Monday, January 05, 2009

The Stained Glass Project: St. Francis of Sales and St. James

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.

    The fourth pair of portrait windows from the rear of the South side of St. Mary's Church in Nanticoke features St. Francis of Sales and St. James.

    The identity of St. Francis of Sales is fairly unambiguous. As a relatively recent figure (1567 - 1622) there is a considerable historical record of his life.

    St. Francis de Sales wears bishop's vestments because he was, in fact, the Bishop of Geneva. But the lemon, lavender, and sea-foam vestments seem to be at odds with what is written here in the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia:
    His food was plain, his dress and his household simple. He completely dispensed with superfluities and lived with the greatest economy, in order to be able to provide more abundantly for the wants of the needy.
    I do not know what the object is that he is holding in his gloved hand. It could be a Pyx, though it seems a bit large. One of his listed attributes, or associated symbols, is the Sacred Heart of Jesus, but this does not look much like that. Perhaps it is a vessel containing the heart of St. Francis de Sales himself? Again, from the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia:
    In 1622 he had to accompany the Court of Savoy into France. At Lyons he insisted on occupying a small, poorly furnished room in a house belonging to the gardener of the Visitation Convent. There, on 27 December, he was seized with apoplexy. He received the last sacraments and made his profession of faith, repeating constantly the words: "God's will be done! Jesus, my God and my all!" He died next day, in the fifty-sixth year of his age. Immense crowds flocked to visit his remains, which the people of Lyons were anxious to keep in their city. With much difficulty his body was brought back to Annecy, but his heart was left at Lyons.

    The second portrait is more problematic. We are told that it is St. James. But which St. James?

    There are many Saints who bear the name of James. Based on some quick reading and the image of the book in St. James's hand, I believe this is the individual known as St. James the Just, also identified as St. James the Less, Bishop of Jerusalem and author of the Epistle of St. James.

    The round window above this pair of portraits depicts a radiating five-pointed star, rendered with three-dimensional detail. Unfortunately, the text on the banner beneath it is unreadable, if there is any there at all.

    The image above was actually the very first photo I took for what would become The Stained Glass Project. I snapped this image while waiting in the pew for my cousin's wedding to begin.

    And now, something unusual. We're going to focus on the feet.

    St. Francis of Sales is wearing emerald green slippers or shoes of some sort, with what appears to be a racing stripe running up the center. This is quite possibly the most colorful portrait in the church. Priestly vestments are specific colors for specific liturgical seasons and events, so perhaps the choice of colors has some deeper significance.

    One of the greatest points of variation in humans is the shape of the feet. This was made clear during World War I (or was it World War II?), when refugees from France began pouring into England with little more than the clothing on their backs and the shoes on their feet. When they attempted to fit their feet into shoes made for British feet they found them to be uncomfortable and ill-fitting, as the general shape of the British foot is different from the general shape of the French foot. More recently, a shoe company came under fire for marketing a shoe designed specifically for the feet of a certain Native American tribe; apparently some people maintain that all feet are created equal, and any attempt to recognize ethnically-related differences in foot shape is akin to racism.

    Having said that, I don't really know anyone who has feet shaped like this depiction of St. James. where the end of the big toe barely comes to the middle knuckle of the smallest toe. Perhaps this peculiar foot shape could be an aid in identifying the region from which the model and/or artist involved in creating this portrait came from.

    The donors of this pair of windows are really significant individuals. St. Francis of Sales was presented by F.H. Kohlbraker, a Superintendent of Susquehanna Coal, one of the region's major coal mining companies. His obituary in 1932 lists him as a "Retired Executive of Coal Company and Banker," though I cannot identify which bank he was associated with. (Nanticoke was once a major banking center for this area.) St. James was presented by J.C. Brader, who in 1889 was listed as the Vice-President of First National Bank of Nanticoke. What positions either of these men held at the time the windows themselves were presented I do not know. Determining that will require further research.


    Anonymous said...

    Harold, your pictures are wonderful. Love the stories as well. I can't wait to send you pics of the stained glass windows in Old are going to love them.

    Anonymous said...

    St. James the Great is traditionally depicted with a pilgrim's staff and water gourd, which the James in this window appears to have. Some other images of James the Great showing his staff and gourd can be found here: