November 18, 2013

Photo Essay: The Lighted Windows of La Cañada Congregational Church

I became intrigued by the La Cañada Congregational Church when I heard that it was, for a time, called "Church of the Lighted Window."

The original wood church - known then as La Cañada Congregational Church - opened in 1898 and soon became kindling. It was rebuilt after the fire and reopened, again as the La Cañada Congregational Church, again using wood, but this time covering it in stucco to reduce flammability.

The new church, which was dedicated in 1924, reopened with exposed wood beam ceilings that could be viewed from the inside, and plain, functional windows that were replaced one by one by a variety of stained glass. One glass window in particular - which now hangs above the current chancel area, once the front entrance to the church - was lit from the inside, and, when viewed from the outside at night, inspired poet laureate of California Congressman John Stephen McGroarty to immortalize it in one of his poems.

Although the poem only referred to a church with a lighted window, in 1954 the church congregation was so enamored with the artistic association that they adopted the new name, "Church of the Lighted Window."

Although the church does have a stunning array of stained glass windows in a variety of styles, the new name caused confusion to those outside their congregation - including some who thought the church was actually worshipping a window - and so finally in 2008, the church's name was reinstated to its original, La Cañada Congregational Church.

But the architectural glass remains.

One entire side of the sanctuary features stained glass designed by Ateliers Loire Chartres, the Paris studio founded by famed glassmaker Gabriel Loire, now run by his sons and grandsons.

The art glass is unusual, done in the dalle de verre or "glass slab" style, which uses thick pieces of colored glass set in an epoxy resin instead of the traditional lead came.

Unlike the traditional techniques from the Middle Ages, these pieces are not painted...

...nor are they cut with a traditional glass cutter.

Instead, they hammered with a marteline, breaking them into pieces of faceted glass with a cleaved effect.

The facets are particularly effective in reflecting and refracting the light.

This faceted glass technique rose to fame in the 1950s and 1960s (some of the windows here are dated 1946, the year the studio was founded), but since has been criticized for its structural instability, and difficulty in restoring.

The messages - and depictions - on the Loire windows are simple and easy to understand.

Their bold colors attract the eye to that side of the sanctuary.

But on the other side, there are more windows - these more traditionally made with painted glass and lead came - two local stained glass studios:

...LA Art Glass...

...and, like another of LA's congregational churches, Judson Studios.

Judson has been in business for 116 years ("and counting"), but these windows are also dated 1946...

...and have a much more medieval feel compared to the Loire glass...

...with overtly religious messaging and portrayals.

I spent quite a bit of time in the sanctuary alone with those windows...

...understanding how they could inspire poetry...

...feeling not particularly religious, but, perhaps, exultant.

Maybe it's just the color and the light that entranced me, or how the one window buckles, creating an undulating effect when viewed from below.

(Lead came does have a tendency to sink over time.)

Maybe it's just my love for art.

But if it's the stained glass that keeps drawing me into churches, sometimes even staying for the services, somebody had the right idea.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: First Congregational Church Architecture Tour
Photo Essay: Judson's Historic Glass Studio
Stained Glass (Photo Blog) - Loire windows also found in Notre Dame de Lourdes Catholic cathedral (Casablanca, Morocco)

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