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An Illuminated Easter
The Beauty of Holy Week and Easter in Stained Glass

PelicansBrampton.jpg (72113 bytes)

Pelican window 
from St. Martin's Church, 
Brampton, UK

One of the best things about the Internet is that it affords an opportunity for people of talent and passion to share their interests with others. A terrific illustration of this are the photographs that have begun to appear on the Net by Neil Ralley.  This talented man 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.)

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.

CrucifixionStaveley.jpg (47647 bytes)

The Crucifixion detail,
St. James Church,       
Staveley, UK

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 Easter 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 be illuminated.  Have a blessed Easter. 

The Risen Christ appears
to Mary as a gardener. 
Trinity Church, 
Saugerties, NY

Agony in the Garden, Trinity Church, Saugerties, NY
The Crucifixion, Trinity Church, Saugerties, NY
The Risen Christ, Union Church, Montclair, NJ

Next page > [About Neil Ralley -- in his own words] > Page 1,2

More Ned Ralley: The Beauty of Christianity in Stained Glass

Ned Ralley's website

All photographs used in this article are Neil Ralley and are used here by permission. For any further use of the images, his written permission is required.

Charles Henderson

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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, 2005).
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.  

For more information about Charles Henderson.