Sunday, January 29, 2017

Latter-day Stained Glass: Introduction - A History of LDS Stained Glass

Note: This is the introduction to a series on the history of the use of stained glass in the LDS Church.

Every Sunday, I will post a new part of the series. (Tuesdays and Thursdays will continue to see regular posts that document historic architecture.) Here are the posts in this series (I will link to them as they are posted):

Introduction – A History of LDS Stained Glass


“Mormon architecture, unlike the architecture of longer established Catholic and Protestant churches, has never been characterized by the extensive use of art glass windows” (Allen Roberts, “Art Glass Windows in Mormon Architecture,” Sunstone, Winter 1975, 10).

Cedar City Second Ward (built 1927; demolished 2013); Image Source

When the LDS Church’s use of stained glass in chapels is discussed, the conversation almost always revolves around the fact that the Church does not use stained glass in its chapels. The reasons for this are equally explained and lamented: standardized and utilitarian meetinghouses, a focus on the pulpit in modern-day Mormonism, or an architectural hierarchy that gives preference to temples.

Salt Lake Second Ward (built 1908)

Lost in most discussions is an understanding that stained glass used to be much more common in LDS meetinghouses than it is now; hundreds of these windows still exist. Many members express surprise when they learn of or encounter these windows; they are so uncommon that it has become foreign to our culture. Some members have even justified the lack of these windows with the cultural teaching that stained glass is distracting, particularly when it contains images.

Provo Fouth Ward (built 1918; now sold)

Still, the fact remains that whatever current Church practices dictate, these windows were used in meetinghouses much more in the past. Certainly, the Church's relatively young age (in comparison to other major religions, such as the Catholic Church), combined with its members' limited resources in an age when stained glass reached its peak culturally around the turn of the century, ensures that the LDS Church will never have the same architectural reputation of most other major religions, at least in terms of stained glass.

Springville Second Ward, built 1902

In spite of this, the fact remains that the Church had and has a reputation and identity when it comes to stained glass. When was stained glass first used in LDS meetinghouses? How did the trends in the use of these windows, the symbols and scenes depicted, and the preservation (or lack thereof) in later years mirror, or differ from, that of other American religions? Is the absence of stained glass windows a result of cultural influences, correlation committees, or both?

Salt Lake Twenty-first Ward (Built 1904)

After the positive feedback I received from the series on LDS Tabernacles, I decided to put together a series on LDS stained glass and its history. It is taken from my own research, and is a watered-down, condensed version of my own article and accompanying stained glass registry that I am writing as part of my research. Each will be accompanied by images of the stained glass from those periods, as I have had the opportunity to take hundreds of photos in my travels. This series will take us through the use of stained glass in LDS chapels from the late 1800s to the present, giving us an overview of the trends regarding their use and providing us with valuable insight into the workings of Church architecture in the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries.

Capitol Hill Ward (built 1928)

The LDS Church has hundreds of beautiful windows that can be found in chapels around the world, and it does have a cultural identity that can be found in these leaded windows. This series will allow us to discover these windows, and decide for ourselves what that identity is, together.

Next Week: Part 1 - The Introduction and Early Use of Stained Glass

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