The words ‘stained glass’ immediately conjure up images of cathedrals, churches, mosques, of iridescent colours, biblical imagery, and symbolic motifs.
Stained glass, or ‘art glass’ is most common in places of worship, but can also be found in other significant buildings, both institutional and commercial, and in private homes.
Stained glass windows are highly decorative and colourful, even spell-binding (if you haven’t stood inside La Sainte-Chapelle in Paris and marvelled at its soaring stain glass windows, we suggest you Google it to catch a glimpse), especially when sunlight shines through it. This type of glazing is typically used to elevate and enhance the appearance of buildings.
The manufacture of stained glass is a recognised art form, and many of the centuries-old craft skills involved in the production of stained glass remain in use today. As an art form, stained glass making in England appears to date from the 7th century. Its popularity peaked in the 12th and 13th centuries, before largely falling out of favour in the 17th and 18th centuries. However, the 19th century witnessed a revival in stain glass making, and is even associated with the Arts and Crafts Movement.
There are some rather interesting facts floating around about stained glass windows – their history, and how they’re made. Here’s a handful:
- Coloured glass is achieved by adding metallic oxide powders to molten glass. Cobalt makes blue, copper oxide makes green, gold was traditionally used to make red, while manganese turns the glass a pleasing shade of purple.
- In centuries past, stained glass was installed in Catholic churches as a way of telling stories from the Bible through images instead of text. This was purely for the benefit of churchgoers, many of who would have been illiterate.
- Over half of England’s stain glass to survive from the Medieval age is housed in York Minister. The Great East Window is said to be the ‘largest Medieval stained glass window in Europe’. A five-year, £20 million restoration project to improve York Minister and its windows drew to a close last year.
- ‘Stained glass’ is so-called because of the silver stain usually applied to the side of the glass which faces the outside. When the glass is fired, the stain turns a yellowy-gold colour.
- During the English Reformation, many stained glass windows were smashed and destroyed as part of the 1547 Injunctions against images. In fact, all images in churches were ordered to be removed. Were it not for this period in history, more stained glass would likely have survived.
- Stained glass windows can be cleaned using…water and a soft sponge. Over time, dirt, soot, and carbon deposits (from the burning of candles) can dull the vibrancy of the coloured glass, so cleaning is necessary. If water has little effect, then a non-ionic detergent can be used, provided the paint has been properly fired, before removing any residue with water. However, an abrasive detergent should not be used.