Stained Glass ... a Place for Reflection
Art in Our Churches
By Louise Brass, Observer Correspondent
December 6, 2018
If walls could talk there would be a lot of history to reveal.
Stained glass windows in the walls of churches do talk — virtually speaking — and tell the stories of heroes and saints, while also reflecting Catholic symbols and truths.
Even the most casual visitor to a Catholic church, cathedral, or basilica can learn truths about the faith from a single stained glass window. Many depict the baptism of Christ, the woman at the well, or a nativity scene complete with the Star of Bethlehem.
Perhaps most importantly they help create a special inspirational space to meditate on God, or to pray for one’s needs or for the needs of others.
How stained glass is made
Sainte Chapelle Chapel in Paris is known to many from the trailer to Bishop Robert Barron’s video series, “Catholicism.” One of the features of the 108’ long by 34’ wide by 67’ tall  chapel are signs in several languages that describe the biblical and historial events illustrated in the windows.
Another sign tells how stained glass is made. First a glass-forming element such as silica or sand, is heated to 1200 degrees centigrade.
Metallic oxides are added to make the colors: cobalt for blue, copper for red and green, manganese for purple, and antimony for yellow. 
The colored glass is then cut to create the pieces of the original sketches. In the 13th century, the glass was cut with a  red-hot iron, though later diamonds were used.
Details are added with paint. Additional procedures are also used for monotone glass or painted gray glass.
— Sharon Boehlefeld
The dramatic, and sometime larger-than-life, images have come to be expected elements of the decoration of churches for many reasons. 
Some of the windows contain the names of families or individuals who have donated them as remembrances. Saints pictured often are chosen because the donor has the same name as the pictured saint, Father Randy Fronek said.
Father Fronek is pastor of three small parishes in the southern part of the diocese, parishes which are known to have some of the most beautiful stained glass: Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Sublette, St. Patrick in Amboy, and St. Patrick in Maytown.
The beauty and grandeur of the century-old Sublette church, located within a rural landscape, attracts a variety of sight-seers, Father Fronek says, including people who come to the region, just to play golf, or motorcycle groups who happen to pass through and stop to take in the artistic elements of the church building.
“There are always people who come and stop to see this and then go on. This is an amazing structure.” The stained glass windows were imported from Austria when the church was just a few years old. They help inspire his congregation, Father Fronek explained.
The interest has become so great that postcards of the windows here have been developed and are sold in packs to interested visitors who want to remember the dramatic glass art.
Stained glass has been popular for well over a millennium, and not only to create dramatic depictions of important events in the 2,000-year history of Christianity. These are also useful to keep the distractions, drabness, and disasters of big-city life from being observed by those inside places of worship.
While the limiting of distractions from the outside world is an important reason to have stained glass in church windows, the teaching power of visual art has long been an element of religiously-themed stained glass designs. This was especially important in the early centuries of the Church in Europe. The gospel message was communicated by word of mouth or graphics when few people could read.
Historically Catholic
According to the publication, “English History,” some of the earliest stained glass windows were made in the 7th century for St. Peter Monastery in Monkwearmouth, England, established by St. Benedict Biscop (628-690) and at St. Paul Monastery in Jarrow, which he also founded. He did much building after visits to Rome inspired him to accept the Christian faith. Consequently, he was given land for the two monasteries by King Ecgfrith, king of Northumbria, the publication states.
St. Biscop hired stone masons and glaziers from France for the work, including a finely decorated guest house adorned with stained glass. The location gained the reputation as a major center for Christian scholarship and art in Western Europe. The scholarly writings of St. Bede the Venerable, who entered St. Peter Monastery in about 680, contributed to the reputation, according to Encyclopedia Britannica.
In Europe, many structures include stained glass windows that depict special events in a community’s life, such as a visit by a pope, or a victorious battle during the Crusades.
In the Rockford Diocese, spectacular Rose windows, (sometime called Catherine windows after St. Catherine) are circular and intricate. With delicate or thick lead or copper tracing between the glass pieces, they grace numerous church buildings. Some of the most celebrated are at the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Mary Oratory, both in Rockford.
The most famous Rose window is at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, constructed in 1260. The main window is said to be the largest Rose window in the world and a masterpiece of Christendom. With 84 panels in the Rose-shaped arrangement, they depict numerous Biblical characters, including the Madonna and Child and the Resurrection of Christ.
Just blocks away from Notre Dame in Paris is the Sainte Chapelle Chapel, familiar to many who have seen Bishop Robert Barron’s video series, “Catholicism.” 
Abbot Suger, of Saint Denis, France, (1081-1151) was a famous patron of stained glass art. He used the wealth of his abbey to make windows larger and more beautiful because he is said to have considered light the manifestation of God Himself.
There has to be a source
Of course, there is no light without a light source. Some churches in large cities have lost the influx of some of their natural light as skyscrapers near them create tall shadows. However, that’s not the case in the Rockford Diocese. 
Here, most churches are constructed on open spaces, or near houses not more than two stories high, allowing the sun’s light to filter in, enhancing the many colors of the glass creations.
Stained glass windows can encourage thoughts of heavenly things when individuals or groups seek out a quiet place to pray, or gather. That special place is important, according to Father Matthew McMorrow, especially for students. 
“Students have always needed a place to pray, laugh, serve and share their faith,” Father McMorrow said in an online letter to students at the Christ the Teacher University Parish Newman Center at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, where he is pastor.
For those who come to the chapel of Christ the Teacher University Parish — many are students from other nations — the silent message of the windows, even though abstract, crosses all language barriers.
And as the demographics of many parishes in the diocese change over time, the stained glass windows that are enjoyed by parishioners and pastors alike, speak the universal language of salvation.