The Mythical Purpose of Stained-Glass Windows

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Stained glass windows were used throughout the European Christian world during the medieval period (5th – 15th century CE), but the technology to manufacture stained class windows reached a certain level of sophistication within the late medieval period (1301-1500 CE). However, stained glass was known to have existed in a more rudimentary form in England, as early as the 7th century CE, with the Romans were making glazed windows in the 1st century CE.  Glass, of course, existed in ancient Egypt, China and Greece, whilst its usage developed over-time.  A major facet of this usage in Europe was associated with the medieval Catholic Church, as a means to create biblical scenes in the windows of its churches. In the old days, ordinary people in Europe could not read or write, and were forced to attend churches on Sunday, and to consider themselves ‘Christian’, without any choice in the matter.  Furthermore, the Catholic Church cemented its politicised position within European society by suggesting that only its path was correct, and that Catholic priests were the only means through which a lay-person could be in commune with the Christian god construct. The congregation would often have to kneel on bare, and freezing cold stone floors for hours, whilst the Catholic priest delivered the liturgy in Latin – a language that the laity could not understand.  This might be described as ‘dependent disempowerment’, as the laity were trained to have ‘faith’ in the church and its teachings, whilst simultaneously being permanently being excluded from attaining any advanced understanding of those teachings.  The laity were taught a blind faith that evolved around simplistic superstitions that used the threat (and fear) of eternal damnation in the fires of hell, if any member of the laity dared to question the authority or traditions of the church.  A lay person was expected to ‘surrender’ completely to the authority of the church (and its priests), and never question the status quo.  Heaven was certainly above (beyond the clouds), and hell was definitely down-below, underneath the ground.  Serving the church with no expectation of reward, acknowledgement, or recognition, was viewed as one way of being ‘good’ enough to enter heaven at the point of physical death.  Of course, rich people could curry favour with god through hefty financial donations to the church whilst still alive. Kings and queens were ‘crowned’ by the church, which suggested (and reinforced) their ‘divine right’ to rule, effectively subjugating their temporal power to that of church domination.  However, the stained glass window was an ecclesiastical attempt to answer the question as to where exactly was all this reality that theology suggested existed somewhere?  Stained glass windows, with their depiction of biblical scenes, were placed high in the church walls so that the congregation had to ‘look up’ to see them properly – turning the gaze toward heaven. The stained glass biblical scenes became obvious and clear when viewed with the bright sky behind them.  The church deliberately propagated the false (and not to mention ‘unscientific’ viewpoint) that what was being scene ‘through’ the stained glass window was in fact a ‘true’ representation of what exactly existed ‘beyond’ the cloud cover.  The poorly educated laity were encouraged to take these stained glass biblical scenes ‘literally’, as if they were watching a ‘live’ satellite broadcast from heaven.  The implication was that only the ‘pure’ could see this biblical activity in the skies without the need for a stained glass window, but as the ordinary laity were considered ‘sinners’ of various kinds, their vision was mundane and lacked spiritual penetration when trying to discern these biblical images for themselves outside of the church, simply by looking up at the sky on their own accord.  Again, the ‘specialness’ and ‘uniqueness’ of the church was confirmed though the legitimisation of ‘myth’ and ‘legend’, not to mention blatant dishonesty.  In reality, the church had absolutely no way of ‘proving’ its ‘post-death’ theology in the world of the living, and so deliberately pursued the policy of keeping the ordinary laity (the majority of its followers) in a state of perpetual arrested development, punishing any attempt to self-educate, or see beyond church dogma.  Artisans and craftsmen created the stained glass windows, using raw materials moulded through specific manufacturing techniques.  Church ideologues gave the required designs, and ordinary skilled workers created the finished product.  There was nothing ‘divine’ about this essentially ‘materialist’ endeavour.  Workmen were ‘paid’ by the church to create a product that the church used as a propaganda tool to boost blind faith in its dogma.  The stained glass windows seemed to ‘appear’ as if from nowhere, mesmerising the church goers in the process.  At no time was the material (and ‘skilled’) process of creating stained glass windows ever explained to the unsuspecting laity.  The message was clear – looking-up, it is obvious that heaven exists, and therefore everything the church says is correct.

 

 

The Stained Glass Museum

Stained Glass Association of America

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