Pastor’s Desk ~ May 5, 2024

Dear Fellow Parishioners,

I would like to continue my discussion of the interior of our church, statues, windows, and other works of art. First, I’d like to share some general thoughts on the roles of art and technology in the history of the Christian, and then specifically “Catholic”, Church.

For the first 1,500 years of the Church’s history, there was widespread illiteracy and no printed bibles. The few that existed were in the hands of religious institutions or in the private libraries of the very wealthy.

The primary ways of spreading the Christian faith were preaching, personal witness, icons and works of art which taught Christian truths and virtues. It was a pre-literate world that responded much more directly to art and images than to the printed or spoken word. There was a rich world of devotional imagery and practice which provided the means for a strong personal spiritual life, even if at times lacking in theological balance. The Protestant Reformation, and its insistence on “sola scriptura” (“scripture alone”) was made possible largely because of the growing availability of lower-cost printed bibles in local languages, rather than Latin.

Two other sources of devotional imagery in the body of our church are the Stations of the Cross, and the stained glass windows, both at the ground level and the clerestory (second) level.

The fourteen Stations of the Cross, now beautifully restored in our church, trace Our Lord’s steps to Calvary. They represent no single Gospel source, but are a blend of various Gospel sources into a single narrative. It was, and is, a powerful teaching tool which can be celebrated individually or as a group, from the pews or while walking around the interior.

One of the glories of our church is the stained glass windows. They were manufactured by Franz Mayer of Munich, Germany, which has manufactured art glass in the “Munich style” for over 170 years. They were stained glass artists to the Holy See, and near the end of the 19th century, performed a complete restoration of the alabaster window depicting the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove above the Chair of St. Peter in St. Peter’s Basilica. By the late 1800s, Franz Mayer had opened departments in London and New York.

St. Vincent’s Church appears much older than it is because the Munich-style of stained glass included a revival of Renaissance imagery, paintings and painters, including Masaccio, Raphael and Michelangelo. The result is that, while we look at 20th century windows, we see religious images taken from the Grand Masters of centuries earlier. For example, a stained glass window in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Charleston, South Carolina – installed about the time St. Vincent’s was built – shows the Transfiguration of Christ modeled after the 1517 painting by Raphael, now hanging in the Vatican.

Windows manufactured by F. Mayer became an overwhelming favorite for churches in the U.S. not only because of their style and quality, but also because in 1892 Pope Leo XVIII named the Franz Mayer Company a “Pontifical Institute of Christian Art” which made it possible to import the windows as works of art, and thus escape the high tariffs on raw glass. This brought with it a huge economic advantage at a time in the U.S. when so many churches were being built.

Fr. Bill Donahue

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *