A Gift Returned

Mount of the Holy Cross
Mount of the Holy Cross

Last weekend I visited the Windy City. My husband, being the wonderful man that he is, planned a weekend getaway in Chicago. The itinerary, of course, included several places to see some spectacular stained glass. One of those placed was Second Presbyterian Church of Chicago. The current church building is a Gothic Revival building designed by architect James Renwick and completed in 1874. Renwick, famous for his Gothic architecture, also designed St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and the Smithsonian Castle in Washington D.C. He also designed the original building for Second Presbyterian Church, which was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.

We visited on a Sunday morning before services and were able to walk around the second story balcony getting a close-up look of the more than 20 magnificent stained glass windows. There were two that I particularly appreciated. Later when I was able to get some written information on the windows, I learned that the both of those windows were the work of Tiffany.

Tiffany’s use of glass was amazing. More often than not, stained glass church windows are painted to show the details of a scene like the folds in cloth. Tiffany, however, only used paint for faces and hands. Instead he used a drapery glass.  Drapery glass is heavily folded glass that suggests fabric folds and adds a 3-dimensional effect to flowing robes. He also used this glass in flowers like magnolia petals. To truly appreciate this, click on the close up of the angels robe in the pictures at the bottom of this post.

Drapery glass is a handmade glass. A small diameter hand-held roller is manipulated forcefully over a sheet of molten glass producing heavy ripples while folding and creasing the entire sheet. The ripples become rigid and permanent as the glass cools. Each sheet produced is unique. As you might imagine, cutting drapery glass is a challenge. Originally, it was cut by hand on top of a piece of Styrofoam like material. Today, it is almost always cut by a bandsaw or ringsaw.

I am sorry to say that I really didn’t hear much of the sermon that morning. As I watched the light filter in through the windows, I imagined how vibrant these windows must have looked when they were first installed. While most of these windows seemed to be in fairly good condition structurally, the colors were muted with years of dirt and grime. I also imagined the craftsmen who fabricated these glorious windows, the hours and hours of time that went into producing these works of art, and the talent of the artists. Surely a gift from God returned to God.

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