The New Renaissance of Stained Glass| National Catholic Registry

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The artists discuss the colorful catechism behind their creations which reflect faith and history.

“In general, the faithful in the United States have rediscovered the rich tradition of stained glass. When they compare it to the past 50 years, they find a lot of our churches are missing,” Duncan Stroik, award-winning architect, author and professor of architecture at the University of Notre Dame, told the Register. “It corresponds to their preferences in terms of architecture and liturgy.”

“The modern is out – anything that smacks of the 50s, 60s, 70s. Nobody seems interested in bringing it all back to life,” agreed Joseph Beyer, artist and president of Beyer Stained Glass Studio (BeyerStudio.com) in Philadelphia. “The Munich School windows retain their popularity because they look so beautiful and fit so well with the traditional church design that has completely taken over over the past two decades. very modern churches above the Mason-Dixon line. All that has changed in the last 20 years. I don’t have any plans for churches that aren’t basilica-style – lots of cruciform in shape.

Similarly, Kevin Grabowski, Director of National Projects at Conrad Schmitt Studios (ConradSchmitt.com) in New Berlin, Wisconsin, says that “more people prefer this style of traditional Munich stained glass. People really connect with them.

For one of his current projects, Beyer draws window designs for the renovation of St. Thomas More Cathedral in Arlington, Virginia, built in the early 1960s. The windows, including the very large window above of the altar, will be in the neo-Gothic Tudor style, with 54 medallions representing various biblical scenes, nine choirs of angels, the evangelists and Christ seated at the top. Beyer said, “It’s a great privilege for an artist to have an opportunity like this.”

“The Munich school is definitely dominant,” Beyer added. His studio is still finding homes for original Munich-style windows by Franz Mayer and FX Zettler in closed churches in two Pennsylvania dioceses. When St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Downingtown, Pennsylvania obtained several original Munich windows, Beyer was asked to add several new windows exactly replicating the Munich style for a seamless appearance.

This move towards tradition should come as no surprise. “Generally, Catholics in the United States prefer 19th and early 20th century glass because it has large figures, and if there are narratives – of the mysteries of the life of Christ and the Virgin – they are recognizable,” Stroik said. “This is not true of actual medieval glass, which had much smaller digits and is difficult to distinguish in tall cathedrals.” He explained that “traditional stained glass gives a church a strongly supernatural feel. We don’t see trees, parking lots, or other buildings, but the celestial kingdom and the people who are role models for our lives.

The traditional style is imbued with realism. Recently, for St. Mary of Sorrows Church in Fairfax, Virginia, Beyer completed brand new Gothic Revival windows, highlighted by seven windows behind the altar depicting the Seven Sorrows of our Blessed Mother. Beyer described the windows as colorful and reflecting the Munich style. Among the aisle windows, he has designed and fabricated a representation of Our Lady of Knock which will include 608 pieces of blown colored glass from France and Germany, as in the style of Chartres.

Grabowski described two windows that Conrad Schmitt Studios made for Our Lady of Good Help Shrine in Champion, Wis., as examples of current window preferences. One shows Our Lady appearing Adele Breeze; the other represents Saint Joseph and Jesus in the studio. “Champion’s windows look like real people, not idealized.”

Tiffany-style windows are also popular, as seen in St. Nicholas Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia, which has an 8 by 15 foot Baptism of Christ the window. Grabowski said the Tiffany style, with its opalescent glass, found its way into some churches in the early 20th century.

The subjects of today’s windows range from traditional biblical scenes to saints, including recent saints. “I can’t tell you how many windows in secondary schools bear the name of Saint John Paul II. In particular, American Saints are going to be popular in this hemisphere,” Beyer said.

He named Sts. Katharine Drexel, John Neumann and Kateri Tekakwitha as examples. “It is an education in new saints.” For the new chapel of Christendom College, in Front Royal, Virginia, alongside the restoration of the Munich stained glass windows depicting the Nativity and the Resurrection, Beyer is making stained glass saints along the aisles: Padre Pio, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, the Martyrs of Otranto and the Servant of God Father Vincent Capodanno.

Stroik summed up these window preferences: “The sacred and the beautiful are more compelling than the profane and the inventive.”

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