in the Tiffany success story. 

Not long ago, I discovered a damaged stained glass
window at an antique mall in Fremont, Nebraska. Artisans restored and enlarged it to fit into a window in my dining room. I literally teared up with joy when it was installed last week. Now I have a little reminder of the wonderful cathedrals I've visited ... and a reminder to look up. Toward the Light.

How about you? Have you seen any gorgeous glass lately? Did you realize the process to create stained glass dates back to the Middle Ages?

And here's a more personal question: how should I drape those bottom three casement windows? Colors or white? If colors ... what color? I'm not sure!

In my novel A Garden in Paris, Mary Davis returns to Paris in search of a long lost love. A visit to Notre Dame Cathedral (where visitors revel in the famous rose windows of stained glass) presents a moment of poignant longing and regret. Learn more here: https://www.amazon.com/Garden-Paris-Stephanie-Grace-Whitson-ebook/dp/B06Y1F93VW


  1. Beautiful window! And I love the post about the history of stained glass. We once owned a home that had been built in the 20's that had a stained glass window in the stairway. I loved it! I wasn't fancy, it was a block design with clear glass in the middle. I've seen lots of those windows in houses of that age. If that window were in my house, unless I needed to screen the view I wouldn't cover it.

    1. Your old house sounds like it was gorgeous. We once lived in a 1929 home that I loved. No stained glass, but lots of character.

  2. I LOVE stained-glass. I've taken several courses in making stained-glass projects and have small pieces in most of my windows at home. I didn't make them all, but you can find amazing pieces on Etsy.

    1. Kudos to you! Can't imagine making it. Just wandering the shop where ours was restored convinced me it's okay to "just enjoy" the finished product LOL.

  3. I forgot to say how cool it must have been to find that beautiful window. Don't you wish it could talk and tell you its history?

  4. I love seeing stained glass. The effort to make such beautiful pieces is amazing.