During winter, we gardeners look for reassurance that even at the darkest time, an abundance of light will return to sustain the cycle of life and begin another year of growth. Although the darkest winter day has passed — the winter solstice was Thursday — there are plenty of cold, dark days ahead.
Fortunately, stained-glass windows are particularly spectacular in winter, when the arch of the sun's path stays low to the horizon, producing long, slanted beams of light. The stained glass's treasures are often hidden from those who pass by them. You see them best from inside the buildings they adorn.
Many stained-glass windows in local churches are reminders of the lessons and tenets of religious beliefs, representing stories and symbols of each faith. Garden settings and landscapes are often used as artistic backdrops. The windows' history, style and meaning are diverse, changing character with the denomination and congregation.
Here is a brief look at some of the beautiful stained-glass windows in four local churches.
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St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church, 437 Francis Street, Richmond; (859) 625-0041, Saintpaulrichmond.com
A simple beehive or skep is visible in one of the circular medallions set in each of the stained glass windows. Other windows feature a dove with an olive branch, or golden harps, and alpha and omega symbols.
An insight from Pastor William Hale, who has led the congregation of about 80 members for five years, makes the connection that like bees in a hive, in this church's fellowship of faith, "We work together as a body of Christ."
St. Paul's members have succeeded to do just that, not only since the present church and windows were created in 1923, but from the first time the congregation assembled in a nearby L&N boxcar in 1872.
Christ Church Cathedral, 166 Market Street, Lexington; (859) 254-4497, CCClex.org
Set into stone walls, arch-topped windows depicting Jesus and two women, surrounded by children in a landscape that's lush and filled with flowers and greenery, were part of an addition to the cathedral's baptistery.
Church archivist Carolyn Ware researched the windows and found they were made in the United Kingdom about 1914. As was common at the time, windows were donated by congregation members in memory of loved ones, with faces sometimes resembling those of the donor's family.
"The art of stained-glass windows, although an ancient art form, reached its zenith in the great cathedrals of late medieval period," Christ Church Cathedral's dean and rector, the Rev. Carol Wade, wrote in an email.
"In an age of illiteracy and prior to the advent of the printing press, the stories told by way of the stained-glass windows were a visual Bible for the common person. The use of symbolism in the stained glass was highly creative and created its own sacred language, and the medievals took great joy in deciphering symbols."
One example she cited is the baptistery windows of Christ Church Cathedral, where lilies represent the risen Christ, and the garden landscape signals that, in Christ, the paradise lost in the garden of Eden has been and is being restored. All things are made new in Christ by virtue of his birth, death and resurrection, she said.
"At Christ Church Cathedral, we believe that one of the chief ways that God is found is through beauty. ... It is the gift of wonder that we celebrate at Christmas."
Crestwood Christian Church, 1882 Bellefonte Drive, Lexington; (859) 266-0459; Crestwoodchristian.org
Installed in 1991, the windows have a contemporary style and composition. They're made of chunks of thick, faceted glass and joined by an outline of mortarlike epoxy. Architect Byron Romanowitz says the design of the nave and sanctuary of the church is that of a ship's hull, with windows meant to bring to mind openings for oars, blue background glass pieces being the sea, and the mortar, netting.
According to the retired Rev. David Blondell, all 19 windows portray various aspects of faith, including a butterfly symbolizing the resurrection of Christ, and an acorn representing the growing nature of faith.
St. Peter Catholic Church, 125 Barr Street, Lexington; (859) 252-7551; Stpeterlex.org
A magnificent circular rose window, comprised of more than 500 pieces of glass atop the main doors of the church, faces southwest. When the late-afternoon winter sun strikes it, rays of rich ruby and sapphire light are cast down the main aisle of the nave and onto the altar.
The rose's center carries an image of the Lamb of God, or Agnus Dei.
George Sotter, the artist who designed the windows in 1929, wrote about the functions of stained glass in a sacred setting in a letter to church architects in the Cincinnati firm of Crowe and Schulte, which church historian William Karutz provided.
"The first impression is that one enters a sanctuary, a place set completely apart from the raw, cold outside world." Sotter says in the letter.
The Rev. John List, pastor at St. Peter, says of the rose window, "The flaming red light speaks to me of the tongues of fire at Pentecost, representing the Holy Spirit."
Other windows in this Romanesque church represent St. Peter's history as the first pope, and saints spreading their faith throughout the world, ending with Columbus planting a cross on American soil. Clerestory windows line the upper walls of the church; one pair represents the body and blood of Christ in the communion, and it's ornately embellished with grapes and stalks of wheat.
This congregation, which built its first church near Deweese and Third streets 1812, will celebrate its 200th anniversary during the coming year.