Saturday, September 29, 2007

The New Windows And Their Symbolism

Has everyone seen the new stained glass windows at church? If not, we have two new windows that cover the clear glass squares at the top on either side of the altar. I saw them for the first time this afternoon and found the symbolism very interesting. As you could probably guess, the left window represents the “Eastern” Church and the right represents the “Western” Church. Both full of symbolism of course.

Here is little background on all the symbols –


Left (Eastern) Window:

The words “Hagia Sophia” are a transliteration of the Greek phrase “Holy Wisdom”. This represents the building pictured in the middle of the window. This building named the “Church of the Holy Wisdom of God” and is located in Istanbul, Turkey and was originally a patriarchal basilica when built in the 4th century. It is considered the mother of all Orthodox Churches. For a thousand years it was the biggest basilica in the world, and in 1453 after the Ottoman Turks took Constantinople over (later renaming the city Istanbul) it became a mosque.

The symbol you see in the top circle of the window is what’s called a double-headed eagle. This symbol represented the Eastern half of the Roman Empire. One head looks left to Rome, the other to Constantinople with the eagle’s claws holding a cross for spiritual authority and a globe for secular authority.


The circle at the 3 o’clock position contains what’s called an Imperial crown. This is worn by the Patriarchs of the Orthodox Church. The Imperial crown represent temporal authority.

In the 6 o’clock circle, you see something that looks like an “X”. This represents the cross used to crucify St. Andrew, he like Peter did not feel worthy to be crucified in the same manner as Jesus (must have run in the family). This type of cross is known as a “St. Andrew ’s Cross” for obvious reasons. Tradition holds that St. Andrew founded the See of Byzantium around the year 36 AD. This would later become the Patriarchate of Constantinople and so has a special importance in the Orthodox Tradition.

And finally in the circle at the 9 o’clock position you find a special type of cross known as an Orthodox Cross. This cross has two horizontal and one slanted bar. The top bar represents the “INRI” sign hung at the top of the cross Jesus was crucified on by Pilot. The second, middle bar represents the bar that Jesus’ hands were nailed to. The third, bottom bar is Jesus’ foot rest. This bar is slanted and it is commonly explained that the slant represents the good thief repenting and going “up” to heaven, and the bad thief not and going “down” to hell.



Right (Western) Window:


The words “Saint Peter’s” in English mean “Saint Peter’s”. Sorry, had to be done. And the building you see in the center of the window is none other than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. While Rome has always been the center of authority in the Western Church, the basilica was completed in 1626 and was built over the Constantinian basilica.

In the circle at 12 o’clock, you will see a picture of two crossing keys. In Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 16:19) Jesus promises to give Peter the “keys of the kingdom of Heaven”, one gold and one sliver (though I can’t remember if the gold and silver can be made out in the image on the window). The silver key represents the power to bind and loose on earth, and the gold in heaven. The two keys can also be thought of as representing authority in the spiritual and secular.

In the 3 o’clock circle, you find what’s called the Papal Tiara, or the Triple Crown. The last pope to actually wear this crown was Pope Paul VI who quit wearing it after the Second Vatican Council. While it has not been officially replaced, Popes today do not wear this crown but only a mitre out of a show of humility. The three levels on the tiara represent the three functions of the Pope as "supreme pastor", "supreme teacher" and "supreme priest".

In the 6 o’clock circle you can see what looks like an upside-down cross. It looks like this because … that’s what it is. This symbol is used to represent the satanic – just checking to see if you’re still reading. St. Peter, when being crucified said he was not worthy to be crucified in the same manner as Jesus. So the executioners, granting his request, crucified him upside-down. Peter, being the first Pope of the Church, has a very special place in the Western Chruch (and all Churches for that matter).

And in the 9 o’clock circle, you will see a cross with three horizontal bars on it which is known as the Papal Cross. Besides representing the obvious, a cross, the three bars actually do carry another meaning. The three bars represent the pope’s triple role as the Bishop of Rome, Patriarch of the West, and successor of St. Peter.

Check them out when you get a chance!!!

3 comments:

Laura The Crazy Mama said...

I didn't notice them right away but when someone pointed them out to me, I was surprised! I thought they were very pretty. When we heard what was going in those spaces (about a year ago) I thought maybe it would look kind of funny. I was wrong. They are very tasteful and meaningful. Just like the rest of the design of our church!

fertlmertl said...

Once again, thanks for the history and information. I didn't check out the windows this weekend since I went to another church for mass. I noted some beautiful symbolism there as well. The choir at the front of church represents the fact that they like to place emphasis on...the choir. The giant wooden panels filling the entire sanctuary and rest of the church represent...wood. Sorry, that's all I got. Needless to say, I heard that Fr. MB took the planners of our new church on tours of other new churches in the area (prior to building our church) and they found this particular one to be one of those, "let's try not to emulate" churches. Thank the Lord. I guess I'm a bit cranky about it today because it's not just the building that is lacking, they've got issues. Apparently it's too much of an imposition to kneel during the consecration-among other things.

Thanks again Serviam! for the lesson.

Laura The Crazy Mama said...

Hey, fertl, you are being a bit harsh and rigid, don't you think? I mean, I went to their website and they described the design thusly:

"Elements of the earth reflect the personality of St. (Name omitted to prevent anyone from being tempted to go there)'s community. Love of God's gifts in nature are captured in the use of stone and wood. Colors in carpet, floor tile, and brick are based on naturally occurring tones found in the earth. The wood in the worship area echoes our previous building, where wood helped give it warmth and beauty. Throughout the building process emphasis was given to the use of authentic materials."
Community, worship area, building...is it a church? A CATHOLIC church?
Okay, yeah...I guess the inspiration IS... basically...wood. Oh, and rocks. Wow, they act like they are trying to blend in so well with nature that they practically disappear!
They have more problems than kneeling is right. If people knew the things that went on there they would cry.