The Symbolism of Stained Glass

American Stained GlassStained glass in today’s society is merely looked at now as colorful, vibrant and uniquely decorated windows. They add character and creativity to any structure they become a part of, whether it is through the form of a window or a lampshade. However, the historical significance of stained glass windows is actually much more than just adding color to a glass window.

As history shows, the gothic cathedrals and the stained glass windows that they contained were considered and referred to as the “Bible of the Poor.” The reason for this is because excerpts and stories from the Bible would be painted on each of these different stained glass windows. Furthermore, since many of the poor could not read, all of these different colors, pictures and symbols on the glass held a certain meaning to them. This meaning was actually their own way of learning the scripture.

Along with this way of learning, there were different types of symbolism that could be seen within the windows as well. For example, a king would be painted twice the size of his subjects in order to highlight his importance, and holy figures were painted with halos above their heads. Common symbols that were used to represent different religious figures were a cross or lamb for Jesus Christ, a flame or dove for the Holy Spirit, or blue robes to signify the Virgin Mary. Also, higher images stood for “heavenly” figures, while lower images stood for “earthly” figures.

Finally, the colors included on these windows each stood for something different as well. Black stood for death, blue stood for heavenly love and the Virgin Mary, and brown stood for spiritual death. Grey stood for mourning, and green stood for charity. Purple signified royalty and God the Father, while red stood for love, hate and martyred saints. Violet stood for love, truth, passion and suffering and white/gold stood for innocence of the soul. Lastly, yellow stood for jealousy, treason and deceit. All of these different attributes combined together to not only construct a beautiful piece of artistic glass, but a way of learning for the less fortunate.