Stained Glass: Beauty with a Purpose


The Middle Ages gets a bad rap for being a period when life was devoid of beauty or innovation — but then we see its magnificent cathedrals and we know that wasn’t true.  We could spend a lifetime looking at all of the amazing features of cathedrals.  There are so many elements to examine, such as the sheer mass and complexity of the architecture and the intricate stonework.

The stained glass, a distinctive innovation of Gothic architecture, provided more than just something pretty for worshippers to see.  The windows often told stories from the Bible so that the illiterate masses could see them — think of it as a medieval form of television.

Because cathedrals cost a lot of money to build, the windows also featured images of patrons.  Donors and royalty would be rendered in glass in recognition of their contributions and support. Here’s one example from the chapel at Merton College:



Scientists as well as historians and artists marvel at the beauty of stained glass.  Nova has an interactive feature that wonders how medieval artisans created stained glass using only sand, wood and fire.

Of course, there are great web resources that you can use to see the beauty of stained glass, such as these tours of Canterbury Cathedral and Chartres Cathedral.  Here you can see detailed images from the Cathedral of Tours.  This site provides a comprehensive look at stained glass from all over Europe.

To take a video tour and see beautiful rose windows, you can take a look at this piece from the BBC:


7 Responses

  1. Yes, cathedrals are beautiful, but when they are topped off with something as beautiful as a stained glass window it is way too overwhelming. A picture will never capture the beauty of the light breaking through with magnificent colors because it is not nor will it ever be justified in a still image.

  2. These Cathedrals are beautiful. I really want to go see one in person someday.

  3. I agree with Becky! A picture can’t capture the beauty of the light hitting the window. Making these windows sounds hard! I can’t imagine keeping a furnace at 2,000 F.

  4. I think that you are so right Mrs. Budd. I would have never would have thought to find any kind of beauty during this period. This past weekend I watched the first two episodesof The Pillars of the Earth. The end of the second left of with Tom Builder putting two stakes in the ground, with holes on the top. He had lined up the holes so that when you looked through them at eye level the setting sun was directly inside the circle. Now I can appreciate all of the diligence and hard work that went into building these cathedrals. That kind of attention to detail is part of what makes the stained glass windows so beautiful. I cam imagine what seeing light through them looks like, I’m sure it feels like you are in the very prescence of God.

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