Looking at a stained glass window ...

Walk up the path to a church. Pause and study the building, an architect’s work of art. Slowly enter the porch, the transition zone between outdoor light and the subdued light indoors. Sit quietly at the back of the church and absorb the quiet atmosphere.

Colour and light

A Nelson cathedral window designed by Beverley Shore Bennett.
A Nelson cathedral window designed by Beverley Shore Bennett.

Many churches face east, towards the rising sun. Look around at all the stained-glass windows. Some may have more impact than others. Move towards a window that attracts your attention — not too close. Take a pew (there are a lot more seats than in an art gallery) and enjoy the window as changing light filters through the work of art. Let your mind wander, free from other influences in the outside world.

Now move in close to the window and watch how the light sparkles due to imperfections in the hand-blown glass. View the many coloured glass pieces from different angles. Look at the figures, facial features and icons. Notice the fine black lines and cross-hatching that covers most pieces of glass. There may be a "yellow-stain" around the head.

Check the bottom right-hand corner to see if there is there a ‘rebus’ (signature mark) left by the glass artist. Read the text on the window — it may help identify the characters and story depicted. There may be a brass plate about the donor beside the window. Now move back, take another pew and enjoy the window again as a whole. Lawrence Lee believed the experience of looking at a stained-glass window had the effect of  "conducting the energy of light as a shock to the retina, with an impact similar to that of sounds on the human eardrum". If you are lucky, and an organist is practising, or a choir singing and candles burning, then you will have several senses stimulated at the same time. 

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