These Stained Glass Windows Are More Than a Religious Experience
Stained glass windows have been an important fixture in churches since the Middle Ages. While beautiful to look at, the biblical stories depicted in stained glass served a purpose other than decoration. Due to the lack of comprehensive education for lower social classes in the Middle Ages, the images that were on display gave illiterate Christians a better understanding of the Bible.
The use of stained glass windows as church decor began to decline in the 1500s with the rise in popularity of paintings adorning the church’s interiors. Fast-forward 300 years, and a revival in stained glass took hold during the Art Nouveau movement when glassmakers like Louis Comfort Tiffany (of the famed Tiffany & Co. family) were commissioned to provide stained glass windows for wealthy clients and religious organizations.
If you're in need of an artistic fix on your grand tour of Old Dominion, stop by these five churches and be prepared to witness exquisite craftsmanship.
Christ Episcopal Church, Smithfield, VA
This church is home to three different Tiffany stained glass windows that were installed at the turn of the century. Here you will see the depiction of the Baptism of Christ, Angel at the Empty Tomb, and The Life of Christ. Christ Episcopal Church also has three different Munich-style stained glass displays. Munich-style stained glass is known for its intense attention to detail -- so much so that it looks like a painting made of glass.
Virginia Theological Seminary, Alexandria, VA
Rowan LeCompte, known for his ornate pieces installed at the Washington National Cathedral in D.C., was a modern stained glass prodigy who began his career at the age of 16. Virginia Theological Seminary hosts three of his windows, Peter’s Denial, The Crucifixion, and Jesus Carries His Cross that was gifted in 1954. After a fire destroyed the famed 1881 chapel in 2010, there was much relief to discover that these windows survived the devastation. They are now on display in the Oratory of the Immanuel Chapel.
In February 2018, the Most Rev. Michael Curry, the 27th Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church, dedicated three new circular windows to adorn the north, south and west transepts of the Immanuel Chapel. These vibrant windows representing the Holy Trinity were designed by Brian Clarke and crafted by Derix Glassstudios in Taunusstein-Wehen, Germany.
St. George’s Episcopal Church, Fredericksburg, VA
If you’re hooked on Tiffany glass, you’ve come to the right church. St. George Episcopal is also home to three different Tiffany windows: Christ on the Road to Emmaus, Angel in the Field of Lilies, and Angel of Victory. Angel of Victory was designed to celebrate a local doctor on behalf of the church. Many stained glass windows in Tiffany’s era were made to honor major donors or important figures as a way of commemoration.
First Presbyterian Church of Norfolk, Norfolk, VA
This church has been blessed with displays from two renowned stained glass artisans, J&R Lamb Studios and William Willet. The J&R Lamb windows bear the tell-tale opalescent glass that was trending in the late 1800s and early 1900s while the Willet windows showcase a style that is reminiscent of the Medieval era of stained glass design. Together, this collection of windows takes you on a journey through the evolution of stained glass.
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Hampton, VA
St. John’s Episcopal needs to be on your list of places to see if you’re a stained glass enthusiast and history buff. This church was first founded in 1610 but has since had four different parish sites. The current church, which was established in 1728, was almost burned to ruins by Confederate soldiers to prevent the Union troops from occupying Hampton. Alas, they managed to destroy everything in the town except the church, making St. John’s the only surviving colonial structure in the area. St. John’s is famously home to stained glass that depicts the baptism of Pocahontas. This piece was co-created by Native American students in 1887 that studied at what is now Hampton University. Also, there is a small recess within the church that contains pieces of 13th-century stained glass from the parish that baptized Captain John Smith.
When you look at stained glass windows, you’re looking at passion. A passion to educate, inspire, and to create. Like all artists, stained glass makers have their own unique style. Thankfully, many of those styles can be found in Virginia, a state rich in history and faith.