Historical styles of stained glass:
Early beginnings

by Master Eric of Telemark

Charlemagne Window, Chartres Cathedral
Evidence of the birth of stained glass are but scattered pieces found at historical excavations and vague church records of construction plans. In the sixth century, St. Gregory had the windows of the cathedral of St Martin of Tours in France glazed with colored glass. An account dated to the seventh century describes a Benedictine Bishop, the Abbot of Monkwearmouth, in what is now Sunderland, employed Gallic glaziers in his monastery church. These early windows were not necessarily filled entirely with colored glass. Alabaster or marble were also used. Sometimes pieces of wood were pierced with holes, which were filled with colored glass and placed in the windows. Although no remains of the St Gregory windows remain, pieces found in Monkwearmouth show no traces of painting or staining of the glass at that time.

The theory still persists that stained glass must have been a well-practiced art before the golden age of glass erupted in the 12th century. Iron filings, ground to a paste with a flux and powdered glass, could be painted onto the glass for such details as facial expressions and drapery folds and then fired at a temperature just short of the melting point of glass to adhere the coloring to the glass. Then a discovery in Lorsch Abbey in Germany, what is now thought to be the earliest existing example of pictorial stained glass, was pieced together from fragments of stained glass thought to be the head of Christ and dated to the 9th or 10th centuries.

The Gesta accounts of the bishops of Auxerre traces and the history of glazed windows in the cathedral to the Carolingian periods. In this account, Bishop Heribalde (824-857) recorded the walls and ceiling of the church of St. Stephen, "decorating them with excellent windows and pictures" (Raguin). The cathedral's windows may have been a form of mosaic with wooden, stone or stucco supports which housed small pieces of glass. Such a window was found in Classes and dated to the 8th century.

    Lee, Lawrence: Stained Glass. Mitchell Beazley, London, 1976.

    Raguin, Virginia Chietto: Stained Glass in the Thirteenth Century Burgundy. Princeton University Press 1982.

    Scobey, Joan M.: Stained Glass Traditions and Techniques. The Daily Press, New York, 1979.

    Stoddard, Whitney S.: Art and Architecture of Medieval France. Harper and Row, NY, 1972.

Note: reprinted from Early Period, Issue IX, Samhain A.S. XXIII

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