Sunday, March 5, 2017

Latter-day Stained Glass: Part 5 – Common Christian Traits of Mormon 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.

No study of the stained glass of Mormonism would be complete without comparing the windows or Mormonism with that of other Christian denominations. Mormonism is quite unique in this regard--the use of stained glass differed quite a bit between Mormonism and other religions. This applied not only to the extent that stained glass was used--as noted before, Mormonism never used stained glass as much as other Christian religions in the United States--but also to how the windows themselves differed in their style and depictions.

Even with the major differences (which we'll get to next week) between the windows of Mormonism and that of other denominations, there are a surprising amount of similarities--windows and depictions that would fit into any Christian Church. This is actually surprising; Mormons are usually very particular about our doctrinal and cultural differences. (When the original stained glass depiction of the First Vision was ordered, the letter emphasized that the Father and the Son were "both seen without wings." David O. McKay later rejected a donated window because it depicted winged angels.)

Part of the reason for the similarities is because of the way stained glass was ordered--it was quite common to order it from the east. These windows were not custom-made nor Mormon-centric. For example, the Tenth Ward window was a mail-order delivery that was assembled in Utah. This may explain why Christ is haloed, a depiction that is quite uncommon in Mormon art.

Salt Lake Tenth Ward Window

Similarly, the window at the Murray First Ward depicts a Christ that differs quite a bit from the typical Mormon depiction--not only does Christ have a halo, but his facial features are softened, less masculine, and much more typical of a Protestant or Catholic depiction of the Savior.

Murray First Ward Window

This option of ordering windows from other companies means that many Mormon windows are not just similar to Christian windows--they are almost exactly identical. This is because many stained glass windows are based on famous paintings. For example, this is the window in the Millcreek Ward, depicting Christ as the Good Shepherd:

Millcreek Ward Window

This window is clearly based on The Good Shepherd, painted by Bernhard Plockhorst:

The Good Shepherd (Image Source)

There are many Churches that have windows that are almost exactly identical, because they were based on the same painting. For example, the window that now stands in the lobby of the Provo City Center Temple was installed in a church in New York in the early twentieth century. Even though it was made and installed at a different time and location, it is almost identical to the window in the Millcreek Ward.

Provo City Center Temple, Lobby

This is the case for many other windows. Stained glass in the Bonneville (Salt Lake City, UT), Fort Lowell (Tucson, AZ) and Farmington (New Mexico) Wards depict Christ in Gethsemane:

Farmington (New Mexico) Ward Window

These are all based on the painting by Heinrich Hoffman, titled Christ in Gethsemane:

Christ in Gethsemane (Image Source)

Still, some modifications were made. the window at the front of the Hollywood Stake Tabernacle (also known as the Wilshire Ward) in Los Angeles, California depicts Christ knocking at the door:

It is based on The Light of the World, by William Hunt:

The Light of the World (Image Source)

Modifications were clearly made for the LDS window; the halo and the crown of thorns were removed. This is not the case in other Christian churches that have windows based on the painting (for example, the window in a congregation in Toronto retains these features).

Still, the most common figure in LDS stained glass is Christ, often knocking at the door. These windows would fit in almost any other Christian congregation. However, outside of Christ, along with the Father and Joseph Smith (from First Vision depictions), it is very hard to find windows showing other characters, such as scenes from scripture. Mormons are reluctant to display any stained glass, let alone a window that does not focus solely on Christ.

Still, our shared roots mean that some Mormon buildings have purchased or used windows from other Christian congregations. The Quincy, Illinois Ward inherited and kept a window from a Christian congregation showing Christ as the Good Shepherd. A window in the Vernal Temple originally came from a Christian church in California. Other examples also exist

Quincy, Illinois Ward Window (Image Source: Church History Library)

Even when moving away from Christ, there are other common symbols and icons that are shared between Mormonism and mainstream Christianity. The most common is the open book, reminiscent of scriptures, study, and knowledge. It can be found in many Mormon congregations. Other common icons are the Greek letters Alpha and Omega, scrolls, lamps, wheat, doves, and others.

Open Book; Coalville Tabernacle Window

Open Book with Alpha and Omega; Pleasant Grove Second Ward Window

Lamp; Yale Ward Window

Open Book, Salt Lake Twenty-first Ward Window

Scripture, Weston (Idaho) Ward Window

In the Liberty Ward in Salt Lake City, there are many Christian icons, including the use of crosses along the bottom of the window:

Alpha and Omega, Scroll, Book, and Crosses; Liberty Ward Window

The cross is a particularly controversial symbol in Mormonism; while there is no theological reason banning its use, it is often discouraged. This stemmed first from Mormonism's desire to differentiate itself from mainstream Christianity, and has stuck around into our current architecture. But the use of the cross is not prohibited, and a couple of examples exist. The Whittier Ward, in Salt Lake City, certainly has cross emblems, although whether these were intended to be used as a Christian symbol is debatable.

Whittier Ward Window

Cross Detail, Whittier Ward

That is not to say that tensions with the use of the cross existed. The main window in the Liberty Ward used to have crosses in the side windows flanking the main window (which has a small panel of the First Vision). Sometime around the mid-twentieth century, the Bishop of the ward asked a member to remove the crosses (which he termed "Catholic emblems") and replace them with Mormon ones. (The Bishop claimed that this was at the request of Elder Henry D. Moyle, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.) The crosses were removed; beehives were put in their place.

Liberty Ward Window

The removal of the crosses was clearly not necessary, seeing as the crosses in the other windows were allowed to remain. Mormonism's uncomfortable relationship with crosses had again manifested itself in the windows of the Liberty Ward Chapel.

Next Week: Part 6 – Unique Traits of Mormon Stained Glass

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