Stained Glass Repair Update

Lauds. The first light of the day has penetrated the stained glass windows of the Oratory, bringing the saints and angels into the sanctuary in an array of colors: reds, blues and greens. By Compline, the ever-present images in windows recede into the shadows amidst the prayers of the Oratory community, waiting again for Lauds and the first light of morning.

As illuminated decorations of churches since the Middle Ages, stained glass windows have been a part of the rhythmic daily life of the Church. St. Francis de Sales Oratory has been blessed with many well-crafted windows that beautify the interior of the church, highlighting various saints throughout the day with the movement of light and time. They are part of the distinctive attributes that make this church the “Cathedral of South Saint Louis.”

Stained glass windows are known to withstand the test of time, but never without periodic repair and restoration. Our windows are close to 100 years old; weathering and the ravage of time have made repairs an unavoidable task for us.

Within the last five years, several windows were so badly damaged by storms that decisive actions had to be taken to preserve them. In December 2009, a window in the choir loft had to be removed and stored until suitable repairs can be made.

Then last winter, the beautiful window in the sanctuary, featuring Sts. Jerome and Gregory, was so damaged by the storm that it had to be repaired immediately. Working with the Emil Frei and Associates, the original crafters of our windows in the last century, it took several months of work to complete the repairs, but the process has gained us many insights into the methodology we will need to restore all our historic windows in the future.

Typical of windows of this age, the level of restoration depended on the condition of the glass and support structure, and, unavoidably, budgetary constraints. The Frei experts found the outer protective glass and the glazing had deteriorated badly from normal wear and tear, and the supporting terra cotta mullions were cracked and failing, thus unable to completely support the glass. Instead of rebuilding the terra cotta support for this glass, a larger, thicker protective glass was installed farther out from the stained glass and a new support constructed, thereby retaining the architectural quality without overloading the terra cotta mullions. Both the inside stained glass and the outside protective glass were cleaned and re-glazed.

This repair also has a large thermal benefit since a recent study of the heating and cooling needs of the church building has shown that the windows, by far, are the worst contributor to heat loss in winter and would be detrimental to any attempt to air condition in the summer. By moving the protective glass farther away and using thicker glass material, there will be a significant improvement to the obvious thermal inadequacies of the building.

In addition to structural integrity that is leak-proof, the restoration has made a big difference in the appearance of the window from inside the sanctuary: clearer, brighter, and more vibrant. The brighter Jerome-Gregory window can now serve as a model for the repairs that we will need to do on all of our iconic windows. We will work with Frei to determine the next window that is in most need of repair.