Thoughts on the Liturgical Arts

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     You will see from viewing the galleries of this site and on our job list which is available upon request, that JPS has a large number of religious commissions contained in our resume. Churches place stained glass windows for a variety of reasons. Because of the way the glass interacts with the light entering the space, no other architectural element has the ability to influence the visual environment of a worship space as powerfully as stained glass. The stained glass windows help create a holy space.

     Early in the history of church building, during the Gothic period, stained glass windows reached their zenith. Rose windows with delicate stone traceries and towering aisle windows were characteristic of this style of architecture. It was quickly realized that glass could be placed into the openings to let in light but keep out the weather. The glass was often colored, but since it was available only in small pieces, it had to be held together with lead - thus stained glass windows. It was discovered that the glass could also be painted, and if it was then heated to a high enough temperature, the paint became permanently affixed. The painting soon evolved into illustrations. These resulting beautiful windows became excellent places for telling stories. The lessons of the Old and New Testaments were taught here since most of the worshipers could not read (nor were they encouraged to, but this is a whole different story).

     Very few people who have visited any of the cathedrals of Germany, France or Italy or even the small parish churches of England and Ireland, can argue the Holiness of these spaces. This feeling is primarily due to the architecture and the art placed within. These churches took years, decades to build, some are still incomplete. Tremendously large sums of money were spent for their construction. This was in a large part due to the devotion of those people and the love that they placed on their church and their liturgy.

     When JPS receives a commission, we hope that the same commitment still exists within the committees with which we are working. Surely the architectural styles are different, but hopefully the need, love and commitment that the congregation places on their worship space has not changed.

     Surely, stained glass windows can still tell a story, but today the need for them to be so literal does not exist. A story which is told in well-designed, abstracted form can be of great value. Viewers then become active participants in the story because they have to put effort into understanding the meaning. Today we are educated - we read, watch television, movies, surf the internet - all of which are wonderful ways to gain tons of information. All of us are bombarded with information (what an advance over the last thousand years ! or ? ). However, it's impossible to filter all this information; it comes pouring in to us relentlessly from every direction, almost 24 hours a day. More than ever, we need a place where we can retreat, even if only for an hour a week. The church is one of those places of sanctuary, a place where one can enter to be alone with God to be with the community of God's people.

     At JPS, our underlying design philosophy for liturgical commissions focuses on two parameters - we have to be true to the liturgy and at the same time sensitive to the architecture. There is no set formula to attain these goals. Every church is different. Its architectural style, the geographic location of the church, its orientation on the site and with the surrounding community are just some of the physical considerations in designing its windows. We also have to consider the worshipers - the demographics of the congregation; are they old, young, or mixed?. What is their ethnicity? How are they accustomed to praying?

     For Catholic churches we are especially sensitive to the guidelines of Vatican II relating to the environment and art of a worship space. This has implications for stained glass windows but even more so for the designing and placing of baptismal fonts, liturgical furnishings, appointments, statuary, Stations of the Cross and other items of liturgical art. In Pope John Paul's recent letter, he emphasizes the church's need for good art and artists - how integral it is in contributing to the mystery and awe of the liturgy. Plastic flowers and electric candles just don't do it.

     JPS is committed to helping each and every congregation create a space that when people, upon entering it, feel that they have entered a special and Holy Place. It is the reason we are here.

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