Canticle of the Sun: The Windows of St. Clare of Assisi's New Church
September 05, 2008
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Some commissions are simply a joy, and the work I did with St. Clare’s parish in O’Fallon, Illinois was one of them. Liturgical Consultant Ken Griesemer of Albuquerque, New Mexico invited me to compete for the commission, and from the beginning, the conversations with Ken, the pastor, Fr. Jim Deiters, the building committee, and colleagues were intellectually and spiritually stimulating, challenging, and delightful. Humor, good food and wine were components of our explorations, too. Once selected, I listened to the committee and realized this Franciscan parish was expressing a spirituality which was near to my heart -- a love and respect for all of God’s magnificent creation.
Architect Dave Beringer of BCDM, Omaha, Nebraska, took his inspiration from the original 12th c. St. Clare Church in Assisi. This answered the committee’s stated desire for a sense of both the traditional and the contemporary. My task was to design two rose windows, in the front and back of the church, and nine Eucharistic Reservation Chapel windows, which are also partially seen from the main worship space.
Knowing the committee’s love of St. Francis’ “Canticle of the Sun,” I decided this should be the thematic focus of the windows.
Front Rose Window: “Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him.”
Back Rose Window: “Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars; in the heavens you have made them, precious and beautiful.”
In my preliminary design, I laid out the armature (the black segmenting lines) of the great medieval stained glass rose window of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. At the same time, I came across an image of microscopic DNA. The similarity of the two was striking. It seemed this medieval design had its unconscious origin in the very essence of our nature. I used the armature to link symbolically and visually the rose windows at St. Clare to the history and tradition of the church. Within that traditional matrix, the reference to the sun and moon could take a more contemporary form.
Additionally, the dividing lines of the armature were painted and fired with 24 karat gold luster, referring to the use of painted polychrome and gold leaf in historical churches. Kiln-fired onto mouth-blown glass, the gold is rich, lustrous, and reflective at night.
The “Brother Sun” window and the middle three windows of the Eucharistic Reservation Chapel symbolize the energy and warmth of the sun, as well as the action of the sun on nature in the celebration of the flower. It also represents the microcosm, while “Sister Moon” represents the macrocosm, the cosmos and the universe: both the individual and the universal.
The Eucharistic Reservation Chapel windows continue the “Canticle”—
“Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, and clouds and storms, and all the weather, through which you give your creatures sustenance.”
“Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water; she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.”
“Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you brighten the night. He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.”
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us…”
As the sun makes its path from East to West, dawn to dusk, the glass depicts wind and storms, water, fire, and earth, and the colors of each window project onto the opposite wall.
The formation of the design was an ongoing conversation between the committee, Ken Griesemer, Fr. Jim Deiters, and me. I took my inspiration also from the architecture, my cues from the site and light, but St. Francis’ “Canticle,” its praise and celebration of God’s love expressed through creation, was the greatest inspiration.
It is true that there were also some “technical difficulties” in the church construction schedule, creating challenges in the interface between the glazier and our studio. These were creatively resolved with the collaborative coordination of the construction team, Fr. Jim, and our studio.
With perhaps few other commissions, Fr. Jim’s own creativity guided the process, and it was one of those memorable co-creations one feels fortunate to have.
Elizabeth Devereaux is a glass artist in Chico, California USA.
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