Windows of the SoulLaurence Tiblis
Windows of the Soul
There’s a popular saying, “The eyes are the windows of the soul.” But sometimes, the windows are the eyes, the “soul” of a building, the unspoken craftsmanship of the artisans who created them.
Stained glass is an art form that originated more than a thousand years ago, when books were rare, and most people were uneducated. But, what most people do not know is that they served a dual purpose. While admired for their beauty, stained-glass windows also helped graphically convey the stories of the church and the faith to the illiterate masses. They pointed to God, His love for us, and the divine promises that await those who persevere in their faith.
That’s what the designers of the stained-glass windows at The Miraculous Medal Shrine intended. What makes the Shrine’s windows unique is that the artistic scenes and symbolism encompass three distinct styles of stained-glass windows: American Opalescent, Munich, and Gothic Revival. This is most notable given that most churches and shrines only house one.
Upon entering the Shrine, visitors notice the 10 windows in the main body of the church. All of them are American Opalescent stained glass, which was popularized by Tiffany Studios in their windows and lamps at the turn of the twentieth century (the Shrine’s were made circa 1900). Opalescent glass is translucent and has a milky opaqueness that reflects and transmits light. The seams that hold the pieces together are incorporated into the design to make them unnoticeable.
The figures depicted in the windows are graceful, and the scenes are more natural than those portrayed in medieval stained-glass windows. Upon closer observation, it becomes evident that some of the saints are wearing clothing made using drapery glass—glass that, while molten hot, is folded resemble draped material.
The saints in these stained-glass windows are known for their significant assistance to seminarians: Sts. Agnes, Aloysius Gonzaga, Catherine of Alexandria, Francis de Sales, James, John the Evangelist, Patrick, and Thomas Aquinas.
On the left-hand side of the sanctuary is the Holy Agony Shrine, which houses the Sacred Heart windows. These are the oldest in the church, dating back to approximately 1890. They are made in the Munich style of stained glass, originated by F.X. Zettler and Franz Mayer. This style combined traditional elements of medieval stained glass with Renaissance artistic techniques (for example, objects that are closest to the viewer are larger than those farther away, and the colors of objects in the foreground are more intense than those in the distance).
Zettler was the first to meld three-point perspective in stained-glass, which adds depth to his scenes. Using larger pieces of glass enabled Zettler’s artists to achieve these techniques masterfully, and our Sacred Heart window exemplifies this. Jesus appears to be stepping toward us with His left hand extending beyond the window.
Across from the Sacred Heart windows are seven Gothic Revival windows made circa 1920. These windows portray 14 scenes from Mary’s life: the Presentation of Mary; the Betrothal of Mary and Joseph; the Incarnation; the Visitation; the Birth of Jesus; the Presentation in the Temple; the Flight into Egypt; Finding Jesus in the Temple; the Holy Family; the Wedding Feast at Cana; Mary on the road to Calvary; the Crucifixion; Pentecost; and the Assumption. These visual stories are arranged with smaller pieces of brilliant, jewel-toned glass in a variety of blues and reds. This creates a panoply of color and pattern not only in the windows, but in the light that streams through them.
Our shrine also contains two Rose Windows, both of which are modeled after the famous Rose Window in the Chartres Cathedral in France. They, too, are the Gothic Revival style and contain the strong blue coloring known as Bernardini blue. Mary is at the center of both windows, looking up toward God with her hands in prayer.
The small Rose Window above Mary’s Shrine portrays eight saints devoted to Mary, “whom God has given us through the centuries to make His mother better loved and served.” The number eight is symbolic of the Resurrection (Jesus rose on the eighth day) and the joy of the blessed (Jesus gave us eight beatitudes, each of which begin with the word “blessed”). The saints depicted are: Bernard of Clairvaux, Dominic, Simon Stock, Bernadette of Lourdes, Thérèse of Lisieux, Alphonsus Liguori, Louis de Montfort, and Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows.
The large Rose Window (circa 1927) is located above the choir loft. Its eight smaller panels show Adam and Eve expelled from Eden; the Incarnation; the Visitation; the Birth of Jesus; the Presentation; the Miracle at Cana; the Crucifixion; and the Crowning of Mary.
In the dome above the sanctuary, seven small, medallion windows represent the Christian virtues of faith, hope, charity, prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. The number seven represents the seven sacraments and symbolizes perfection (on the seventh day God rested and blessed His work [Gen 2:2]. These windows are also the Munich style.