The Stained Glass Windows in St. Paul’s Church
Symbols have been used by Christians since the earliest ages of the Church. Just as observing the seasons of the church year is a way of acknowledging that Jesus is the Lord of Time, using symbols and teaching about their meaning is a way of proclaiming that the earth is the Lord’s and that Christ is sovereign over human history. Symbols are a way of carrying our spiritual awareness out of the sanctuary and into the created world.
The ten contemporary windows in the Narthex follow the church year thematically. The six on the east wall begin at the upper left with Advent and continue through Christmas, Epiphany, the Baptism of Jesus, the Passion and the Resurrection. The four windows over the west entrance include Pentecost, Trinity, Christ the King, and Saint Paul. The windows not only bring beauty to the church building but also serve as a reminder of the Christian faith for young and old alike.
Advent – The Alpha (A) and Omega (Ω), the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet, suggest the eternal nature of Christ and point to Jesus as the beginning and the end of all things. They also symbolize his first Advent, or Coming, as the Babe of Bethlehem, and his Second Coming to judge the world. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8)
Christmas – The Star of Bethlehem shines above the Manger. “There, ahead of the wise men, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was.” (Matthew 2:9) A small chi rho monogram, consisting of the first two letters in the Greek word christos, form a simple cross that is placed above the manger to signify the presence there of the Christ Child.
Epiphany – The Star that led the Wise Men to find the Holy Child in Bethlehem is joined with Three Crowns representing the Seekers or Magi who are sometimes referred to as the Three Kings. “After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.’” (Matthew 2:1-2)
Baptism – A Scallop Shell with Water reminds us of Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan River at the beginning of his ministry. These symbols also remind us of our entrance into the life of the Church through Holy Baptism and the ministries that we are each called to by God. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20)
Passion – The Crown of Thorns and the Three Nails symbolize Jesus’ suffering and death on the Cross for us and the world. “Then the governor’s soldiers stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.” (Matthew 27:28-30)
Easter – The empty Cross depicted here, like the empty tomb, reminds us of the Resurrection of Jesus and the hope of Eternal Life. Unlike the cross of Good Friday, it is no longer a symbol of death but of victory over death. The winding sheet from the empty tomb forms a victor’s banner and rays of glory emanate from the cross out into the world. St. John’s Gospel understands the Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus to be a single act of God’s power, not two separate salvation events. “Jesus said to Mary, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”’” (John 20:17) It is because of this passage of Scripture that there is no window that depicts the Ascension alone.
Pentecost – The Dove is a symbol for the Holy Spirit taken from the story of Jesus’ Baptism. “When Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.” (Matthew 3:16) In this window we also see Tongues of Fire representing those that settled on all of the disciples on the Day of Pentecost. “Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.” (Acts 2:3-4) Seven flames are portrayed here to suggest the seven traditional spiritual gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord. (Isaiah 11:2-3)
Trinity – The Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God, is represented by an equilateral triangle, symbolizing the equality of the three persons and is probably one of the earliest Trinitarian symbols. The three interwoven rings symbolize the interrelatedness of the three divine persons who are distinct but always remain a part of the Divine Unity. The doctrine of the Trinity is first found in the story of Jesus’ baptism, where the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are each uniquely present. “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’” (Luke 3:21-22)
Christ the King – Of the several sacred monograms of Christ, the Greek letters Chi (Χ) and Rho (P) together form one of the most ancient. Here it is topped with a Crown indicating the Kingship of Christ. While the following quote is a reference to Almighty God, over the centuries the titles have come to be used in reference to Jesus Christ. “He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, it is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion.” (1Timothy 6:15-16)
Saint Paul – Paul, the patron saint of the parish, is represented by a Sword and an open Book bearing the words “Sword of the Spirit” in Latin. The book symbolizes the Gospel that St. Paul preached. “Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17) The sword can also be seen as the symbol of his martyrdom in Rome, probably by beheading, in 68 A.D.
Design and Fabrication
The windows were designed, fabricated, and installed in 2005 by Rohlf Studio of Mount Vernon, New York. The studio was established in 1929, and since that time has worked with some of America and Europe’s finest artists and painters, including Alexander Sidorov who designed these windows in consultation with The Rev. Leslie Hughs, rector emeritus of the parish. Mr. Sidorov received his training in Russia and works and resides in France. Among the Rohlf Studio’s many projects was the restoration of the stained glass windows of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and work on the windows of the Capital Building here in Albany. In addition to their work in the United States, their commissions can be seen worldwide in such places as Japan, Africa, Israel, Iceland, Venezuela, Haiti and Mexico.