Stained Glass: The Past Meets the Present


When you think of windows, what comes to mind? Maybe the view you see out of your bedroom every morning or perhaps the view from your office. But what about the stained glass windows in your local church? Even though you can’t see out of them, they are very much a part of the window family. Unlike their transparent cousins, stained glass windows are made not to show beauty outside, but to bring beauty inside.

When I was a kid, my favorite part of going to church on Sundays was to look at all the stained glass windows. I was too young to comprehend the liturgy happening in front of me, but what I did understand was there were beautiful illustrations all around me. These windows told a story, and for a kid forced to sit still for an hour, it was a welcomed distraction.

The History of Stained Glass

Stained glass has been around much longer than people think. While its origins are uncertain, it is believed that the ancient Egyptians were more than likely the inventors of this colored creation. Historians found the oldest colored glass to be the glass beads created by the Egyptians around 2750 and 2625 B.C. The beads they found were full of vibrant colors from the whole spectrum of the rainbow — definitely not easy for the Egyptians to make.

stained-glass-window

Since ancient Egypt, stained glass has been used all around the world in Europe, Asia, Africa and even in the Middle East.

The use of stained glass for windows, however, is a slightly more recent development. Historians date one of the oldest stained glass windows to St. Paul’s Monastery in Jarrow, England. The monastery was founded in 686 AD, so it is assumed the windows date back that far as well.

While stained glass windows had been around long before the Gothic era, this is when the windows really started to shine, in both the figurative and literal sense. Up until then, stained glass windows had been relatively simple. The Gothic period is what gave stained glass its intricate flair. The windows had to match the ornateness of gothic architecture, and that is exactly what they did. The Renaissance period also enhanced stained glass windows. These two periods set the precedent for the beautiful designs we see in churches and cathedrals today.

How it’s Made

Making stained glass is an intricate process, although we probably have it a little easier than the ancient Egyptians did. The process actually hasn’t changed much since medieval times. To color the glass, manufacturers add metallic oxide to the raw materials before it is heated. The same metallic oxide, under different conditions, can produce different colors. For example, copper oxide can make red, blue or green. Cobalt can make various shades of blue, and chromium and iron oxide produces greens. Gold and yellow can be made from uranium, cadmium sulfide or titanium. The different colored glasses are then cut and assembled according to the designer, and glazed together around pieces of lead. The lead is what holds the glass pieces together. Once this is done, the stained glass is ready to be finalized and put into frame.

Uses in Modern Day

Stained glass windows are not only reserved for the religious, these days they can be used anywhere you like. There are many stained glass companies across America that will help you create a window perfect for your home. Whether you want to have them design a window unique to you, or choose from one of their own designs, stained glass can be a lovely addition to any space.

Along with being aesthetically pleasing, stained glass windows also add some extra privacy. Stained glass lets light in, not people. This means you won’t need to cover it with a curtain to keep the neighbors from peeking in.

Maybe you don’t want a stained glass window displayed on your house. That’s okay, anywhere you would put a piece of glass can be filled with stain glass. The possibilities are endless. You could put stained glass inserts in cabinets, skylights, bay windows, and even doors. The national average for the cost and installation of a new stained glass window is around $592. If you’re thinking about doing something with stained glass, talk to one of the many professionals available. They will be able to work with you to make your ideas possible.

Repairs, Upkeep, and Costs

What if you already have a stained glass window? That’s great, but what do the upkeep and repairs entail? This is where your friendly neighborhood stained glass professional comes in handy. These companies not only specialize in creating, but also in repairing.

Stained glass windows can last a life time, or longer, if cared for properly. Remember, the Egyptians made their stained glass almost five thousand years ago, and historians can still observe them today. While we may not be as fortunate as the Egyptians to have our personal belongings end up in the Smithsonian Institute, stained glass windows can still be kept for many years if we treat them right.

If the stained glass is broken, repairers will have to find a matching colored glass to replace it with. It is easier done on the edge of the panel than in the middle, but it can be done. The frame can also be replaced if it is damaged. The national average for stained glass repair is $281, which is definitely worth the price for having something this special in your home. Just remember to contact a professional. Repairing stained glass is not the time to get handy with a glue gun.

Bottom Line

Art comes in many shapes and sizes, even in the shape of windows. Stained glass can be a lovely addition to any building that needs some extra flare. Whether you want to incorporate it inside or outside, it adds a personal touch that can be customized specifically to you. Just remember to speak with a professional when you decide what you want. A stained glass window is still a window, and needs to be able to stand up to building standards. Just because you’re letting colorful light in doesn’t mean drafts, moisture and bugs need to come in with it. Something this special deserves to be treated as such. When done correctly with professional help, a stained glass window can connect your modern home with the beauty and tradition of the past.

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