Catholicism has used visual symbolism from its very beginnings. An early example is the ichthys or Greek fish, used by early Christians as a secret symbol. In the visual arts, Christian saints are traditionally associated with a symbol or iconic motif associated with their life or manner of death. During the Gothic and Renaisance period, artists used symbols so that the illiterate could recognize a scene or recall the biography of the saintly figure. This tradition established many of the symbolic motifs that we still recognize and today are incorporated into the stained glass windows of our new church.
The Four Evangelists
Traditional symbols of the Evangelists are in the upper portion of the windows: the Lion of Mark, the Eagle of John, the Ox of Luke and the Man of Matthew. Their original inspiration comes from two biblical sources, the four living creatures that draw the throne-chariot of God in the first chapter of Ezekiel and the four creatures constantly praising God in chapter four of the book of Revelation.
In front of the throne was something that resembled a sea of glass like crystal. In the center and around the throne, there were four living creatures covered with eyes in front and in back. The first creature resembled a lion, the second was like a calf, the third had a face like that of a human being, and the fourth looked like an eagle in flight. The four living creatures, each of them with six wings, were covered with eyes inside and out. Day and night they do not stop exclaiming: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty, who was, and who is, and who is to come.’ – Revelations 4:6-8
These stained glass windows depict the three authors of the synoptic gospels as seated at a desk, writing their respective gospels on vellum, an ancient writing material made of calf skin with traditional tools, a knife, a pair of tongs and an ink pot. John is uniquely depicted as receiving divine inspiration from the hand of God and dictating that inspiration to a smaller scribe.
In the background of each window, is an artistic representation of the city most closely associated with each Evangelist. Mark is said to have founded the Church of Alexandria, one of the most important episcopal sees of Early Christianity. The evangelist Matthew is credited with writing the very first gospel account of Jesus for the Jews in the city of Jerusalem. Luke, a physician and evangelist, traditionally wrote his gospel in Antioch. John is associated with the city of Ephesus, where he is said to have lived and been buried. Some believe that he was exiled (around 95 AD) to the Greek island of Patmos, where he wrote the Book of Revelation.
Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary
Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus developed in the 11th century out of earlier devotion to his holy wounds, in particular to the sacred wound in the side of Jesus. The Sacred Heart is often depicted in Christian art as a flaming heart shining with divine light, pierced by the lance-wound, encircled by the crown of thorns, surmounted by a cross, and bleeding. In the window of the church, the sacred heart is shown shining within the bosom of Christ with one hand pointing at the heart and the other in the ancient position of blessing. The crown of thorns represents the instruments of Jesus’ death, while the fire represents the transformative power of divine love. The Holy Spirit is above the head of Jesus surrounded by a cross and halo.
The image of the Immaculate Heart of Mary represents a devotional that venerates the interior life of the Blessed Virgin Mary, her maternal love for her son Jesus, and her compassionate love for all people. Veneration of the Heart of Mary is similar to worship of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. There are, however, differences as devotion to the heart of Jesus is especially directed to the “divine heart” as overflowing with love for humanity. In the devotion to Mary, however, the attraction is the love of her heart for Jesus and for God. The stained glass depicts Mary with a halo and the crown of heaven above her head. Her hands are pointing to the pierced heart, glowing with the love for God and hanging from her belt is a rosary.
The Star of Bethlehem, also called the Christmas Star, revealed the birth of Jesus to the Biblical Magi, and later led them to Bethlehem, according to Christian tradition.
Crown of thorns and nails are the instruments of Christ’s crucifixion.
Descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus in the form of a Dove as described in the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke.
IHS is a group of Greek letters, iota is represented by I, and the eta by H, and the Greek letter sigma is represented by S which represents the Latin expression “In hoc signo vinces” or “In this sign you will conquer.”
Lamb of God or Latin “Agnus Dei” is a title for Jesus that appears in the Gospel of John. It appears at John 1:29, where John the Baptist sees Jesus and exclaims, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
Chalice and Host refers to the Blessed Sacrament and the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper.
Grapes or the True Vine is a parable given by Jesus in the New Testament. Found in John 15:1–17, it describes Jesus’ disciples as branches of himself, who is described as the “true vine,” and God the Father the “husbandman.”
The Triquetra is a three-part interlocking fish symbol that symbolizes the Christian trinity, three distinct Persons who exist in co-equal, co-eternal communion as the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The Sacred Heart is a flaming heart shining with divine light, encircled by the crown of thorns
Keys of the Kingdom symbolizes Jesus’ statement to Simon Peter, “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven”
— James Speelman