Today, stained glass windows can be found in all types of places. Modern technology has allowed us to create more elaborate and complex works than ever before, including domed ceilings, murals, and even 3D sculptures. Leaded glass windows are also a prized possession in many homes, serving a practical purpose of creating privacy as well as an aesthetic one.
But long before they made their way into our homes, libraries, and museums, stained glass windows were an essential part of religious architecture. Sainte-Chapelle, Notre Dame de Paris, Chartres Cathedral, the Thanksgiving Chapel- one only has to be reminded of just a few examples to affirm that the most memorable and prodigious works are found within the confines of church and cathedral walls. And they’re also the oldest.
But how ever did this noble tradition get started in the first place? After all, why do so many churches have stained glass windows? We asked our experts and this is what they told us.
The History of Glass Art
The art of glassmaking is a practice that literally spans centuries. Historians believe that the earliest use of colored glass dates back to Ancient Egyptian times.
Potters and jewelry makers found that when glass was in its molten state, it could be altered. Dyes from plants could be used to give color to the clear substance, which could then be formed into different shapes.
Soon, the method gained popularity across the globe. However, it wasn’t until centuries later that colored glass was used as a medium for creating windows.
The Emergence of Church Stained Glass
Researches think that the first stained glass windows were probably created sometime between the 8th and 10th century. The oldest surviving antique windows are from the 10th century and are located in Augsburg, Bavaria, which is one of the oldest cities in Germany. As artists gained the ability to create more complex designs, the windows became more and more elaborate. Eventually, portraits and landscapes became common, most of which had Biblical associations.
Using Images to Tell Stories
Around this time, churches began to discover that they could use their stained glass for more than just decoration. Painting figures and scenes on the windows helped people learn about the stories of the Bible. Since many people were illiterate at the time, this was a valuable tool. The stories of the Bible were depicted, in order, in a clockwise direction in the church, starting with Genesis and ending with Revelations.
Use in Modern Day Churches
Today, since reading is a more common skill, we no longer need stained glass to help us learn about the Bible. However, many groups choose to add them to their church anyway.
There are a few reasons for this. In doing so, they are honoring and preserving religious history. Another reason is that the textures and colors of the glass offer a unique type of privacy that conceals the contents of a room without blocking light. This helps people feel more comfortable. Finally, many churches view their stained glass as a part of their identity. People often remember a church by its stained glass windows, which gives it standing and notoriety in the community.
So why do so many churches have stained glass windows? Because they’re beautiful and practical, that’s why. Because we have found stained glass to be so useful in architectural terms, we have continued using it over the years. It is now a long-standing tradition, one that many churches feel that it is their duty to continue. Additionally, stained glass windows are stunning. Looking at them during service can be calming, reassuring, and uplifting. For these reasons, many churches consider their stained glass to be their most prized possession.
Stained Glass San Antonio is dedicated to providing informative and useful information about stained glass to the public. For more information on the history of stained glass, you contact our office directly by phone or email.