by Charlene James © 1998 all rights reserved.
The Tiffany windows at Church of the Covenant are integral elements of the stunning Tiffany church interior. There are 42 Tiffany windows -- 22 ornamental windows in the clerestory and 20 figure windows throughout the sanctuary. They all include "opalescent" glass with its subtle tones and variations that eliminate the need for much painting and allow painterly effects. Tiffany's technical contributions to the art of stained glass--his opalescent, drapery, twig, fabric, horizon, jewel and sunset glass--are all included in the windows of Church of the Covenant. As a landscape artist, Tiffany relied on talented designers for the figural memorials that churches demanded. The windows here were created by Tiffany's finest designers: three by Edward P. Sperry, three by J. A. Holzer, and the rest by his most creative designer, Frederick Wilson. They were done in a variety of styles--in a linear, Pre-Raphaelite mode with Sperry; a flat, mosaic one with Holzer; and anything from classical to Art Nouveau with Wilson.
A Tour of the Tiffany Windows
To view the 20 figure windows, begin by walking half-way down the center aisle toward the chancel.
Turn around and look up at the high windows at the rear of the Church.
1. THE NATIVITY (Adoration of the Shepherds: Luke: 2:15-18)
2. THE RESURRECTION (Three Women at the Tomb: Luke 24:1-5)
These first two stained glass windows by Edward Sperry are companion pieces linked by the Pre-Raphaelite type feminine angels in the sky above and by the similarly humble people at the birth and resurrection of Jesus, shepherds marveling at a baby in a stable or frightened women outside an empty tomb. They organize the windows of the entire sanctuary between the historical Jesus on the Nativity side and the spirit of Jesus on the Resurrection side.
''Next, walk to the far left comer of the back of the Church. The Emmaus window is on the same wall as the first two windows (1 and 2), but is now at ground level.
5. ABRAHAM: FAITH (on the left) (Genesis 12:1-5)
6. JOSHUA: HOPE (on the right) (Deuteronomy 31:7-9)
7. JONATHAN AND DAVID: LOVE (in the center)(I Samuel 23:16; 1 Corinthians: 13:13)
Designed by J. A. Holzer, Tiffany's chief mosaicist, these three windows are noted for the sunset glass of the evening sky and the brilliant use of mosaic-like pieces of iridescent glass in Joshua and Jonathan's armor. Here men of the Hebrew Scriptures illustrate the concepts of Faith, Hope and Love as they set out on holy undertakings guided by the stars above.
On the left, Abraham and his family leave the fertile land for the wilderness; on the right with Joshua and Moses, the wilderness is behind with the hoped-for land of milk and honey ahead. In the center, Jonathan and David are in the promised land, where Jonathan gladly gives David, the shepherd-warrior, symbols of his wealth and power. His generosity, sacrifice and love exemplify the social gospel concept of the "brotherhood" of all.
Proceed down the side aisle toward the front of the Church and the pulpit. The next windows include decorative medallion windows above and four male figures below.
8. MEDALLION WINDOWS
Although Tiffany Glass and Decorating Co. designed a watercolor sketch of four events in Jesus' youth (including the Magi visit Bethlehem. the Flight into Egypt, Home at Nazareth and the Dispute in the Temple) for these windows in 1894, financial constraints prevented their completion. Instead, the upper transept contains the stenciled glass which originally filled the sanctuary as a comparatively inexpensive American interpretation of medieval medallion windows.
Directly below the medallion windows are four windows featuring the Gospel writers arranged from left to right in the order their writings occur in the Bible.
THE FOUR EVANGELISTS OR GOSPEL WRITERS
9. MATTHEW (on the far left) (Matthew 13:43)
10. MARK (Mark 13:31)
11. LUKE (Luke 4:4)
12. JOHN (on the far right) (John 1:1)
Designed by Frederick Wilson, four Evangelists stand like statuary in medieval niches, each holding his Gospel book or scroll recounting the story of Jesus' life and message. Above each window is an emblem associated with each Evangelist's writings: Matthew with a winged man, Mark with a winged lion, Luke with a winged ox, and John with an eagle. Their placement next to the pulpit reflects a Protestant emphasis on the writing and preaching of the Word.
Turn toward the center aisle to view the gigantic sanctuary lantern.
Walk under the lantern to observe the high windows on the opposite side of the Church, with John's vision of Heaven as described in Revelation.
14. THE GLORIFIED CHURCH (on the left) (Rev. 12:1-2; Rev. 19:7-9)
15. THE ASCENDED CHRIST (on the right) (Rev. 14; Rev. 19:6-8)
A reassuring interpretation of John's vision of the Apocalypse continues in Frederick Wilson's turn of the century depiction of Heaven. Over eighty swirling figures of saints and angels press forward toward two central figures, the Glorified Church on the left and the Ascended Christ on the right. This portrayal of the Church combines two distinct images from Revelation: she is both a woman who has known suffering, with the moon under her feet and a golden crown of twelve stars on her head (Rev. 12) and the triumphant Bride of Christ in a fine gown decorated with pomegranates--the Christian symbol of the Resurrection and of the Church. Christ Ascended stands before the throng, holding in his hand the palm of the saints and of victory.
Directly below John's vision of Heaven are Four Women of the Bible.
THE FOUR WOMEN OF THE BIBLE
16. MIRIAM: Joy (on the far left) (Exodus 15:20)
17. DEBORAH: Courage (Judges 4, 5)
18. MARY OF BETHANY: Devotion (Luke 10:42)
19. DORCAS: Charity (on the far right) (Acts 9:36-40)
Portrayed in similar poses, style and colors as the Four Evangelists (9-12), four Women of the Bible represent the spirit of Christianity--its joy, courage, devotion and charity. On the left, MIRIAM, the sister of Moses, raises her timbrel (a kind of tambourine) and dances for joy. DEBORAH, seriously staring ahead, is the judge and warrior in armor leaning on her shield. MARY OF BETHANY, the sister of Lazarus and Martha who listened raptly at Jesus' feet, looks faithfully up to God in prayer. Closest to the altar, DORCAS looks humbly down, holding in her hands clothing she has made for the poor and widowed; she was raised from the dead by Peter for her charity toward the most vulnerable of society.
To view the last three windows, turn to the left of the Four Women of the Bible and begin walking toward the back of the Church.
Although many of the windows at Church of the Covenant are masterworks, these last three windows by Frederick Wilson include some of the most sophisticated work produced by Tiffany. They illustrate Tiffany's use of plating (layering of glass, with as many as five layers) for perspective and for subtle variations in color and hue. Like the Four Women of the Bible, they also exemplify the spirit of Christianity--in lives of sacrifice, generosity and unending love.
20. MADONNA AND CHILD (John 15:1-17)
This Peasant Madonna is an adaptation of an image by Pascal Dagnan-Bouveret, a contemporary French artist known for religious and genre paintings of Breton peasants. In translating the painting into stained glass, Wilson placed the Madonna to the side and added a luxurious grape arbor on the right. The quality of light and lush vegetation on the right are in counterpoint to the sad, knowing Madonna on the left; they also form a glowing symbolic group--of the Eucharistic grape and of Christ as the vine--with the emblem of the Crucifixion above.
21. CORNELIUS AND THE ANGEL (Acts: 10:3)
Two classical figures stand in a background of masonry and sky, one a feminine angel with a palm of the saints held high, the other a Roman soldier in uniform, holding his helmet. Cornelius, a wealthy Roman centurion known for his generosity to the poor, had a dream in which an angel announced in words inscribed above their heads: "Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God." After experiencing this angelic vision, he sent for the apostle Peter and became the first "unclean" Gentile to be baptized a Christian.
22. ST. AUGUSTINE
The window depicts a youthful St. Augustine in his study, writing at a desk and Looking up at the sky out a window; on the right is a grouping of leafy, flowering plants. The quote written in leaded glass letters at the top of the window is from the Vita Beata (Blessed Life), one of Augustine's lesser-known works. He looks up toward Heaven and addresses his deceased mother, Monica, who influenced him spiritually by her loving example: "O my mother, I do believe that through thy prayers, God gave me a mind to think of, to love above all things, the discovery of truth, and by thee to this I do attain."
Filled with glowing glass and shimmering mosaics, the sanctuary at Church of the Covenant contains art, beauty and profound religious meaning that are relevant a hundred years after the Tiffany decoration. The effect of over a hundred years of grime accretion and internal fracturing (in five layers of glass) is becoming more evident in the muted colors and hairline cracks of the windows. Yet on the brightest days the Tiffany windows give us a glimpse into the past with a glorious show of color and light, in the largest church interior completely decorated by Tiffany in the world today.