The origins of stained glass are not clear, but are believed to have emerged from 10th century depictions of Jesus Christ and Biblical scenes. Stained glass is achieved by using metallic salts to color glass during manufacture. Abbot Suger, named the father of stained glass, believed that the presence of beautiful objects lifts people’s souls and brings them closer to God (Homan, 2005). He described the light that emerged from the glass as “heavenly light.” There is a belief in the spiritual symbolism of light as caused by stained glass and its power to support worship and glorify God. Stained glass also creates a suitable ambience for church. It creates an atmosphere of reverence. Some may even provide reference during sermons (Homan, 2005). An example of this kind of symbolism is embodied by the Rose Window of The Abbey Church of Saint Denis. This window comprises of stained glass arranged to depict the radial petals of a rose flower.
Figure 1: The Rose window of the abbey church of Saint-Denis near Paris (Source: https://bookofarts.wordpress.com/tag/french/)
This building is widely considered as the very first Gothic/ French style building. The stained glass of the rose window emphasizes verticality and light. The significance of the Rose window stained glass at The Abbey Church is emotional, meditative and spiritual. Each petal represents parts of the medieval calendar year, the six days of Creation, the saints, the virtues and the vices. At the center of the window is God. This window may be compared to the tree of Jesse. This is a devotional themed artwork whose origins may be traced to the 11th century at the St. Denis Cathedral. The artwork represents an inverted family tree that begins at the bottom with Jesse and ends at the apex with Christ. There are several similarities between the tree of Jesse and the St-Denis Rose Window. The first notable similarity is the symmetry and balance. Both stained glass windows have a central image around which other elements balance. The second similarity is the use of bright colors. One difference, however is that the Tree of Jesse is made up of largely square shapes while the St-Denis Rose Window is made up of circular and oval shapes.
Figure 2: The Tree of Jesse
There are several obvious differences between Romanesque and Gothic architecture. Perhaps the most obvious feature, however, is that Romanesque buildings have a stocky and largely horizontal shapes, while Gothic ones are more vertically inclined. Romanesque architecture features rounded arches, while Gothic architecture features pointed arches. From an engineering standpoint, the rounded arches of the Romanesque architecture do not spread the weight of the building evenly (Cengage, 2015). As a result, the tall and heavier a Romanesque building is, the more it requires buttress structures on its flanks for more strength. On the other hand, pointed arches distribute the weight of the structure outward and downward. If there is need for reinforcement, flying buttresses are used. Flying buttresses are reinforcement structures connected to the main building by small arches. This engineering difference between the two styles of architecture also leads to a difference in the location and size of windows. The buttresses in Romanesque buildings restrict the use of windows to the upper side of the structures (Cengage, 2015). In the Romanesque style, windows are larger and placed higher than in Gothic architecture. Another resultant difference is that due to the higher number of windows, Gothic buildings are generally better lit and more airy than Romanesque ones
Cengage,. (2015). The Difference Between Romanesque and Gothic Architecture. Cengage.com. Retrieved 7 July 2015, from http://www.cengage.com/art/book_content/0495569097_fichner/ArtExperience_9e/assets/podcasts/Romanesque/Architecture/index.html
Homan, R. (2005). The Social Affairs Unit - Web Review: Who looks on glass? The Spiritual Significance of Stained Glass. Socialaffairsunit.org.uk. Retrieved 7 July 2015, from http://www.socialaffairsunit.org.uk/blog/archives/000536.php