Sunday, April 9, 2017

Latter-day Stained Glass: Part 10 – From Chapels to Temples: the Future of Stained Glass

Note: This is a the final 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.

In the Part 2 of this series, I mentioned how the use of stained glass in the Salt Lake Temple--particularly the window of the First Vision in the Holy of Holies--helped contribute to the use of stained glass in chapels, as large, magnificent copies of the windows were placed in chapels in Salt Lake that eventually extended to other chapels along the Mormon Corridor. Prior to that time, most stained glass depictions had been fairly simple in design, due to financial constraints; the copies of the window in the temple marked the start of a new era in stained glass, when larger, more expensive, and more ornate windows graced LDS chapels.

Brigham City 3rd Ward

However, during the peak era of stained glass in chapels (1900-1940), stained glass was not used in temples. Temples in St. George and Manti did not have stained glass; the Logan Temple had some stained glass, but this was likely not original to the building (I believe it was added sometime in the early 20th century. The Manti Temple also has some stained glass in the cafeteria, but this is not original to the building).

Stained Glass in Logan Temple Sealing Room

Similarly, the temples in Cardston, Laie, Mesa, Idaho Falls, Switzerland, Los Angeles, New Zealand, London, Oakland, Ogden, and Provo--temples built between 1919 and 1972--had no stained glass. (Again, the Laie Hawaii and Idaho Falls Temple now have stained glass, but I don't believe this was original; if it was, these temples were the exceptions.) While stained glass was flourishing in LDS chapels (at least, comparative to other eras), it wasn't present in temples. I believe this was due to the way that the Church viewed its architecture at the time. Chapels, when possible, mimicked the traditional great cathedrals--gothic arches, corner towers, delicate stained glass. Temples were an architecture all of their own; more attention was paid to room arrangement and symbolism than the need for stained glass. Additionally, temples were much larger than chapels; they would require much more stained glass to replace all of their windows. Finally, general architectural trends were going away from the use of stained glass after 1950. The Church is often criticized for phasing out the use of stained glass, but it was happening in multiple denominations. Whatever the reason, no stained glass was used in those temples.

Mesa Arizona Temple (Image Source: LDS Church Temples)

The temple in Washington D.C. (dedicated in 1974) was among the first to introduce the use of stained glass again, having tall, narrow windows of stained glass along the end. Unsurprisingly, this came at a time when the Church had centralized its meetinghouse architecture, which all but eliminated the use of stained glass in chapels. Modern stained glass was added to the Tokyo Japan and Jordan River Temples (dedicatd in 1980 and 1981, respectively), as well.

Washington D.C. Temple Window (Image Source: LDS Church Temples)

Tokyo Japan Temple Window (Image Source: LDS Church Temples)

These steps to re-introduce the use of stained glass were threatened in April 1980, when the Church announced the use of a new standard plan for its temples. This was the beginning of the Church's emphasis on bringing the temples to the people; when the temples were announced, the Temple Department's directors said that “We’ve entered a new era of temples...The emphasis now is on the locality. A different type of sacrifice will be required of people.” Instead of large, cathedral-like temples--which were much more likely to have stained glass put into them--smaller, more economical ones were built. After the announcement, one writer worried: "[The temple standard plan] could eventually establish a new relationship between temple and meetinghouse architecture. Whereas previous architectural style, size and materials had distinguished the temple from the ward meetinghouse, the new temples narrow the gap between these two main forms. The exterior of the temples in no way reveals the unique ceremonies within, and they have no visual articulation, towers, stained glass art windows or other features to distinguish their sacred functions..." Fortunately, a later revision to the plan added towers to the buildings, and some of them even got some form of stained glass windows.

Atlanta Georgia Temple (Image Source: LDS Church Temples)

Still, the majority of temples built in the 1980s did not have stained glass. The "six-spire" standard plan, which can be seen in temples from South Africa to Guatemala, did not have stained glass windows. The plan for local temples might have wiped out stained glass from future temples if it weren't for a shift around 1990. Temples in Denver, Toronto, Las Vegas, and San Diego all had stained glass installed. In fact, virtually every temple after the Las Vegas Temple (dedicated in late 1989) has had stained glass in some form. This was right around the era that Gordon B. Hinckley was taking charge in temple policy for the Church--either as president himself, or acting in behalf of Ezra Taft Benson, who was ill in his old age. Whether the change came from Hinckley, from new plans in the Temple Department, or from other sources, stained glass suddenly became a necessity in the Church. It could be that the finances of the Church had improved enough to allow stained glass in nearly all temples.

Las Vegas Nevada Temple Window (Image Source: LDS Church Temples)

This was fortunate, because it meant that most of the very small temples--dedicated around 2000, when the Church initiated a push to have 100 temples--had some form of stained glass. Of course, these windows were fairly simple, and nearly identical between temples.

Columbus Ohio Temple (Image Source: LDS Church Temples)

Medford Oregon Temple Windows (Image Source: LDS Church Temples)

However, it should be noted that most of the stained glass now placed in temples is patterned glass--it is much rarer to have stained glass depicting scenes, as was common at the beginning of the twentieth century. There are some exceptions; however. The Palmyra Temple has a window depicting the First Vision.

Palmyra New York Temple Window

The Winter Quarters Temple has icons and scenes that add to the temple's symbolism.

Winter Quarters Celestial Room Window (Image Source: LDS Church Temples)

The Nauvoo Temple has a stained glass window in its baptistry showing Christ's baptism.

Nauvoo Illinois Temple Window

The Manhattan Temple has a window showing Christ and two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

Manhattan New York Temple Window

The temple in San Antonio Texas has huge, colorful windows in many places that show scenes symbolic of different aspects of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

San Antonio Texas Temple Window (Image Source: LDS Church Temples)

And the temple in Sao Paulo Brazil had a stained glass scene installed during its 2004 renovation, depicting Christ appearing in the Americas.

Other temples had stained glass installed from different churches--temples in Vernal, Snowflake, Star Valley, and other locations have stained glass that came from different denominations. The Church has since acquired these windows and used them.

Star Valley Wyoming Temple Lobby (Image Source: Mormon Newsroom)

I am glad that the use of stained glass has returned to temples, with only two concerns: one is that the use of stained glass to depict scenes has declined drastically in recent history. If you exempt the windows that the Church acquired and used from other churches, then the last temple to use stained glass in this way was the temple in San Antonio, Texas--built in 2005. Even those scenes do not have people in them. The Church uses stained glass, but only patterned glass. Why have we shifted away from the stained glass depicting Christ, the First Vision, and other scriptural stories?

Payson Utah Temple Celestial Room (Image Source: Mormon Newsroom)
Of course, this week's release of images of the temple in Paris, France revealed a stained glass window of Christ, so unless this was also purchased from another denomination (which I doubt--it looks too modern), this bucks the trend. This is encouraging.

Paris France Temple Window Detail (source: Mormon Newsroom)

The other concern is that almost all of the Church's stained glass in recent history--especially the windows depicting events--comes from Tom Holdman studios. Holdman does good work, and its Mormon background probably makes it a safe option for the Church, but I worry that we are taking away from the diversity of art in the Church by only using one place for most of our stained glass.


The typical Latter-day Saint, when asked about the use of stained glass in the Church, says that its use is reserved for temples, to indicate the hierarchy of architecture in the Church: temples, chapels, other buildings. Some even say that stained glass is not appropriate for ward meetinghouses--it is distracting, or it is uncomfortably close to the architecture of other religions; some even say that any image in the chapel is inappropriate, as it is similar to worshipping idols. In one interview, the late Apostle L. Tom Perry said that "Now, the reason we don’t have pictures or murals in our chapels any longer is that the chapels were made to be places of worship. When we have an art exhibit in front, then everyone is becoming an expert on art and has their own opinions. But the main reason is that we wanted them to be houses of worship and not have the decorative pictures in front. That has been a standing policy of the Church for a number of years now."

Salt Lake Twenty-first Ward Classroom

It is unfortunate that the Church felt like stained glass and paintings had to be taken away to create a more reverent and sacred experience. Ward members attending chapels where historic stained glass can be found certainly disagree; in my visits to these chapels to document the windows, local members always expressed pride in the stained glass and mentioned their beauty and how it contributed to their spiritual experience. 

Salt Lake Twenty-Seventh Ward Windows

The Church may never again enter a period where stained glass is used in ward chapels. Even if that is the case, it would be worse if we as a Church forget our heritage and identity in the stained glass realm. My greatest hope is that this story helps us remember the fact that we used stained glass, that it was perfectly appropriate (desirable, even), that it contributed to our cultural identity as a Church, and that we could create beauty--Mormon beauty--out of panes of colored glass.

Salt Lake Second Ward Chapel


  1. Thank you so much for this series. Looking at the stained glass windows through your photos has added to my appreciation of art as worship.

    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed it, CSL!

  2. Tom Holdman may not be the stained glass supplier any longer -- he was picked up for DUI.

    1. I do remember seeing that. I don't think it will have any affect on them using the company as a supplier, but we'll have to see.

  3. Do you think stained glass had declined because of the potential for vandalism of chapels? They don't have nearly the "security" of temples.

    1. Good point, Ben. I haven't seen any sources that indicate that a security concern played into the decline of stained glass. Many windows now have a clear plexiglass covering on the outside which protects the glass from damage, so I don't think it would be a huge issue.

  4. Do you know anything about the origins of the Stained glass in the celestial room of the Laie Hawaii temple?

    1. Drob, I don't, really. If I had to guess, I would say that it was added later (in the 1970s or 2010 remodel?).

  5. We have a comment from Rudger Clawsen commenting (during the 1919 dedication) on the "leaded glass" in the windows. My wife and I are doing a Church Service Mission as research assistants to Eric Marlow who has been assigned to write the 100th year history of the Laie Temple.