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Gospel in Glass

From Matthew to John: Iconography of the Charles Connick Stained Glass Windows in the Chapel of Grace

Michael Lampen, Archivist

Great cathedrals can be visual Bibles for those willing to take the time to 'read' the sculpture, murals, and especially the stained glass, that adorns their portals and walls. Technology now gives virtual pilgrims instant access to these great visual Bibles. Grace Cathedral is an example of this old tradition made new. 

The Chapel of GraceThe chapel baptistry and Chapel of Grace windows are by Connick Studios of Boston, Massachusetts. Charles J. Connick (1875-1945) is considered the greatest second-generation American designer of traditional stained glass. The Chapel of Grace windows were created by Connick at the height of his career, and are recognized as among his finest work. Connick personally oversaw the installation of the chapel windows, shortly before Easter, 1930. Connick Studios' windows can be found in hundreds of churches throughout the United States. Two thirds of Grace Cathedral's windows are Connick creations, including Charles Connick's last window, and other windows as late as 1966. Connick Studios operated from 1912 to 1986. Its heritage lives on in its windows, in Connick's famous book "Adventures in Light and Color" (Random House, 1937), in the Connick Studio archive at the Boston Public Library and in the Charles J. Connick Stained Glass Foundation.

Connick's Chapel of Grace window designs, like the chapel architecture and chapel apse mural, were inspired by the famed and still-surviving Sainte-Chapelle (French for "Holy Chapel") a private chapel attached to the royal palace in Paris. Consecrated in 1248 by Saint Louis, King Louis IX of France, the chapel housed relics of the Passion of Christ. The Chapel of Grace Passion windows theme was inspired by the Passion Window, the central apse window of the Sainte-Chapelle. The Sainte-Chapelle is approximately half again as large (150%) as the Chapel of Grace. The Chapelle's Book of Joshua and Passion Relics window designs were the inspiration for the Chapel of Grace window medallion framework designs. The designs combined vesicas/quatrefoils alternating with small quatrefoil-shaped medallions, on lattice backgrounds inspired by those of the Saint John the Baptist window, Book of Isaiah window and other windows of the Sainte-Chapelle. The Blessed Virgin Mary window medallion frameworks, combined quatrefoils/squares, were based on the small medallions in the Book of Kings window, rotated forty-five degrees. As in the Chapelle windows, the Chapel of Grace windows have alternating large and small medallions to give variety to the designs. Connick's designs were endorsed by acclaimed American Gothic Revival architect Ralph Adams Cram.

Charles ConnickConnick's personal creativity shines through in the crafting of these windows. He used up to thirteen lead thicknesses and several glass thicknesses, multiple glass color shades, glass plating to deepen color, even shading and molding of some pieces to conform to depicted forms. Surface treatment included trace and matte paint, enamel and some acid etching. Impressionist and art-deco motifs appear in some underlying designs. The windows were restored by Reflection Studios of Emeryville, California (2006-2010). with the Crucifixion window being their first, earlier, project (2000). The complex labor-intensive restoration process involved removal, rubbing, soaking, disassembling, gluing, glass-cutting, painting, releading, regrouting and polishing, plating, copper ties and reinstallation of panels.

The Chapel of Grace and baptistry window series contains over 32,000 pieces of glass, covering nearly 833 square feet. The baptistry window (omitting limestone frame) measures 3 feet wide by 12 3/4 feet tall. Each of the paired Gospel window lancets, and each Passion window (omitting limestone frames) measures 3 feet wide by 22 feet tall. (In comparison, a Sainte-Chapelle lancet (four per window- minus frames and top trefoils) is 3 feet 5 inches wide by 40 feet 5 inches tall.) The Gospel windows top quatrefoils (omitting limestone frames) are 4 1/2 feet wide and tall. The top oculi of the Passion windows (omitting limestone frames) measure 1 foot diameter. The baptistry window's seated Madonna and Child are nearly life-size; 22 inches wide by 44 inches tall. The baptistry window medallions (including lead frames) are 20 inches wide by 21 inches tall. The large medallions in the Gospel and Passion windows (including lead frames) are 27 inches wide by 45 inches tall and the small medallions (including lead frames) are 20 inches wide and tall.

The color scheme of the Chapel of Grace windows echoes that of the Sainte-Chapelle windows. Connick was very sensitive to the ever-changing moods of "Brother Sun" and local climatic conditions, and crafted his windows accordingly. He studied the bright California sunshine and the muted light of San Francisco's coastal fogs. The rich cool Connick blue of the south-facing Blessed Virgin Mary window and Gospel window medallions is balanced by the ruby red background and white borders. Aqua blue lattices green floral decoration in the borders add further interest, along with touches of orange, gold pink-brown and flesh tones in the medallions. The Passion windows have red medallions and orange/gold lattices on a blue background. The borders feature gold/white pomegranates and green leaves linked by an orange stem, on a red background. The warmer colors of these west-facing windows, befitting the Passion, take full advantage of the warmer colors of afternoon and sunset light. Connick also used colors symbolically, with blues symbolizing wisdom and heaven, red passion and the heart, gold for spiritual riches, white for purity and green for spiritual growth. Most of the Chapel of Grace glass was made in Sunderland and St. Helens, in England, with some glass coming from Germany, France and Belgium.

The window themes were chosen by Charles Connick in consultation with the cathedral architect Lewis Hobart, and the Rev. Dr. Walter H. Cambridge, building committee chairman, with final approval by the donor Mrs. William H. Crocker, and Dean J. Wilmer Gresham. Dr. Cambridge chose the baptistry window theme. Dean Gresham's influence can be seen in the Beatitude series (St. Matthew window) probably based on his book "The Beatitudes of Jesus" (Melvin & Murgotten, 1908), and in the healing theme of the St. Mark window. A duplicate of the first small medallion of the St. Mark window, the healing of the paralytic, now in the cathedral sacristy window, originally occupied the north choir aisle window to honor Dean Gresham's healing mission. His "Wings of Healing" devotional work (Mason & Co., 1927) is still in print today (Paraclete Press).

The Chapel of Grace and baptistry flank California Street, and stand on the site of the entrance stairway and front lawn of the William H. Crocker mansion, destroyed in the fire following the 1906 earthquake. The chapel and baptistry were the first parts of the present Grace Cathedral to be built and used (1928-1930). The chapel, baptistry and permanent chapel furnishings were the gift of Mr. and Mrs. William H. Crocker, in memory of their parents. Mrs. Crocker (Ethel Sperry Crocker - 1863-1934) gave the baptistry and the chapel and baptistry windows. An ardent Francophile, she was inducted into the Legion of Honor for her war relief work for France in World War I. She financed the rebuilding of the village of Vitrimont, in Lorraine, destroyed in the conflict. The completed chapel was consecrated by Bishop Edward L. Parsons on December 26, 1930. Repair of the Chapel of Grace windows took place in 1957, 1978 and 1989, the latter work funded by Mrs. Gertrude K. Bowman in memory of her parents.

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