I love looking at stained glass windows. I think the way the light shines through the coloured glass and the way they often tell stories through pictures are amazing. Stained glass is glass that has been coloured by adding metallic salts during its manufacture. The coloured glass is crafted into stained glass windows in which small pieces of glass are arranged to form patterns or pictures, held together (traditionally) by strips of lead and supported by a rigid frame. Painted details and yellow stain are often used to enhance the design. The term stained glass is also applied to windows in which the colours have been painted onto the glass and then fused to the glass in a kiln.

Stained glass, as an art and a craft, requires the artistic skill to conceive an appropriate and workable design, and the engineering skills to assemble the piece. A window must fit snugly into the space for which it is made, must resist wind and rain, and also, especially in the larger windows, must support its own weight. Many large windows have withstood the test of time and remained substantially intact since the late Middle Ages. In Western Europe they constitute the major form of pictorial art to have survived. In this context, the purpose of a stained glass window is not to allow those within a building to see the world outside or even primarily to admit light but rather to control it. For this reason stained glass windows have been described as ‘illuminated wall decorations’.

One of my favourite stained glass windows was built to celebrate the Millennium and is in the refectory at Chester Cathedral. I think I like this window so much because, being newer, you see it in all its glory, not obscured by dirt and grime which spoil so many older windows (cleaning these windows is definitely a skill in itself!) and also because it looks at the theme of Creation. I like the image of the dove and the hand of God you can see in the window:

On holiday this year, we looked at lots of stained glass windows in various cathedrals:

Stained glass windows often tell Biblical stories (Gloucester Cathedral):

Balliol College chapel:

Keble College chapel:

A whole row of stained glass windows at Lincoln Cathedral:

And on a less grandiose scale, but still great to look at, the windows at church:

This morning I was reading Colossians 1 in the Message version, that great passage talking about the supremacy of Christ:

“He was supreme in the beginning and—leading the resurrection parade—he is supreme in the end. From beginning to end he’s there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.” (Col 1:18-20)

Aaron Shust, in the song ‘Long Live The King’ says ‘You assemble all our broken, shattered pieces/ More beautiful than I have ever known.’ I often think of life as being rather like stained glass. Circumstances come along that shatter us. We feel our lives are just left in pieces and we cannot imagine how God could ever work those circumstances for good. But God works with broken pieces, just as the stained glass artist has to work with small pieces of glass and has visions of grandeur that are far more beautiful than simple plain glass. Each experience we go through adds colours to our lives and God is able to put those pieces together ‘in vibrant harmonies’.

When we were at Lincoln Cathedral last week, we learned that during the Civil War, the Bishop’s Eye (a window in the cathedral) was blown to pieces by gunfire. The pieces of glass were collected up and later re-assembled, but the only problem was that no one knew where the pieces were supposed to go and so the resulting window doesn’t quite tell the story which the artist originally wanted it to tell! That won’t ever happen to our lives. God is working all things together for good, fixing and fitting all the ‘broken, dislocated pieces’ together to create something that will be ‘more beautiful than I have ever known’. We may not see it now, but our lives are becoming a stained glass window for God!