Stained Glass Repair Update
Lauds. The first light of the day penetrates 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 the 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, aptly symbolising the jewelled walls of Heaven described in Scripture. The book of Revelation describes the walls of the heavenly city as being composed of glorified human beings radiating the light of Christ from within (Rev. 21:11-18). As light passes through stained-glass windows and the figures represented in them, the walls of the church take on the qualities and radiance of heaven itself. 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" – and the “most beautiful church in America”!
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 ravages of time have made repairs an unavoidable task for us.
Within the last few years, several windows were so badly damaged by storms that decisive action had to be taken to preserve them. In December 2009, because of the cyclically shifting steeple, a window in the choir loft had to be removed and stored until suitable repairs could be made. Then in the winter of 2013, the beautiful window in the gospel side of the sanctuary, featuring Saints Jerome and Gregory, was so damaged by the storm that it had to be repaired immediately. Working with 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 gained us many insights into the methodology we will need to restore all our historic windows in the future.
In 2015, the two windows featuring Saint John the Baptist and Notre Dame de Lourdes, and Saint Elizabeth of Hungary and Saint Agnes, above the altar of Our Lady to the left of the sanctuary were repaired, along with the window in the sanctuary featuring Saints Bonaventure and Saint Thomas Aquinas. In 2016, the windows featuring Saints Michael and Saint Raphael the Archangels, and Saint Sebastian, above the altar of Saint Joseph to the right of the sanctuary were repaired. In 2017, partly due to other urgent projects, the small windows of Our Lady of Sorrows and the Good Shepherd to the right of the altar of Our Lady of Perpetual Help were repaired.
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 experts of Emil Frei and Associates 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 and leaving it exposed to the elements, 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. On the right you see one of these protective screens in place.
This repair has also brought 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 is a significant improvement to the obvious thermal inadequacies of the building.
These photos on the left show some of the damage to the mortar joints found all along the terracotta mullions of this north transept window. Obviously, this damage has to be repaired before the protective glass covering is installed. Moreover, the joints in the wall in the immediate vicinity of the window have to be repaired so that water does not seep into the wall and undermine the newly repaired window.
In addition to making the structure leak-proof, the restoration has made a big difference in the appearance of the window from inside the sanctuary: clearer, brighter, and more vibrant.
Our next project: Emil Frei and Associates have sent us a new proposal to work on the large north transept window to the right of the altar of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Due to the large size of this window, and the damage it has sustained, this work costs $187,387.
Your generosity has already made a huge difference in the appearance, comfort, and preservation of the windows in the church. Please donate now to continue this effort to make the Oratory church building beautiful and useable again.