from St. Martin's Church, Brampton, UK
Since discovering the stained glass photography of Neil Ralley on the Internet
last spring, I've been following the evolution of his website closely. Given the
vast improvements he has made to his site as well as the wealth of photography
he continues to produce, I want to suggest once again that you pay this site a
visit. This is more than just a fascinating website; it is a powerful illustration
of the power of the Web as well as a demonstration of how the Christian faith
can be communicated in many different ways, particularly through the a visual
medium like stained glass. Though my own favorite, contemporary art form is film,
stained glass has a special charm. Further, as Neil Ralley demonstrates, this
ancient art form comes through with particular power on the web. This is true
largely because the illuminated screen of your computer allows you to view these
images, illuminated from behind, just as a stained glass window of a church would
be illuminated from the natural light flowing through them.
pointed out when I first recommended Ralley's work, he has combined his appreciation
for the beauty of stained glass with his skill as a photographer in a project
of immense value: he is systematically capturing on film some of the most beautiful
stained glass in the churches of America (his adopted home) and England (where
he grew up). Neil's was among the scores of requests that I get every month, asking
me to review a website for inclusion on these pages. Frankly, there isn't time
to visit all these websites, let alone review them. But something about Neil's
note made me want to take a look right away. I was not disappointed. What
I discovered was truly wonderful. (For a larger view of
the photos on this and additional pages, simply click on the thumbnail.)
Since my original visit, Ralley has substantially
improved his site.
It is not easy to capture a stained glass
image on film. Think about it. First, you'll need to get permission to take
the photographs, and once you do that, you have to position your camera to get
a clear shot of a window in some cases located far above the sanctuary floor.
Often the illumination is uneven or artificial, distorting the colors of
the glass. In most cases, Neil has solved these technical difficulties. Next,
if you are going to make your photographs available to others, you'll need to
research the history of the windows and the artists who created them. You'll want
to place the artists' work in historical context and evaluate its significance.
Ralley does all of this. And then he takes an additional step: he has published
his photographs, in some cases with commentary, on a website, so that others can
share what he has learned.
detail, St. James Church, Staveley,
It's interesting that though many of these windows are hundreds of years old,
there is something strangely contemporary about them. Indeed, those who have grown
up in the digital age and spend a great deal of time on the Internet, will probably
understand what I am getting at right away. Stained glass windows are illuminated
as are ANY images that appear on your computer screen. Looking at these photographs,
especially in their larger formats, on your computer, comes closer to duplicating
the experience of looking at the windows in their original church setting than
you could ever get by looking at the same photographs printed on paper. You can
get even closer to the experience that stained glass makes possible by dimming
the light in the room where you are sitting right now, as you follow the links
listed below, tracing the Christian story in stained glass. Notice, there are
three dimensions involved here, even though you are looking at what are technically
two dimensional images. First, there are the events, faces and figures, rendered
by the artist by joining different pieces of glass in pleasing combination. Second,
there is the light shining through the glass, or in this case the gentle illumination
of your computer screen which casts a warm glow into the room, just as the sunlight
casts its glow into the interior of a darkened church. Finally, there is the realization
that what gives our own existence its vitality, is not, in the end, any detail
of the surface, but rather the light that comes shining through. It's when you
see that the inner and the outer light are one that the deeper meaning of these
windows becomes clear. This is not just about appreciating an ancient and beautiful
art form; it's about coming to an awareness of how the whole of one's life can
Christ appears to Mary as a gardener. Trinity Church,
If you want to talk with someone in person, please feel free to call 212-864-5436
The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and
Executive Director of CrossCurrents.
He is the author of God and Science (John Knox Press, 1986).
A revised and expanded version of the book is appearing here. God and Science (Hypertext Edition,
He is also editor of a new book, featuring articles by world class scientists and theologians, and illustrating the leading views on the relationship between science and religion: Faith, Science and the Future (CrossCurrents Press, 2007).
Charles also tracks the boundry between the virtual and the real at his blog: Next World Design, focusing on the mediation of art, science and spirituality in the metaverse.