The Origin and History of Beautiful Stained Glass Windows

The Origin and History of Beautiful Stained Glass Windows

Augsburg Cathedral in Augsburg, Bavaria is recognized as having the oldest stained glass windows in the world dating back to the 12th century. This old Romanesque church is located about 40 miles North of Munich in the southern central part of Germany.

If we think about stained glass windows even for a moment, our first thought is what we see in a church. First used in cathedrals, the colored glass was thought to signify Light, as the first act of God’s creation, and was recognized as the purest manifestation of God’s presence, as the stained glass windows only came to life when illuminated by the light. To medieval theologians, the vibrant holy images depicted in the windows were therefore brought to life by God’s presence. Not many people were able to read or write in the Middle Ages. The windows told the stories of the Bible and of the Saints in pictures, and the guides, who were perhaps the monks themselves, would explain their content to the pilgrims who came to worship.

During the Renaissance period, stained glass began to become a fashionable addition to residences and public buildings. Much of what the glass was, became forgotten. The 18th century saw the removal of many medieval stained glass windows. They were replaced by painted glass and the beautiful old stained glass was dismissed as out-of- date.

In the 19th century there was a resurgence of interest in Gothic architecture and glass studios in England made their versions of medieval windows for Gothic Revival buildings. These Gothic style windows enhanced churches and simple ornamental windows were the norm until the development of a distinctive American style by John LaFarge and Louis Comfort Tiffany.

These were two American painters who began experimenting with stained glass, independent of each other and soon became competitors. The finest examples of John La Farge’s work can be found in Harvard University’s Memorial Hall, the windows of Trinity Church in Boston, and in Judson Memorial Church, New York. John La Farge (1835-1910) designed stained glass between 1874 and his death. LaFarge developed and copyrighted opalescent glass in 1879. Tiffany popularized it and his name became synonymous with opalescent glass and the American glass movement

We now use this beautiful glass in our homes as accents for our windows. It’s easy to have the look of a stained glass window with the many reproduction pieces made today that hang in front of our windows, letting the light shine through. When thinking of a window treatment for a solitary window, such as in a small room or in a stairwell or hallway, give some thought to hanging a gorgeous stained glass piece in front of your window to brighten up the space and give it more emphasis than it would normally get.

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