I was delighted to receive a very positive response to my last “musings” regarding the beautiful stained glass-windows in our Church. Several of you told me that you are now better able to appreciate these windows that you have looked at for years. There is even more symbolism, that I missed when I wrote that first article. Therefore, I am doing a little follow-up here, a Part 2.
First, to reiterate, for me the most striking feature of the windows is the movement, in stark contrast to many traditional icons or stained glass windows. This is attained with the radiating and curving lines created by the alignment of the colorful glass pieces in the mosaic. Not only is there much movement in each image, but a wonderful flow from one image to the next, often achieved by wavy lines.
One thing that I missed the first time, that even Fr. Ron told me he hadn’t seen before, is the St. Isidore Church steeple in the same frame that has the red car, placing our Church within the context of the Detroit metro area. Now, I want to explore further some of the more theological richness of these windows.
As I said last week, the windows behind the altar are a depiction of creation itself. In Christian theology though, God reveals himself in creation, and even more in our redemption, through God’s incarnation in Jesus Christ. I believe that there is also a subtle representation of redemption in these “creation windows.”
Recall that the vertical line of windows directly behind the altar which represents the creation of day, and the sloping horizontal roofline windows depicting the sky, intersect where the sun is. This of course indicates the essential role of the sun to life on our planet. However, because of the central location of these intersecting lines within our Church, I also see here a subtle suggestion of a cross or crucifix.
To be precise, it is a sort of half cross, because the left arm of the cross has no windows in the modern, asymmetrical design of our Church. The sun can be seen at the intersection of the vertical and horizontal beams of the cross, as a symbolic head of Christ, who is both “Sun of Justice” and the Head of his body the Church in St. Paul’s theology. The reason I am inclined to see a hint of the cross here is simply because in Catholic Churches it is traditional to have a crucifix behind the altar, and this half-cross is directly behind the altar.
An aside: We also have a very traditional crucifix, placed to the right of center in the front of the Church. Is this an artifact from an earlier St. Isidore Church building?
If creation and redemption make us think primarily of the first and second persons of the Trinity, the other features of our windows that I want to re-examine focus very squarely on the third person, the Holy Spirit. In another, smaller and less prominent combination of windows, we have a depiction of Christ the Good Shepherd (vertical) and the Seven Sacraments (horizontal). The role of the Holy Spirit is highlighted here, both in the sacraments and in the life of Jesus. There are no less than six representations of the Spirit as a dove in these windows!
Interestingly, there are no doves in the Holy Spirit wing of the Church, directly behind these Sacraments windows. In this newer wing, the imagery is much more abstract, while still keeping with the artistic style of the rest of the Church windows. Most obvious are the red flames that form a kaleidoscope in the pyramidal skylight above the center of this wing.
But in the windows surrounding this wing on two sides, I see a representation of the Four Elements of our planet in ancient philosophy: the green Earth at the bottom, Air represented by the blue and white sky, the red flames depicting Fire, and the blue Water seen in the corner windows. Theologically, these Four Elements also represent the Holy Spirit: the wind and fire of Pentecost, the Spirit hovering over the waters of creation and again at Jesus’ baptism, and the green representing the life-giving Spirit.