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The rebirth of stained glass

Post Time:Apr 05,2016Classify:Industry NewsView:335

In glorious shades of green, red and blue, St. Peter totes the keys to the kingdom, St. James holds fast to his walking stick and the "Eye of Providence" scans the congregation.

You have to go inside St. James at Sag Bridge Church in Lemont to realize the true beauty of the 20-plus stained glass windows that illuminate the knave and altar area.

And that is by design.

"The windows came from Munich in the 1890s," Deacon John Wilkinson said. "They were put in as a way to get people to come inside, to celebrate the history of the church. You have your baseball and football halls of fame. This is the church's hall of fame. These are some of the heroes of the church."

In addition to learning the stories of the saints depicted in the colorful glass, stained glass windows offer a "glorious glimpse of heaven," he said.

As Christians celebrates Easter and the resurrection of Jesus, we explore the current ongoing renaissance of devout stained glass windows inside local churches.

Yeinier Gonzalez, historian and spokesperson for Daprato Rigali Studios, a Chicago liturgical design and restoration company that dates back to 1860, said, like many faiths, Christianity speaks in symbols, as much as words.

"In medieval days, stained glass was referred to as the poor man's Bible," Gonzalez said.

"Both the windows and the art of the church became sort of an illustration of the salvation story," he said. "Stained glass was considered a heavenly way of depicting art because of the illuminating nature. Different colored glass represented the jewels of the heavenly kingdom. Together, the pieces show heaven as this magnificent place where everything is full of color and light.

"Typically, you have to be inside the church to see the beauty of the glass," he added. "From the outside, you see this sort of dark, almost muddy window. You have to go inside to see the beauty. Same thing with salvation. You have to enter the church and be baptized to get salvation. A lot of that is symbolic."

Rigali has done extensive restoration and original work on several Chicago area churches, including Sacred Heart in Palos Heights, St. Gerald in Oak Lawn and St. Stephen Deacon and Martyr in Tinley Park.

A rebirth of color

Gonzalez said after the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, church officials, influenced by a push to embrace modernism, began removing a lot of the images and old artwork to make the houses of worship more simple, more modern and more in sync with society.

"It was sort of a misinterpretation of what the council asked for," he said. "At Holy Name Cathedral, for example, those windows used to be traditional German stained glass with figures in them. They were beautiful. The interior also had marble statues and a mural on top. In the '60s, they renovated and took everything out and left it very simplified, very abstract, like it is now. But it once was very glorious and beautiful."

Other churches followed suit and many of their stained glass windows ended up in storage. As churches closed due to dwindling or shifting populations, even more artwork ended up being boxed up.

Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II, he said, changed that. Right now, Gonzalez said, the move is to return to the old liturgy and churches are again in favor of restoring beauty.

Artists, he said, are being encouraged to use their craft as a tool to evangelize and bring people back.

"So when you walk into a church, you should feel like you're walking into heaven, not walking into an auditorium or some other building," he said. "You should feel like you're leaving the outside world and entering something really different, really spiritual."

In addition to glasswork, Gonzalez said, restoration is being done on buildings. The company recently did extensive work on St. Alphonsus in Lemont, reworking the interior to look like St. Mary's Church in Florence, Italy.

"A lot of our projects now are about bringing back churches from 1800 and 1900, stenciling, stained glass. Sometimes we find stained glass hidden behind walls. It's crazy," he said. "Now people are really starting to be excited about making the church beautiful again."

Perhaps the quintessential example of the movement to repurpose and reinstall is St. Raphael the Archangel Catholic Church in Antioch, he said, where the new building is being crafted from closed historic Chicago churches. The facade of St. John of God and the interior furnishings of St. Peter Canisius are among the treasured components being installed there.

'An absolute gift'

The Rev. Jay Finno said when construction began on St. Stephen's in Tinley Park in fall of 2001, the plan was to install tinted windows.

The following spring, three Chicago churches were closed and Finno was invited to peruse the soon-to-be-boxed-up artwork. Among the collection were 12 German windows that once illuminated St. Laurence Catholic Church on the South Side.

"The openings on our side window gables were already cut and built," Finno said. "But we had our architect take a look and he said he could fit the windows."

Four of the windows depict the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, while another four symbolize the Glorious Mysteries. Others depict St. Patrick and St. Dominic and there are two images of Christ.

The windows were restored and installed by Rigali, which also designed and created a large contemporary stained glass window that is situated behind the crucifix in the sanctuary.

"We were very fortunate," Finno said. "We couldn't get windows like this for a million dollars. It was an absolute gift."

A better view

The stained glass windows at St. Gerald's in Oak Lawn are not only beautiful, they afford mass attendees a better perspective, both spiritually and aesthetically, the Rev. Lawrence Malcolm wrote in a short history of the artwork a few year ago. The church received 10 works of art following the closing of Our Lady Help of Christians in Chicago.

The windows, which depict the Rosary Mysteries as well as the Nativity and Gift of the Magi, were restored and installed into their new home by Rigali Studios. Work was completed and the windows were blessed in August of 2012.

"When the light shines through these windows, our eyes taste delight and our spirits feast with inspiration," Malcom wrote, adding, "We do not miss watching the traffic on Southwest Highway or noticing in the parking lot those who are arriving late for Mass."

A storied past

Long before the Second Vatican Council, there was an uprising over the stained glass window inside St. Patrick's Church in Lemont.

The large, impressive window was donated by the Sullivan family, in honor of their mother, and installed in 1895, said Susan Donahue, second vice president of the Lemont Historical Society.

A few years later, a new pastor took charge and had the colorful window removed and a smaller one installed.

The congregation, made up largely of Sullivans, revolted, demanding the original window be returned. When Archbishop Mundelein weighed in on the side of the congregants, Donahue said, the stained glass window was taken out of storage.

In 1924, it was restored and returned to its original place above the altar, where is remains today.

Irreplaceable

Since its inception, officials at St. James have struggled to keep outside forces from damaging the windows.

Back when the I&M Canal was being built, they had to contend with dynamite blasts, which led to the installation of buttresses on the church building. Today, the threat comes primarily from vandals.

"These windows are irreplaceable," Wilkinson said. "When someone throws a rock through a stained glass window, you can't get that same glass anymore."

He can point to evidence of restoration work, panes where the colors don't match exactly.

"All of the faces on these windows have been hand-painted," he said. "They're one of a kind."

Like many churches, St. James has now installed a protective layer of glass on the outside of the windows.

"We tried a wire mesh but that affected the brightness and color of the glass," he said.

There is a campaign in the parish right now to raise money for window restoration. Some of the wood on the outside of the stained glass windows needs work, and the sills need to be rebuilt, Wilkinson said.

It's not a lot to ask, he said, for what congregants get in return.

"People are stepping out of the secular, mundane world filled with troubles and sorrows, and stepping in here to lift their spirits up," he said.

"You get a little bit of a glimpse of heaven when you step into a church with stained glass windows."

Source: http://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/daily-southtAuthor: shangyi

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