Sunday, February 5, 2017

Latter-day Stained Glass: Part 1 - The Introduction and Early Use of Stained Glass

Note: This is a part of a series on the history of the use of stained glass in LDS meetinghouses. To see a full list of the posts in this series, click here.

The use of stained glass in the LDS Church has largely followed historical patterns, albeit with some modifications. A revival in Gothic architecture began in Europe in the early nineteenth century, leading to a renewed interest in stained glass. This interest spread quickly to America, and by the mid-1800s, the number of glass makers in the United States was growing quickly. Tiffany Studios, one of the largest producers of stained glass, would begin work in 1878.

In spite of the growing trend, no examples of stained glass could be found in the LDS Church until the latter end of the 1800s. Even after settling in Utah by mid-century, the Church did not have the means for such luxuries; furthermore, the relative isolation of the Great Basin made it extremely difficult to procure any type of glass. (Tours in St. George, Utah often stress the extreme difficulty the stains had in obtaining and transporting the clear glass panes that were used in the St. George Tabernacle and Temple, both built in the 1870s.)

St. George Tabernacle

Perhaps one of the earliest examples of LDS stained glass could be the original windows in the Millcreek Ward chapel; some sources indicate that the smaller windows on the sides (not the main ones depicting Christ as the Good Shepherd) were brought by wagon in 1867. However, the lack of documentation makes it difficult to verify and accurately date many windows.

Original windows in Millcreek Ward (Image Source: Church History Library)

Even with the arrival in the railroad in 1869, stained glass was not seen in earnest until the 1890s. The Salt Lake Temple had some beautiful panes installed. As for chapels, some of the earliest Mormon windows were placed in the Salt Lake Fourth Ward (in 1888; no longer standing) and the Assembly Hall (in 1893). 

Salt Lake Fourth Ward (Image Source: Church History Library)

Assembly Hall Windows

Other windows likely date from this period, but a lack of information leaves a lot of uncertainty. In some buildings, the stained glass windows would be installed afterward, and no exact source indicates when they were installed. In some cases, this leaves questions about whether the glass was installed when the building was first constructed, or whether it was installed at a later date. For example, the Coalville Tabernacle was built in 1883, and its windows were likely made soon afterward—however, the lack of documentation makes it difficult to know exactly when some windows were installed.

Another early example could be the Payson Second Ward’s windows; some sources indicate that the windows have stood along with the chapel since it was first built in 1896. However, it is also possible that the stained glass was installed in the early 1900s.

Another example of early stained glass is found in the Paris Tabernacle. Tour guides suggest that James Collings Sr., who helped construct the tabernacle with its distinctive ceiling, paid for the stained glass window himself. Wood was used to divide the colored glass instead of lead.

All told, there were probably only a handful of installations of stained glass in LDS meetinghouses in the 1800s. These windows tended to be very plain, reflecting the poverty of the saints and the difficulty in procuring detailed windows. However, the use of stained glass would pick up in the next decade; between 1900 and 1910 alone, there are at least 16 concrete examples of stained glass windows.

The Salt Lake Temple did receive stained glass windows when it was constructed in the 1890s. By the early 1900s, one of its windows would be copied and placed in a few other chapels. Our next post will study those windows and the different depictions of one of the most well-known events of the LDS Church: Joseph Smith’s First Vision.

Next Week: Part 2 - From Temples to Chapels: The First Vision in Stained Glass

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