Glass making is more than 5000 years old and can be traced back to ancient Mesopotamia. In a crude form, glass has been used as a decoration through history. It was brought to some perfection in the first century of the Christian era under the Romans. Stained glass for windows in churches really begins to appear in the seventh century.
Cobalt blue and copper red
Glass is molten silica found in sand. In a simple way, stained glass was produced by adding oxides and metallic salts. These additions to glass gave various colours. Cobalt gave blue, copper produced various shades of green and red glass. Additions of gold gave a brilliant cranberry colour and silver produced the attractive yellows and gold of decorative windows.
In England, the oldest pieces of colour glass window art are available in St. Paul’s Monastery at Jarrow which was founded in 686 AD. The European example of antique stained windows is St. Augsburg Cathedral. They consist of five panels, the originals of which, are now safe in a museum. Ely Cathedral today has a stained glass museum and is the repository of British stained glass creations.
Golden Gothic era
The Gothic era from 1150 to 1500 AD is the golden era in the creation of classical glass panels. A little earlier, we can find the Ascension scene from Le Mans Cathedral in 1140. Around 1165, one can find windows glass creations of the Great Crucifixion in Poitiers Cathedral. Antique window remains are also to be found in Chartres Cathedral and Canterbury Cathedral. The French influence in stained glass extended far beyond its borders.
Stained glass artists from France played a significant role in the spreading of this unique Gothic art in Europe. Workers from France were used in Canterbury Cathedral in England. The French style influenced the cathedral in Lausanne, Switzerland. The earlier darker Romanesque style lasted longer in Germany and German workers helped to build churches in Italy. The Gothic style also spread to Vienna and Prague. Stained glass windows had Biblical themes. Saints and scenes from the Bible were shown on these classical antique window art. It would be a mistake to consider stained glass as a Christian art only. Remains in the Middle East, Byzantium and Moorish Spain show traces of stained glass and painted glass studded in plaster. The designs are always geometrical. Many artists like Louis Comfort Tiffany, Ervin Bossanyi and John Lafarge are famous modern names who immortalised stained glass windows in churches. There are many others, who have created modern marvels like St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague. The future of stained glass window is again bright and shall see a resurgence in the coming centuries.