The chapel was built as part of a building-expansion program during the ministry of Dr. Frank Alfred Mathes. The slogan of this campaign was “To the glory of God we build on the pillars of faith, prayers, sacrifice.”
The stained glass windows soon became the focal point of interest as the building committee resolved to obtain windows unsurpassed in beauty and Biblical meaning. These windows were designed, made and installed by a firm of world renowned artisans, The D’Ascenzo Studios of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In preparation, the Biblical subject for each window was chosen by the donors from a list of titles selected by the committee. Then the studio artists submitted colored sketches of all windows for approval before actual production was begun. The chapel and windows were dedicated to the glory and service of God on December 12, 1954.
In the field of stained glass these windows are outstanding in three ways. First, they are perfectly planned for this particular chapel. Not only do the windows physically fit their stone openings, but their style harmonizes with the building itself, and the subjects are arranged in very appropriate locations. In addition, the size of the figures is in proportion to the size of the chapel so that they appear neither overpowering nor insignificant to the worshiper.
Next, the designer, Ralph P. Ohmer, has harmoniously combined in these windows the finest features from various periods. Basically they reflect the character of windows from the early Gothic years, known as the Golden Age of Stained Glass. Like those early windows, each is a glowing mosaic of rich color composed of many small pieces of glass. Dark brown outlines and shading are permanently fused into the surface of the individual pieces of colored glass which are then held together in a window panel by strips of lead. Also characteristic of this early period are tall figures, trees and other background detail, generous use of blue glass and moderate amount of canopy work (arches, roofs and spires above the figures).
The later Gothic period contributed two techniques which made possible the combining of red and white details in one piece of glass and the staining of gold colored details on white glass. These methods were used to produce the small intricate figure panels in the bottom sections of the side windows and the delicate gold and white canopy. The influence of the Renaissance is seen in a general softening of faces and figures. In line with the trend of recent years, the windows were made brighter to overcome the dulling effect of stronger interior lighting.
Finally, only the very best materials and workmanship were employed to produce windows of strength and beauty. The glass used is hand-blown pot metal glass, colored while still molten in the pot by the addition of metals such as cobalt, copper, manganese or even gold. In these windows, the artists have beautifully balanced a loving care for detail with a freedom of style which echoes the subtle irregularity of nature and avoids monotony. The use of many tiny pieces of glass, some no larger than the end of a finger, contributes to the jewel-like quality of these glowing windows.
SUBJECTS AND SYMBOLISM
The life of Christ is portrayed throughout those windows. In the foyer and in the chancel vestibule small windows contain figures of Old Testament prophets who foretold the coming of Christ. In the chapel itself, beginning to the left of the entrance, outstanding events of His life are presented in full color in the large figure panels or the side or aisle windows. Included are appropriate verses from the King James version of the Bible. Related subjects are depicted in tiny figures of amber and white in the ruby predella or base section of each window. Throughout the series of windows Christ is robed in white which is symbolic of purity, light and divinity. The sequence continues through the transfiguration window in the chancel and the aisle windows on the right side to the small ascension window in the foyer high above the entrance.
In the early Christian church symbols were used to teach the many Christians who could not read. During periods of persecution they served as a secret language. In our day symbols are still used to picture artistically the cardinal elements of Christian faith, tradition and teaching.
It is customary to show a circle of light called a nimbus (Latin for cloud) around the head of Christ, His mother Mary, Joseph, the apostles, and other Christians of unusual piety. To show divinity and to distinguish Christ from the other figures, three rays of light, resembling the head of a cross, appear on His nimbus to form a tri-radiant nimbus symbolizing the Trinity. The use or a nimbus dates from the sixth century. It is different from a halo (Greek word meaning disc) which became popular in Renaissance painting. A halo appears as an opaque lighted round plate shown suspended above or behind the head of a figure. In contrast, a nimbus is a radiance of light surrounding the head which appears the same when seen from any angle.
An aureole is an elongated form of nimbus surrounding the entire body of our Lord. Frequently this has pointed ends forming a vesica piscis which is a conventionalized form of a fish. The letters in the Greek word for fish, “Ichthus,” were the initial letters in the Creek phrase meaning “Jesus Christ of God, Son, Savior.”
Since each tall single window is a lancet, each pair of aisle windows is a double-lancet window and the chancel window is a triple-lancet window. The decorative stonework above the lancets is known as tracery and the small openings in this tracery are appropriately called kites because of their usual shape. The kite above each pair of aisle lancets contains a cross prommée whose arms end in single knobs or fruit, symbolic of atonement. This Cross is shown with a small blue nimbus around its center. On either side of each predella is a floriated cross with ends terminating in three petals, indicating the Trinity. It is also shown with a small nimbus.
In the borders and memorial inscriptions and throughout the windows are found various other forms of small crosses, rosettes symbolic of the Messianic Promise, and vines recalling the words of Christ, “I am the true vine." (John 15:1) One cross used frequently in these windows is the very ancient Greek cross (with arms of equal length) within a circle. In contrast, the Latin cross has a longer lower arm and is the form of cross on which Christ died. Various types of stars found in appropriate places are:
- The five-pointed Star of Jacob or Epiphany Star
- The six-pointed Star of Creation or Shield of David
- The eight-pointed Star of Resurrection or Regeneration
- The twelve-pointed Star of the Twelve Tribes of Israel or Star of the Twelve Apostles