The Stained Glass Windows

The Church of Saint Anselm is fortunate to posses a complete set of stained glass windows created especially for the church in one single design campaign.  The principal windows are the work of master glassier Robert Pinart. An immigrant from France after World War II, Pinart was employed by Rambusch Studios, the firm which handled the interior decorative work for the church.  As a new and relatively unknown glazier, he cut his own cartoons for the windows in Saint Anselm’s, imparting to the designs a freshness and spontaneity.  Pinart went on to enjoy a long and successful career. He designed windows for the Episcopal Cathedral, Washington D. C., Saint Edward’s Church, Brooklyn, and the now demolished Catholic Chapel at Kennedy Airport. Pinart loved to place animals in his windows, particularly cats, and many such animals grace the scenes along the south side of the nave.

Stained glass is created through a variety of techniques, three of which are seen in Saint Anselm’s. All of the windows are made of pot glass on most of which enameling and flashing have been applied to provide for a finished design.

Pot glass is created by adding various minerals, or chemicals, to the clear liquid glass, or flux, while it is molten. The addition of these different elements and the temperatures at which they are added creates the color of the glass when it is poured out to cool and solidify into sheets. Pot glass is entirely translucent. The Rose windows of the north and south transepts are extremely rare examples of windows made entirely of pot glass.

Flashing is the laying on of a second layer of pot glass to create a rich effect. The golden embroidery on the vestments of Saint Pope Pius X (on the north side adjacent to the tower) is created by splashing gold over white pot glass. In the Chapel of Saint Anselm the gold of the enclosed garden window has been etched with acid to provide a clean border with the clear glass that frames the design.

Enameling is by far the most common technique used to form the thousands of details that create the people, plants, buildings, and animals of the figurative windows. In the use of enameling, pot glass is painted with black opaque glass.

Enameled and flashed glass does not bond permanently to the pot glass and will over hundreds of years “flake” off. Since glass is in reality a “frozen” liquid, the glass will flow downward over hundreds of years, creating panels that are thicker at the bottom and thinner at the top and causing the glass to become more fragile.

All of these numerous pieces are fitted together like a jigsaw puzzle with cames, which are soldered together and held at regular intervals to metal bars by ties. Stained glass is extremely heavy and can only be supported over a wide space by the use of tracery, decorative and structural supports within the design of the window. Traditionally tracery is made of stone, in Saint Anselm’s we see geometric tracery in the rose windows of the transepts.   

The Figurative Windows

The story of our salvation is told in eleven large rectangular windows around the nave. The narrative begins at the southwest corner of the church, adjacent to the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin, with the Creation window, and moves eastward along the south wall to Fourth Avenue. The story continues on the north side of the nave from Fourth Avenue toward the Saint Pius X window next to the bell tower.

THE CREATION (Genesis 1) This window is the only one in the church which needs to be “read” in the traditional manner, from top to bottom. At the apex God moves over his creation, which is shown in order going downward: the separation of light and darkness, the separation of the sea and the dry land, the creation of plants, of the fish in the sea, the sun, moon, and stars, the birds of the air, the land animals, and finally, the creation of man. Adam and Eve are poised at the moment just before the fall while all of creation is still good, as God intended. Note the serpent coiled around the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

THE ANNUNCIATION (Luke 1:26-38) Across the north transept the history of our salvation moves directly to the regaining of grace afforded us by the incarnation of Our Lord in response to Mary’s “yes”. The Virgin Mother is shown kneeling in prayer and reading scripture when the angel Gabriel appears to make his salutation. The vase of lilies and the scepter surmounted by a mirror, which the angel carries, signify her great virtue (Wisdom 7:26). The Feast of the Annunciation is observed on March 25th, nine months before Christmas.

THE CHRIST CHILD IN THE TEMPLE (Luke 2:41-50) Here the youthful Jesus stands in the midst of the elders, who marvel at his wisdom. Joseph and Mary have just entered, Jesus seeming to be unaware of their presence. They have not yet admonished him for his absence, and so he has not yet told them about his purpose. The single lamp at the top is a symbol of the presence of God. (Note the cat curled comfortably in the lower corner.)

THE HOLY FAMILY (Luke 2:51, 52) Our Lord, the Blessed Virgin, and Saint Joseph go about the daily tasks of family life; Joseph and Jesus in carpentry and Mary sewing. How simple and peaceful it all seems. Jesus, dressed in white, carries two pieces of wood that make the shape of a cross. In this window too, the single candle is a symbol for the presence of God. The feast of the Holy Family is celebrated on the Sunday between Christmas and the Feast of Mary, Mother of God (January 1st) or on December 30th if there is no Sunday between those two feasts.

THE WEDDING AT CANA (John 2:1-11) Jesus accompanied by his mother, attends the wedding feast. Mary makes Jesus aware of her request and despite the fact that he tells her it is not his time, her deep faith in her son causes Our Lord to take action, changing the water into wine. The wedding couple in the background and the boy cuddling a cat are totally unaware of the great miracle playing out near them.

THE TRANSFIGURATION (Matthew 17:1-13; Mark 9:2-13; and Luke 9:28-36) Continuing east along the north wall of the nave we encounter the Transfiguration window.  At the top, Jesus is transformed, his garments becoming “white as snow”.  To one side appears Moses, with head covered, holding the tablets of the Ten Commandments, representing the law. On the other side is Elijah, representing the prophets. Three apostles, Peter – identified by his elderly appearance, John – by his youth and James cower at the bottom of the scene as the voice of the Father makes it clear that Jesus is of infinitely greater importance than the two Old Testament figures.

THE WASHING OF JESUS’S FEET (Luke 7:37) On entering the house of Simon the Pharisee a women approaches Our Lord and proceeds to wash his feet with her tears, dry them with her hair, and anoint them with costly oil. When Simon questions as to why Jesus does not realize what sort of women he is letting touch him, a sinner, Jesus explains that since she has shown such great love, her sins, are forgiven. Notice the snail and the worm, unclean animals on the scroll at the bottom left, symbolizing sin.

THE LAST SUPPER (Matthew 26:20-39; Mark 14:17-25; Luke 22:15-20; and John 6:26-58) The Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke relate the institution of the Eucharist, while John’s Gospel makes it clear that the Lord’s flesh and blood are our true food and drink. Peter and John flank Our Lord, with John resting his head on Christ’s chest. Judas, the traitor, at the lower left holds the purse of the group and is about to leave to arrange the betrayal of Our Lord in the Garden.

THE ASCENSION (Mark 16:19; Luke 24:50; Acts 1:9) The Ascension of Our Lord is shown with the Blessed Mother, surrounded by the apostles in the lower portion of the window. Above, Christ, clothed in a white robe, a symbol of his exaltation, and a red mantle, a symbol of his role as our great high priest, rises. Christ leaves behind his footprints, a traditional way of depicting the departure of the Lord in early Christian art.

PENTECOST (Acts 2:1-41) The Spirit’s descent is depicted by tongues of flame, radiating out from the Spirit, represented by a dove. A flame, which does not consume (Exodus 19:18), comes to rest on all present in the upper chamber, where they had been in hiding since the Ascension of the Lord. With their courage reinforced, the apostles go out to preach the good news, while Mary looks out to the viewer and points us to her Divine Son.

SAINT POPE PIUS X. The last of the great windows of the nave depicts Saint Pius X, pope from 1903-1914, rather than a biblical scene. Pius X strongly promoted the use of Gregorian chant in the celebration of the Liturgy. He recommended the daily reception of the Eucharist and reception by children at a young age. Pope Pius’s motto “Ignis Ardens” (ardent flame) and the seal of Venice, his see before election to the papacy, as well as the lion of Saint Mark and the anchor of the great trading city are at the top of the window. Pius was canonized in 1954 a few months before the dedication of our church. His feast day is August 21st.