One of the many new stained glass windows at Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church.
By Jean Curran
On Saturday, Sept. 10 Our Lady of the Mountains Catholic Church will host an open house from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. to celebrate the completion of the church’s new stained glass windows. The contract with Beyer Studio of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the design and installation of 18 windows and two doors in the church was signed in April, 2014. The last windows were installed August 1-3, 2016, and all were generous gifts from the church’s own
parishioners. Father Charles Byrd, priest and shepherd of Our Lady of the Mountains, addressed the windows project in his homily on July 24, 2016 and pointed out that the 10 windows surrounding the transept of the church represent 2,000 years of history leading up to the birth of Christ.
The project was completed in four phases. The Magnificat windows were installed on either side of the altar in late fall, 2014 in time for the season of Advent. These prime windows depict the Archangel Gabriel announcing to Mary that she is to bear a Son who will be the Son of God on one side of the altar and the Assumption/Coronation of the Virgin on the opposite side. Mary first appears wearing a quilted cloak designed to bring to mind local Appalachian culture. Mary and the angel appear against a background of mountain laurel, a familiar Souther foliage, with cardinals, common Southern birds, darting about the scene. The use of familiar flora and fauna in many of the backgrounds has proven to be an outstanding feature of the art of Our Lady of the Mountains Church.
The garden windows in the narthex made up phase two of the project and were fully installed by July 19, 2015. The easternmost window portrays Mary Magdalene discovering the risen Christ against a background of dogwood branches and white lilies in a garden setting. Opposite the Easter Window is a scene of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane learning that he will suffer the Crucifixion, commonly called “The Passion of Christ.”
The four tall windows on either side of the nave were installed earlier this year and became phase three of the project. They portray early martyrs of the Church and call to mind the persecution of the early Christians. Saint Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of John the Apostle, was born circa 35 AD ad was put to death by wild beasts in the Colosseum in Rome. Saints Perpetua and Felicity were both expectant mothers who were first imprisoned and then put to death by sword in Carthage in 203 AD. Saint Lawrence, born in 225 AD and later ordained a deacon by Pope Sixtus II, was condemned to death by Emperor Valerian and was burned alive in 258 AD. Saint Agnes was born in Rome in 291 AD and was beheaded in 304 at the age of 13, the punishments for defending her purity.
Not so long ago the persecution of Christians seemed a subject remembered only from early history, and to some extent these events did not seem real to the modern mind. But the renewed persecution of Christians in the Middle East and elsewhere around the globe has made this horrendous practice a prominent media story in the present day and all too real. This reality gives the stained glass windows devoted to the subject a timeliness that cannot be overlooked.
The 10 smaller windows which surround the transept of the church represent some of the progenitors of Jesus, or those folk of the Old Testament that point to Mary or to Jesus. On the left side of the church facing the altar are the Marian archtypes or types of Old Testament women that point to Mary, and on the right are the ancestors of Joseph. Deborah, in the first window, lived some 1,000 years before Christ, and Wikipedia calls her “a judge, a counsellor and a warrior.” Hannah, in the next window, bore Samuel after a fervent prayer and a promise to return her son to God. Judith, in the third window, was a courageous widow who was also a warrior. When King Nebuchadnezzar threatened the people of Israel, Judith accompanied only by a loyal maidservant, went into the tent of the enemy General Holofernes and, finding him in a drunken stupor, was able to assassinate him, thereby saving the Israelites.
Esther was a Jewish queen of Persia, today known as Iran, wife of King Ahasuerus and known for her beauty and powers of persuasion. When Esther’s intercession was sought by Mordecai for himself and the Jewish people, Mordecai summation of Esther’s ascension to the throne would live in the annals of leadership to the present day: “Who knows but that it was for a time like this that you obtained the royal dignity?” Saint Anne (whose name is not mentioned in the Old Testament, but is known in Catholic tradition) pictured in the last of the matriarchal windows was the mother of the Virgin Mary and the grandmother of Jesus Christ.
The first window in the patriarchal line presents one of the best known stories of the Bible, that of Abraham, Sarah and their son Isaac. An aging couple were blessed with a son in their later years, and Abraham would become an important patriarchal figure in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Jacob and Joseph in the second window were the son and grandson of Isaac.
The union of Ruth and Boaz is another familiar Bible story. Ruth was the Moabite daughter-in-law of Naomi of the tribe of Israel, who chose to leave her kinsmen and return with her mother-in-law to Naomi’s native land, promising “your people shall be my people and your God my God.” Ruth kept her promise and married Boaz of the tribe of Israel and became the great-grandmother of David the King.
The stories surrounding the life of King David are many and have been recounted in art, literature and son for all of history since. The window devoted to King David with his harp is certain to be a favorite of all who observe these compelling windows. Appropriately, this window is near the parish chancel and the organ console. King Josiah, of King David’s line, is not as well-known but is generally given credit for renovating the Temple of Solomon and restoring “the book of the law,” which is thought to have contained the Book of Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Bible.
The windows of the side doors portray stylized dogwood trees with leaves of burnished gold and delicately wrought birds common to the local natural scene.
Stained glass has existed as an art form since the seventh century AD and in the beginning was used almost exclusively in churches and other significant public buildings. Today, stained glass may also be found in businesses and upscale private homes as well. Stained glass art reached its peak as an art form during the Middle Ages, one of the outstanding examples being the Cathedral at Chartres in France. Early stained glass, though quite beautiful and richly colored, tended to be more stylized and less painterly than what you will see at Our Lady of the Mountains. Contemporary stained glass artists are able to design into their works more realism through shading and perspective and more contrast between background and central figures. It is this three-dimensional effect that gives the windows of Our Lady of the Mountains such powerful life-like qualities. The figures seem ready to step out of their space to more closely connect with visitors and observers. The interior architecture of the church is decidedly rustic and comfortably fits into the county’s rural ambience, but what a dramatic contrast the jewel-like colors of the windows present against the background of dark wood and stacked stone.
These windows that now grace the narthex, nave and sanctuary of Our Lady of the Mountains Church represent many things. They are life with all of its triumphs and hardships; they are a tour through early history in technicolor. They are a walk along Southern nature trails with sightings of cardinals, jays, red-headed woodpeckers and whitetail deer beside a flowing stream. The heroic stories portrayed by familiar Biblical figures can be heart-rending. It is difficult for any woman to stand in front of the picture of Saint Perpetua holding a child and Saint Felicity obviously pregnant knowing that their pregnancies were largely spent in prison condemned to death and not be moved. The life-like subjects of the windows, their heroic stories as well as the familiar flora and fauna of the backgrounds connect with parishioners and visitors alike and turn these works of art into dramatic and powerful representations of history and faith.
The Our Lady of the Mountains family wish to share these precious gifts with the community and surrounding environs, with all who appreciate art and its place in faith and worship. To learn more about the church, its missions and its vision, please visit Our Lady of the Mountains on Facebook or the church website at “Our Lady of the Mountains, Jasper, GA.” and please plan to stop by the church between 10 and 12 on Saturday, September 10 for the Community Open House. Docents will be on hand to guide and answer questions. All are welcome.