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Let There Be Light
The Beauty of Christianity in Stained Glass

PelicansBrampton.jpg (72113 bytes)

Pelican window 
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. 

As I 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.

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 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 be illuminated. 

RisenChristandMarySaugerties.jpg (57442 bytes)

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

An Illuminated Easter
The Easter story as told by stained glass artists in some of the most beautiful churches of Europe and North America

To visit Ralley's recently updated website -- click here.

About Neil Ralley -- in his own words

More arts related features on this site

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

Other related and recommended sites you might want to visit: 

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The Rev. Charles P. Henderson is a Presbyterian minister and author of Faith, Science and the Future, published in 1994 by CrossCurrents Press. He is also the author of God and Science (John Knox / Westminster, 1986) which he is now rewriting to incorporate more recent developments in the conversation taking place between scientists and theologians. He has also written widely for such publications as The New York Times, The Nation, Commonweal, The Christian Century and others.

For further information about Charles P. Henderson.