The term 'stained glass' near always evokes images of stylish Gothic cathedrals and churches with windows bearing a colorful mosaic of glass designs. In fact, in its thousand-year of history, stained glass has been almost exclusively used in the windows of churches, cathedrals and a smattering of other significant buildings.
What is stained glass?
This is basically colored glass which lends itself to a host of lovely and eye-catching creations in art and architecture.
When metallic salts are added during the manufacture of glass, the ensuing colored material is called stained glass. Small pieces of this colored glass are then artatically arranged to create pictures, designs or patterns and form the basis of stained glass windows. The designs are typically enhanced by a liberal use of paints and yellow stain.
Tall, cylindrical colored glass windows were a common sight in churches and cathedrals during the Middle Ages. Many of these large windows have managed to ward off the ravages of time and are more or less intact even today. This unique pictorial art is one of the highlights of Western Europe's architecture that has luckily survived till present times.
Stained Glass designs
The designs of stained glass windows are as varied as the colors themselves. Common motifs usually feature narratives based on the Bible, historical events or even literature. Some designs focus on saints or patrons, or make use of symbolic motifs. Colored glass windows in a church or a cathedral are typically thematic and show significant episodes from the life of Christ.
Evolution of stained glass
Stained glass began to come into its own as an art form sometime around the 10th or 11th century. Since metallic content was an essential part of the proceedings, glass factories were usually set up where there was an abundant supply of silica.
The addition of metallic oxides to glass in its molten state imparted color to the glass. Each ensuing color depended on the type of oxide that was added. For instance, copper oxides produced green glass, while cobalt made a vivid blue, even as gold wave birth to red glass.
Origins of colored glass
Glass in its colored form is not a modern phenomenon at all. The ancient Egyptians as well as the Romans were expert in manufacturing miniature colored glass objects. Many of their artifacts at the British Museum testify to this fact.
Stained glass in churches
The earliest references to colored glass windows can be found in the records dating to 675 CE workers from France were greeted by Benedict Biscop for the task of glazing the windows of the St Peter monastery at Monkwearmouth. Archaeologists have discovered several hundred pieces of colored glass and lead, all dating back to the 7th century.