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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Stained Glass Project: St. Leo and St. George

This is part of an ongoing series called The Stained Glass Project, in which I am attempting to photographically preserve the stained glass windows of my parish church, Our Lady of Czestochowa (St. Mary's) in Nanticoke, Pennsylvania.


We will begin this tour of the windows of St. Mary's in Nanticoke with the first window from the rear of the church on the South side. This window features portraits of St. Leo and St. George, and was presented by "A.L. Reilly and G. Schroeder, Archts."


The figure on the left is St. Leo the Great, who served as Pope Leo I from 440 to 461 - hence the papal headgear and staff. The staff is actually a crosier, a ceremonial staff usually shaped like a shepherd's crook when used by a bishop in the Roman Catholic tradition, and like a Tau cross in the Eastern Orthodox tradition. From the Wikipedia entry on Crosiers:

A crosier was also carried on some occasions by the pope, beginning in the early days of the church. This practice was gradually phased out and had disappeared by the time of Innocent III's papacy in the eleventh century. In the Middle Ages, popes would carry a three-barred cross (one more bar than on those carried before archbishops), in the same manner as other bishops carried a crosier. This was in turn phased out, but Paul VI introduced the modern papal pastoral staff, which instead of the triple cross depicts a modern rendition of the crucified Christ, whose arms are fixed to a crossbar that is curved somewhat in the manner of an Eastern crozier.

So this image is based on design elements from the Middle Ages.

Coincidentally, St. Leo's feast day is November 10, which was yesterday as I write this. Pope Leo was instrumental in defining some of the basic doctrines of the Catholic Church, as described at length here - possibly symbolized by the book he holds. Note that he is wearing gloves of a lavender hue.

The thing Pope Leo is best known for (among those who know of him at all) is that he was able to turn Attila the Hun away from the gates of Rome in 452. Whether this was accomplished though persuasive speech, the payment of a hefty ransom, divine intervention, or some other means or combination of means is lost to history.

Which brings us to the matter of the other figure in this window - the dog-horse-seal-lion-dragon recumbent behind St. Leo.

My initial thought upon reading the story of St. Leo was that this monster represented Attila the Hun. But while its face seems to express concern, it does not display the level of fear and panic seen on the face of the crocodile-lizard-serpent thing under St. Michael's feet. Indeed, its attitude seems to be more that of a tamed pet, possibly even seeking protection behind (literally) the Pope's skirt. The eyes seem to gaze upward at Leo with a relaxed reverence. It does bear a resemblance to stylized lions seen in heraldry, and there may be a few strands of a mane along the neck. But what is the deal with that tongue? And why does it resemble a fleur-de-lis?

Sharing the window with St. Leo is St. George, patron saint of England. And what can be said of St. George? I will quote his New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia entry:

Martyr, patron of England, suffered at or near Lydda, also known as Diospolis, in Palestine, probably before the time of Constantine. According to the very careful investigation of the whole question recently instituted by Father Delehaye, the Bollandist, in the light of modern sources of information, the above statement sums up all that can safely be affirmed about St. George, despite his early cultus and pre-eminent renown both in East and West (see Delehaye, "Saints Militaires", 1909, pp. 45-76).

So. Having said that, everybody knows he was a knight and fought a dragon! (The version of the story at the end of the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia entry is much more fun than the dry and brief one currently in the Wikipedia entry, and is highly recommended.) Which is why St. George wears medieval armor, despite having been more likely a third-century denizen of the Palestine region, and carries a spear - contradicting what I wrote earlier about St. Michael being the only figure in these windows holding a weapon. I should have said edged weapon!

(It amused me for a little while to think that the thing behind St. Leo was actually St. George's dragon, hiding from him in the next panel over. But now I'm starting to convince myself that this is a highly stylized and inexplicably green heraldic lion.)

Leo and George stand before what I call the "cathedral" backdrop of these windows. The windows come in three varieties: cathedral backdrop, ocean backdrop, and irregulars. (We'll hit the first irregular in our next window.) I believe that the "cathedral" is in fact the "New Jerusalem," the Heavenly city-building that is the dwelling place of the saints. The ring-hung curtains, I suspect, are not an artistic shortcut taken by the window-makers to cut down on the amount of background detail required for each window, since the curtains themselves are quite complex and detailed, but are rather intended to shield our mortal and imperfect eyes from getting more than a glimpse of this perfect dwelling place.

Each pair of portrait windows is topped by a smaller circular window which helps to unify the two portraits into a single window. In most cases I think my photos will lack the resolution to get much detail from these windows - for an example of one in close-up, see here - but this window appears to be an image of a pair (or more) of roses in full bloom. What message might have been on the banner that may or may not have been unfurled along the bottom of the window, I have no idea.

The bottom part of the window consists of two panes that are hinged at the bottom and can be opened inward for ventilation. (Since air conditioning was installed some 25 or so years ago this has not been necessary.) Note the complexity of the decorative designs on these windows and the striking effect of using different colors of glass in two identical layouts.

Finally, we see that this window was presented by "A.L. REILLY AND G. SCHROEDER, ARCHTS." While my history of St. Mary's does not note the names of the architects of the church, Reilly and Schroeder were responsible for designing Holy Family Church in nearby Sugar Notch in 1910. Further investigation should resolve this question, and I will try to remember to revise this entry then.

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