In the sanctuaries of numerous local churches, the Easter story comes alive each Sunday in stained glass.
Jesus Christ’s fervent prayers to be spared a ghastly death by crucifixion, his last meal with his 12 disciples and his resurrected appearance to his female followers are depicted in the delicately colored windows visible in houses of worship throughout the area.
For centuries, stained-glass windows have been used in cathedrals, churches and synagogues to tell stories from the Bible. The earliest fragment of stained glass dates to around 800 A.D., said Richard Gross, media director for the Stained Glass Association of America.
The use of stained glass in this country dates to Colonial America but it was a church building boom on the East Coast in the late 1800s that led to such a demand that many of the windows were made in Europe, especially Germany, Gross said.
Parishioners at First United Presbyterian Church in Houston believe that their large stained glass windows were ordered out of a catalog provided by a New York City company.
One window, which includes a cross in the Crown of Glory, was dedicated to the memory of David Clark Houston, the founder of what was then known as Houstonville.
The windows were installed in the church when it was constructed in 1893. A century later they were removed and refurbished over a three-year period, explained the Rev. Clarejean Haury, church pastor.
The number of stained glass windows – 88 – at First Presbyterian Church in California show the dedication and determination of the congregation when the building was constructed in 1900.
Easter themes include Jesus appearing to a woman after leaving his tomb, and a woman, possibly the same one, clutching the bottom of the cross in obvious distress at what is taking place above her.
One Tiffany rose window, on a high wall in the sanctuary, was recently restored at a cost of $35,000 thanks to a gift from a member of the congregation.
The Last Supper is a common theme in church windows and is the focal point above the altar at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Glyde, built in 1907.
Unlike Michelangelo’s horizontal painting of The Last Supper, this scene is more compact, with Judas in the forefront, turning away from Jesus.
It shows, said the Rev. Peter Asplin, pastor of the church, the exact moment Christ tells his disciples that he knows one of them will betray him.
A different Last Supper theme, this one featuring just the elements of bread and wine, is visible in Cokesburg Presbyterian Church. The small church has two small stained glass windows dedicated in honor of its 175th anniversary.
Jesus praying in the Garden of Gesthemane is another common stained glass theme. At Center Presbyterian Church in McMurray, the scene is featured in a large glass window above the pulpit and choir loft. Although information on it is not known, member Ike Roach remembers when he and his wife, Jean, were married there in 1953 the window was there.
Many of the stained glass windows in Immaculate Conception Church are dedicated to the Virgin Mary, including one recovered from the former church building at the corner of Lincoln and East Beau Street that was razed for expansion of Washington & Jefferson College.
There are smaller windows that depict crosses and the crucifixion theme in a more contemporary way, including one window with three crosses on it.
While mainline denominations still require stained glass in their buildings, Gross has seen evangelical churches moving away from them, instead favoring light boxes that can be shut off so that PowerPoint presentations can be made.
“Stained glass is a craft but it’s very labor intensive. You get a lot of churches that simply can’t afford to do it,” he said.
Today the SGAA works to promote craftsmanship of stained glass because, Gross explained, if done correctly the windows can last for centuries.