Stained Glass Windows and Art
FAITH MADE VISIBLE
A great many people have contributed to the beauty of the church we now take for granted. For many it was a labor of love for this patricular chuch; for all it was a labor of love for the universal church of Christ, and an expression of their faith through their art and their craftsmanship. Significant features include the building itself, the Chancel Cross, the Rose Window, and, especially, the series of windows depicting the life of Christ.
(Various members of the church have led tours of the windows and of the art pieces in the church. The description here is adapted and expanded from these tours. I have kept the informal style we use in showing small groups around the building. –Ann Andrews)
The Life of Christ
The original windows along the sides of the nave were made of grisaille, a type of stained glass but with little color. Some of the glass from them was saved to make the window by the south door between the 200 and 300-level foyers. The present “story” or wall windows were installed between 1964 and 1969, starting on the pulpit side. They were designed and made in England by J. Wippell & Co., Ltd. and installed by Bela Birtok, an Hungarian craftsman.
These nine windows tell the story of the life of Christ, from Isaiah’s prophecy at the front on the pulpit side around to Pentecost on the lectern side. Each pair of windows has two main pictures, with three insets above and two below showing symbols associated with the events in the main narrative. The themes for the windows were taken from the Gospels. Sometimes they combine two versions of the same story from different Gospels. One window, 5B, Healing the Afflicted, combines various healing stories. The designers were free to use any standard translation of the Bible.
There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of Christian symbols. Some come directly from the Gospels, such as Living Water, or the Dove. Others became symbols very early and are universally recognized and accepted, most notably the fish, and the Chi Rho. Others were introduced through the ages, and have varying degrees of acceptance. Many date back to the Middle Ages when few people were able to read, pictures told the story and symbols were, in essence, pictographs, something visible standing for an idea. Some symbols, such as the peacock, the phoenix, and probably the lotus were imported from other traditions. In this description I have included all levels of symbols, though taking many, such as the lilies of the valley, or the thistle, with a grain of salt, enjoying them as pictures, but skeptical about how many people associate them with humility or with earthly sorrow and sin. (However, those were the interpretations Wippell studios sent with the sketches for the windows.)
In 1969 Lionel Laing, the chairman of the committee charged with overseeing the design and installation of the stained glass windows, wrote that the window project “has been the most rewarding experience in my association with our church here in Ann Arbor. As I sit in the sanctuary Sunday after Sunday I have a warm glow and a satisfaction in the realization that the project was carried to completion in a relatively short period of time and with the highest standards of artistry and craftsmanship.”
The windows were registered with the Michigan Stained Glass Census sponsored by Michigan State University in 1997, thanks to the work of Marcine Westerman.