Stained Glass is a very special type of material. No wonder it has such a magnetic and powerful effect when we experience it, be that in a dramatic cathedral or in a domestic setting. It is the effect of light shining through the transparent glass that is the source of stained glass’s visual power. It’s not surprising that the process of making this glass was shrouded in such secrecy in the past.
The beginnings of stained glass probably date back to the period of ancient Egypt where it was used in jewelery and possibly as a type of currency. The artists that learned how to manipulate it would certainly have been held in high esteem for their alchemical skills.
More recently, the medium had an essential role in conveying the ideas of the church. Once the technology for making large scale glass windows was appreciated, the Catholic Church used it as a powerful medium to communicate biblical stories and messages and to visually impress the ‘power of God’.
To the poorly educated laymen, walking into a magnificent cathedral for the first time, adorned with dazzling colored portals, all showing biblical scenes, crucifixion and images of heaven and hell, it must have been a truly overwhelming experience. Some of the greatest examples of cathedral windows can still be seen at places such as Chartres Cathedral in France, or Canterbury Cathedral in England.
Whilst this middle ages period is widely regarded as the pinnacle of stained glass work, the tradition still survives today, albeit in a generally less grand mode.There are still many artists who keep the tradition alive and as a hobby the practice is growing worldwide. Glass technology has continued on from this middle ages period, where different metals, elements and chemicals were mixed with the molten glass to create various effects and results.
In modern architecture, specialized glasses are now essential to the designs of the built environment. Whilst traditional stained glass may not frequently be employed in new builds, never the less, new glass technologies are always coming to the fore. Frequently now, in a city you can look up at a modern building and see nothing of the underlying concrete structures, simply the glass. Alongside such modern structures you may well see the origins of that glass technology in the forms of a great cathedral or church. Nowadays many people also take part in stained glass and stained glass mosaic crafts.