Sunday, March 12, 2017

Latter-day Stained Glass: Part 6 – Unique 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.

While the Mormon use of stained glass has some surprising similarities with that of other Christian denominations, it also has some unique depictions that can be found in little, if any, other churches. The most dramatic examples would be windows showing the First Vision; however, other differences are more subtle.

For example, the Salt Lake Second Ward's window not only has the First Vision; at the top of the window is a seagull (instead of the traditional dove). The seagull is not considered a sacred or religious bird in many other churches; for Latter-day Saints, it was a reminder of God's care for them, as seagulls had helped save a portion of the 1848 crops when the Saints had first entered the valley.

Salt Lake Second Ward Window

Other subtle differences can be found in other windows. the crown and the cross is a common symbol in Christianity, and it can be found in stained glass windows across the world.

(Image Source)

The window in the old Richfield First Ward kept the crown, without the cross. While not unheard of, the crown without the cross is a little more unusual, and likely was a result of a specific request from Latter-day Saints who were uneasy about having a cross shown in their chapel.

Richfield First Ward Window

Other windows are a mix of traditional Christian images with unique Mormon iconography. The window the Weston (Idaho) Ward shows Christ knocking at the door, a common picture for stained glass:

Weston (Idaho) Ward Window Detail

However, this Christ is also flanked by two open books, specifically identified as the Bible and the Book of Mormon. The open book is a common Christian symbol; specifically identified scriptures are less so, and the Book of Mormon is unique to the LDS Church.

Weston (Idaho) Ward Window Detail

Weston (Idaho) Ward Window Detail

Similarly, the window in the La Cañada (California) chapel has Christ flanked by two open books, identified as "Stick of Judah" and "Stick of Joseph."

(Image Courtesy of Todd Reynolds)

Other subtle tweaks to Christian icons can be found in this window; shaking hands is a common Masonic symbol, but in this window, one of the hands appears to be female, perhaps alluding to the sealing covenant, a unique doctrine to Mormonism.

(Image Courtesy of Todd Reynolds)

Another common Mormon symbol is the Sego Lily, a flower native to the western United States. During scarce years, the early pioneers of Utah would dig up the Sego Lily and eat the roots. Many accounts say that this provided much needed strength for the early settlers and helped ward off starvation. Along with the seagull, then, the Sego Lily was seen as a reminder of God's loving care for the Church in the wilderness. Its depiction ranges from detailed panes, such as those found in the Heber Second Ward (originally) and in the Forest Dale Ward:

Heber Second Ward, Original Pane

Forest Dale Ward Window

To even simple depictions, such as the ones found in the Liberty Ward, beneath a beehive.

Liberty Ward Window Detail

The most common Mormon-centric symbol to be found in stained glass is the beehive. It can be found in windows across the Mormon corridor, a reminder of the type of society encouraged by Brigham Young. In some windows, the Beehive is the main focus of the window, such as in the Lehi Fourth Ward or Salt Lake Fourteenth Ward:

Lehi Fourth Ward Window

Lehi Fourth Ward Window Detail

Salt Lake Fourteenth Ward Window

Salt Lake Fourteenth Ward Window Detail

In other chapels, the depiction is smaller and more subtle, but still present:

Forest Dale Ward Window

Yale Ward Window Detail

The beehive was kept in the new windows produced for the Provo City Center Temple, replicas of the original windows made for the Provo Tabernacle:

Provo City Center Temple (Image Source: Mormon Newsroom)

Other more obvious Mormon-centric images are to be found. Wards in Santa Monica and Redondo Beach (California) have windows of Joseph Smith receiving the plates from the Angel Moroni:

Redondo Beach Window

Some windows quote Mormon scripture or bear inscriptions of the Church's title or initials.

Salt Lake Twenty-first Ward Window

Rexburg Tabernacle Window (Image Source: RexburgFun)

The Washington D.C. Ward (now sold) has some beautiful windows relating to Church history. This set shows North America, the Hill Cumorah, and the Rocky Mountains, tracing the Church from its origins to its new headquarters.

Washington D.C. Ward Windows (Image Source)

Undoubtedly, other icons exist. The San Bernardino ward used to have 12 small windows with different icons, many of them Mormon-centric:

San Bernardino Ward Windows (Image Source)

Unfortunately, the time period where LDS stained glass was developed and made did not last long. The Church had little time--only a few decades--to make these unique windows that wouldn't be found in other churches. We may never make the same unique, detailed stained glass at the same pace and quality accomplished in the early twentieth century.

Next Week: The Decline of Stained Glass


  1. Thank you for this article. I attended that old building on 9th Street in San Bernardino for the first three years of my life. Don't have a lot of memory of it, so I have been enjoying seeing it in your blogs! I am thrilled that those 12 small windows have been bought and restored and are in the Highland building. I small piece of history bought back.

    1. I'm happy to hear that as well! That is mostly thanks to local members finding them and restoring them, as well!