Churches’ stained glass inspires awe, shows stories


Around Easter, many are drawn to churches enriched with stained glass that often reflects religious traditions and, sometimes, local history.

Windows of stained glass

The churches below are among the many in South Florida whose stained glass windows make them worthy of a visit. Listed are hours for Saturday-Sunday Easter services.


•  Cathedral of St. Mary, 7525 NW Second Ave., Miami; 305-759-4531.

French artisan Gabriel Loire created an entire wall of stained and faceted glass devoted to the theme of the Annunciation and the Birth of Christ for the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament. (Visitors to the chapel can see a photograph of Pope John Paul II praying in front of these stained glass windows. The pope inaugurated his 1987 papal tour of the United States with a visit to St. Mary’s.) Loire comes from Chartres, which has a long lineage of superb stained glass, including the medieval Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Services: Saturday Easter vigil, 8 p.m., led by Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski. Easter Sunday 6:30 a.m. and 10 a.m. in English; 7:30 a.m. in Creole; noon in Spanish.

•  Corpus Christi Catholic Church, 3220 NW Seventh Ave., Miami; 305-635-1331.

Consecrated in 1959, Corpus Christi Catholic Church contains an architectural duality. Upon entering from the west, visitors perceive a modern-style church with minimal adornment directing one’s gaze to a massive mahogany crucifix carved by Ivan Meštroviæ, the master Croatian sculptor known as the Rodin of the 20th century. Only upon turning around to exit do you see the glorious stained glass windows hidden in recessed walls. They depict the saints, old and new, including two who died at Auschwitz and were later canonized by Pope John Paul II.

Services: Saturday Easter vigil, 8 p.m., bilingual. Easter Sunday, 9 a.m. in English; 11 a.m. in Spanish.

•  Epiphany Catholic Church, 8235 SW 57th Ave., South Miami; 305-667-4911.

The sanctuary centerpiece, a contemporary stained-glass cross, towers more than 60 feet above the altar. Images throughout the cross represent the Easter Triduum, the three-day period from the evening of Holy Thursday through Good Friday and the Resurrection. The Last Supper is represented by images of wheat, grapes and a chalice; the Passion of Christ by images of the lashes Roman soldiers used to whip Jesus. The bright light emanating from the center of the cross signifies the resurrection.

Services: Saturday Easter vigil, 7:30 p.m. in English. Easter Sunday, 8 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. in English; 12:30 p.m. in Spanish.

•  First United Methodist Church of Miami, 400 Biscayne Blvd.; 305-371-4706.

The stained glass windows at this church in the heart of downtown Miami were crafted in Italy and installed shortly after 1915, the year Trinity Methodist Episcopal Church, South, was built. At the time, the congregation was split between north and south churches, much the way the country was politically and philosophically rent in the wake of the Civil War, according to church historian Wilma Baggesen. The churches united in 1966 after an arsonist burned down the north church, known as White Temple Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1980, the church moved to its current location.

Services: Easter Sunday, 7 a.m. at Bayside’s Marina Stage; 11 a.m. in the church sanctuary.

•  Gesù Catholic Church, 118 NE Second St., Miami; 305-379-1424.

The stained glass windows were designed by the Franz Mayer studio of Munich in the early 1920s. As such, the windows display a Germanic influence, such as sloping hats the shepherds wear and the pipes they smoke, says the Rev. Eduardo J. Alvarez, pastor of Gesù. The windows compliment the Mass, particularly on feast days such as Easter, where one sees the resurrection of Christ and his ascension into heaven. “It’s very uplifting for our parishioners to see the beauty of the church, and also when we celebrate some of the feasts we can refer to the windows,” Alvarez says. “The window is so evident.”

Services: Saturday Easter vigil, 8 p.m., bilingual. Easter Sunday, 8:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. in English; 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. in Spanish.

•  Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Cemetery, 11411 NW 25th St., Miami; 305-592-0521.

Designed and executed by the Conrad Pickel Studio of Vero Beach, the assemblage of windows is a trio of four-paneled images that tell the story of Easter from the crucifixion on Good Friday to The Risen Christ and the Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles in the wake of Christ’s resurrection. These windows are one-inch-thick stained glass slabs cast in epoxy resin.

Services: None.

•  Holy Comforter Episcopal Church, 150 SW 13th Ave., Miami; 305-643-2711.

The ocular window above the Holy Comforter altar originally came from Trinity Cathedral. The French-made window represents Christ’s ascension into heaven in the presence of four apostles. The windows of this church also focus on lay people, such as Helen Keller, as well as two non-Episcopalians, the Pentecostal preacher Oral Roberts and Evangelist Billy Graham.

Services: Easter Sunday, 10:30 a.m. in English; 12:30 p.m. in Spanish.

•  Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, 464 NE 16th St., Miami; 305-374-3372.

The artisans at DomCat Studios of Cape Coral are restoring and reinstalling Trinity’s stained glass windows. Their work entails cleaning the glass, replacing the old lead cames that hold the glass pieces in place, and reassembling the work in the same fashion as putting together a jigsaw puzzle, says DomCat Vice President Dominic Engels. While the reinstallation of the clerestory windows is expected to be completed by the end of April, the dean of the cathedral says, fundraising is under way to find an additional $250,000 to complete the full project.

Services: Saturday Easter musical vigil, 8 p.m. Easter Sunday, 8 a.m., 10 a.m. in English and 12:15 p.m. in Spanish.


•  St. Stephen Evangelical Lutheran Church, 2500 NE 14th Street Causeway, Pompano Beach; 954-942-4473.

Made of faceted glass in the 1970s by the Conrad Pickel Studio, this window takes up the entire north end of the sanctuary. Unlike the other windows featured here, this design resembles an abstract mosaic and includes an abundance of glass known as “Pickel Blue,” a bluish-gray tinted glass that Pickel favored in his work.

Service: Easter Sunday, 10 a.m.


•  Iglesia Adventista (West Palm Beach Spanish Seventh-day Adventist Church), 2727 Georgia Ave., West Palm Beach; 561-832-8644.

The Window of the Radiant Christ is so spectacular that AAA listed it as an attraction on its tourist guides. Originally commissioned by the Union Congregational Church in 1981, the window spans 75 feet from wall to wall and 27 feet from floor to ceiling, making it one of the largest single stained glass windows in the United States. Conrad Pickel designed and executed the window from his Vero Beach studio. The Pickel Studio also created the largest stained glass window in the world, according to The Guinness Book of World Records. Located just outside Chicago at the Resurrection Cemetery, the window of faceted glass covers more than 22,000 square feet.

Easter services: Saturday, 11 a.m.; 4 p.m. children’s program.

Special to The Miami Herald

Shortly before Easter last year, artisans from the DomCat Studios in Cape Coral began the intricate work of restoring the stained glass windows at the Episcopalian Trinity Cathedral in downtown Miami. Plywood boards replaced the windows where sunlight once filtered through the glass in vibrant kaleidoscopic color.

The Very Rev. Douglas Wm. McCaleb remembers trying to inspire his congregation during those initial dark days.

“Stained glass windows are the way the light gets in,” he told them during one sermon. “What do we do now that we don’t have all the saints looking down on us? We have to make our own light.”

In the week leading up to Palm Sunday this year, the cathedral’s stained glass windows went through a resurrection of sorts. After a year of absence, workers began replacing the clerestory windows, those on the upper level, which depict parables and the seven miracles of Christ.

Easter naturally draws many South Floridians to churches enriched with stunning displays of stained glass designed to inspire awe, tell the stories of the Bible, and, in some cases, the story of South Florida. But visitors don’t have to be among the faithful to appreciate their beauty.

Students of local history may take a special interest in a window donated by Miami’s first mayor at Gesù Catholic Church or the one Miami’s first permanent physician gave to the First United Methodist Church after the death of his only son. At Trinity, a rose window as wide as a doubles tennis court pays tribute to Julia Tuttle, known as the Mother of Miami.

Art enthusiasts may want to head to West Palm Beach, where one of the country’s largest stained glass windows spans 75 feet and covers an entire wall of the Iglesia Adventista del Séptimo Día. The Window of the Radiant Christ was deemed so remarkable that AAA once listed it as an attraction in its tourist guides. Originally commissioned by the Union Congregational Church in 1981 and now the home of a Spanish-speaking Seventh-day Adventist Church in West Palm Beach, the window soars 27 feet from floor to ceiling as it depicts the life of Jesus from the old and new testaments.

Designed and executed by Conrad Pickel in his Vero Beach studio, the window took nine months to build and another five weeks to install. Ninety panels, weighing more than 160 pounds each, make up the mural. Set into aluminum H-frames, the panels were then caulked and sealed against the weather. The mural comprises more than 100 shades of glass, specially made for the project in Germany. The original glass weighed 10 tons; once installed, the window weighed in at 17 tons.

Conrad honed his craft in his native Germany, training at the famed Franz Mayer studio in Munich. His son, Paul, keeps the family tradition alive, using techniques that harken back to the 12th century.

As they listen to classical music, Pickel says, he and his staff start by drawing a full-size image of the window, which they recreate using pieces of hand-cut glass. They then connect the individual pieces of glass using grooved lead strips called cames. Details are hand-painted onto the glass, which is then fired in a kiln at 1,350 degrees Fahrenheit — as hot as some volcanic eruptions.

An alternate approach — known as the faceted glass process — adds an epoxy resin to the glass, where the translucent glass contrasts with the opaque epoxy. Only when the new windows are installed do their beauty and majesty fully reveal themselves and “you get that certain tingle,” he says.

Franz Mayer windows are also showcased at a mission church and chapel belonging to the parish of Father José Luis Menéndez, pastor of Miami’s Corpus Christi Catholic Church on Northwest Seventh Avenue. The main church features Craftsman-style windows from the 1920s obtained from a Chicago church that has long since been torn down and whose name has long since been forgotten. Two windows that Corpus Christi later commissioned in the same style feature two people who were killed by the Nazis at Auschwitz and later canonized by Pope John Paul II.

Franz Mayer artisans also created the crystal-leaded windows at Gesù Catholic Church in the early 1920s. The windows not only relay the events in the lives of Jesus and Mary, but also that of the history of Miami from its origin.

“Many of the windows were donated by the early settlers,” the Rev. Eduardo J. Alvarez says. The church was egalitarian when it came to representing the donors, some of whom came from modest means. The first mayor of Miami, John B. Reilly, was a donor, as was Julia Tuttle’s maid, Margaret Kearney. “The people who donated those windows paid $30,000 at the time, which was a lot of money,” Alvarez says. “But today those windows are priceless.”

Miami’s history also plays out in First United Methodist’s Italian-made windows. According to church historian Wilma Baggesen, Josiah Chaille, the man who designed Miami’s street grid, donated one of those windows, as did Dr. James M. Jackson, Miami’s first doctor and the man for whom Jackson Memorial Hospital is named. As for Trinity Cathedral, its rose window, with 83 panels of glass and a superimposed Latin cross, served as the only substantial monument to the city’s founder until 1961, when the Julia Tuttle Causeway was built.

For the faithful, the windows portraying the Easter story may be the most powerful, especially at this time of year. They can be found in many settings, from the exquisite chapel crafted by the Pickel studio at Our Lady of Mercy Catholic Cemetery west of Miami International Airport, to First United Methodist’s precious Lamb of God, which symbolizes Jesus as the Paschal lamb that died to save mankind from eternal damnation. But nowhere is the Easter passion more dramatically displayed than at Epiphany Catholic Church in South Miami, where a stained glass cross with images of the Easter Triduum towers more than 60 feet above the altar. Amid images representing the Last Supper and the crucifixion, a starburst of light erupts from the center of the cross to symbolize the Easter resurrection.

Taken in their purest form, stripped of all religious and historical allusion, stained glass windows can have a profound effect on the psyche.

Just as stained glass windows served to lead man out of the Dark Ages by illuminating churches with brilliant colors that seemed to dance as the sun moved across the sky, today even modern versions of those windows tend to enhance the religious experience. For the modern parishioner, stained glass windows dim the glare of the outside world to provide a spiritual haven that is both cavernous and calm.

“Today, I think that what people want from a church is to have an atmosphere,” says Corpus Christi’s Menéndez, “an atmosphere that is not bright lights, but something in the dark, something that will concentrate their hearts.”

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