Catholic churches– especially the older ones– have long been known for their ornate and elaborate stained glass windows. Why do so many Catholic churches have them?
For starters, long ago we have to remember that the majority of people couldn’t read. Therefore, when the church wanted to communicate Bible stories and ideas to people, how could they do that? Besides a priest reading holy scriptures from The Bible, stained glass windows were able to convey scriptural ideas through their specific scenes.
Picture yourself an illiterate farm boy or girl living in the Middle Ages. On Sundays you and your family would go to the Catholic church in town for Mass. You’d hear scripture with your ears while marvelling at the scenes depicted on the windows overhead. There, in magnificent color, you’d see baby Jesus surrounded by parents Joseph and Mary. Who’s that? Why it’s an angel above them. Then there are depictions of the three wise men, shepherds, sheep, etc. Those windows brought Biblical stories to life, right before your eyes.
Space Filling Decor
Did you know church windows first used stained glass as far back as the fourth century? Then, around the 12th century, stained glass became known as a legitimate and honored art form. Churches around this time, being built in what’s known as the “Gothic” architectural style, had wide spaces available for their windows. To fill those spaces, artists would blow glass into various forms and sizes and then, like a puzzle, assemble them together to create dynamic visual scenes for all to see within frames. They were like the “movies” of their time in some respects.
Besides showing Biblical scenes, stained glass windows were also prized for the way light shown through them, creating interesting sights within churches. Take, for instance, Notre Dame Cathedral, built in 1345. This legendary Parisian church has a giant stained glass window that creates the impression of a rose of light, often referred to as “a window to the heavens” for its stunning beauty. Tourists flock to Notre Dame even today to bask in the presence of its famous windows, which set their minds on things eternal.
Indeed, stained glass windows are utilized in Catholic churches to help bridge the gap between the earthly and the divine. Offering viewers an ethereal experience of color and light, this glass remains beloved even centuries after first installed! If God is the great artist, then surely His churches should include great art.