All the Pretty Colors

All the Pretty Colors

stain glass

When people think about stained glass windows, the name Tiffany might spring to mind for some, but nearly everyone will think of churches with their elaborate and detailed panes. And, there's a good reason for that.

In its simplest form, stained glass refers to glass that has either been painted or that has had its color altered by the addition of various metallic salts while it is being made. Thanks to a Benedictine monk named Theophilus Presbyter, there is a record of the techniques for all of the crafts known in 1100 CE and not much has changed about the making of stained glass since that time.

Some of the earliest examples of stained glass were found in the ruins of Pompeii, dating back to the first century CE. While the rich Romans of the time had windows made of thick, un-tinted glass that couldn't be seen through, the really wealthy  had colored glass windows that couldn't be seen through, either. This lack of transparency was not by design. But it probably didn't hurt, either. The art form simply had yet to evolve to the point where glass could be seen through without distortion.

After Roman Emperor Constantine the Great began allowing Christians to worship openly in 313 CE, the creation of stained glass windows flourished. This newfound freedom led to churches being constructed, which led to the demand for stained glass windows. The windows depicted various bible stories for the worshippers, who were largely illiterate at the time. The windows have since acquired the moniker of Poor Man's Bible

The first evidence of stained glass having migrated from the continent to Britain was when Benedict Biscop brought in French artisans to glaze the windows of a monastery he was building for St. Peter's Church at Monkwearmouth-Jarrow Abbey in 675 CE. Countless bits of lead and colored glass have been excavated there.

However, it is in Germany's Augsburg Cathedral that the oldest stained glass windows were found intact. Dating to the late 11th- and early 12th-century, the five windows were constructed from a variety of brightly-colored glass pieces which displayed tonal shading. Craftsmanship was described as being that of, "skilled, experienced stained glass artists, " according to the authors of Stained Glass. The original windows were relocated to a museum and replicas are currently used in the cathedral.

Other windows in the Cathedral date to the medieval period and depict the life of the Virgin Mary. These newer windows were created around 1330-1340. It was during the Middle Ages that stained glass was at the height of its form. And then, as religious sensibilities became more reserved and Protestantism came into favor, stained glass fell out of popularity until the nineteenth century. It was then that Louis Comfort Tiffany and others made names for themselves in the field. Stained glass became, and remains, a highly popular art form in both the religious and the secular world.

by Linda Childers

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