Stained Glass in St Mary, The Virgin.

“And God said let there be Light: and there was light. And God saw the light that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness”

For over four hundred years now, stained glass windows have given a visual meaning to God’s word, creating a kind of ‘holy theatre’ that is didactic and awesome. Since the middle ages, the Christian Church has adorned its interiors with stained glass windows with their splendorous colours, for their intrinsic spiritual light as well as to tell the story of Christianity: of the lineage of Christ, of saints and patrons, of miracles and events in the Old and the New Testaments. The artist of these windows was largely anonymous as he subscribed to the dictates of the Church and the architect.

The Story

The 19th century heralded the industrial age and with it came progress and mass education. The church windows underwent a change as the artist became more confident and knowledgeable about his art/craft. There was an emphasis on biblical symbolism together with the subject matter in the Bible. The stained glass windows which were the “poor man’s Bible” earlier, became more intricate and subjective in this age. 

Today, we are in an age of technological advancement, an age of expanding horizons. In the present scenario, the function of art in the Church has seen a certain transformation: a need of the intelligent congregation to transcend the simple, pictorial depictions from the Bible, and the desire of the artist to express himself in a relevant but contemporary approach. The modern stained glass artist is not so much concerned with the biblical events and realistic figures as with their relevance to his experience of life. Today, a corpus of stained glass windows largely focuses on the power of the abstract image rather than on tangible, concrete depictions. 

The Pastorate committee of the Church of St Mary, the Virgin commissioned Swati Chandgadkar to design and execute stained glass windows for the church which celebrates 125 years in December 2009. The idea was to create art that is in tune with the sensibilities of the youth of today without compromising on the traditional look of the Church. The intent was to look to the future instead of confining oneself to the past. The thought behind this decision was that all buildings (including heritage structures) are like living organisms and should ‘evolve’ with time and interact with the people in the present. 

It is within the conservation norms to allow enhancements in the church building as long as they adhere to the function of the building and are aesthetically integrated with its architecture. Over the years, new stained glass windows have continued to be added inside cathedrals and churches to commemorate an event or as memorials or simply as donations. 

The new stained glass windows in the Apse area of the Church are designed in a contemporary style and do not mirror any particular style. Since art without a specific Christian content can make no relevant contribution to a church building, the central Window portrays Christ. The windows on the left represent St Mary, the Virgin and St Gabriel, while the windows on the right have the Disciples and an ‘Angel in Celebration’. The imagery in the stained glass offers a traditional understanding of religion and to bring that across, the stylistic form in the new stained glass windows is geometric and abstract, not orthodox and realistic. However, the symbolisms within this form are conventional and inherited presentations that communicate easily. For example, the ‘Fish’ symbol is central to the Jesus Window, while the ‘Lily’ is intrinsic to the St Mary Window. The Christ Window in the centre enfolds the elements – air, water, earth and fire – together with imagery, in a circular rhythm to suggest the infinite: “I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last.” The forms in the adjacent windows release this tight rhythm and adopt a flowing rhythm to suggest gentle movement into the future. 

We hope that the art as with the rest of the Church can carry forth the message of our risen Lord in the present and into the future, touching the lives of all who enter in.