July 04, 2016

Photo Essay: Lighting the World, One Window at a Time

It was Sunday, and I just had to go to church.

Not my church, of course—and not even a church of the particular type of religion I was raised with.

And it wasn't just any church, either. In fact, I wasn't really even there for the church itself.

I was there for the stained glass windows by artist Roger Darricarrere...

...and as soon as I saw his signature on the reverse side of the giant art glass panel that faced the parking lot, I knew I was in the right place.

St. Stephen's Lutheran Church in Granada Hills—the "North Valley" region of the greater LA metropolitan area—is home to a giant stained glass window by Darricarrere, measuring 42 feet wide by 10.5 feet high.

It was first installed here in 1966, after having been shipped in pieces from New York—where it had been on display in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park for the 1964/65 World's Fair.

Subsequently, Darricarrere also contributed additional "wedge"-shaped windows on each side of the sanctuary. They don't look like much from the outside, so you've got to go inside to really see them.

But because it was Sunday, I wasn't alone there. Despite it being late afternoon, members of the congregation were still spilling out and lingering around the sanctuary.

The main attraction here at St. Stephen's is the "Christ, Light of the World" window, which tells the story of (from left to right) Creation, the Fall of Man, the Nativity, the Resurrection, and Revelations in an abstract design using over 14,000 pieces of glass and (literally) a ton of lead.

The monumental window was originally made to be installed in the Protestant and Orthodox Center's reception area at the World's Fair. Already world famous, Darricarrere had won a contest sponsored by the Stained Glass Association of America—and, luckily for him, he was friends with an architect who secured him a sponsor. Robert Inslee of Orr, Strange, Inslee & Senefeld convinced the building committee of St. Stephen's to fund the project in exchange for ownership of the window once the World's Fair was over.

Darricarrere studied the Bible for six months in preparation, and took a full year to make the window. His sketches of it—and accompanying explanation—were used in World's Fair promotional materials and are still being used in the church's pamphlets and website.

Otherwise, it would be pretty hard for the average person to know what they're looking at—from the first signs of light in orange and yellow on the left, the sun, moon, and stars rising above it... the serpent in the garden of Eden and the birth of baby Jesus, the symbolism isn't exactly obvious.

Then again, it's not supposed to be.

Unlike many other examples of dalle-de-verre stained glass, the "chunks" here are used as accents—to represent wheat, the stars, water, and other elements of New Testament ministry...

...alongside more traditional, flat and smooth pieces of colored glass.

To the farthest right, the fire and brimstone give way to Jesus rising from the dead and ascending into Heaven, the arrival of the Holy Spirit...

...and, in the top right corner, the Second Coming (which appears to be surrounded by angel wings).

Both the window itself and Lutheranism in general are all about bringing in the light—and dispelling the darkness.

So, while at certain times of day, the "Christ, Light of the World" window casts colorful beams from the back of the sanctuary to as far as the altar on the opposite side...

...the church partnered with Darricarrere again to create the windows on each side of the sanctuary...

...this time creating colorful mosaics made entirely out of glass slabs (the "dalles").

It's a comforting light—softening the severity of the sun outside and the heavens above. It's no wonder that people didn't want to leave.

And they let me stay, too. When I walked in, a greeter said, "God bless you"—and then no one uttered another word to me the whole time. They just let me wander up and down stairs, angling my camera way up high and way down low until I'd gotten all the shots I needed.

We each have our own light—and we each can lighten or darken the world in our own, unique way. My light is vibrant and colorful, but a little rough around the edges. You can see where I've been hammered. You can feel my pointy corners.

But it's not a mistake. It's just how I'm supposed to be.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: The Monastic Life at St. Andrew's Abbey
Photo Essay: The Lighted Windows of La CaƱada Congregational Church
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