It is official! Our Studio has landed a very prestigious project of a new Cathedral in Raleigh North Carolina. Bishop Burbidge and the various Cathedral Committee Members, have chosen to relocate a great collection of stained glass windows from Philadelphia. Ascension of our Lord Church, at F and Westmoreland Streets is an historic building that has so many significant problems that it cannot be used as a worship space. Too many dangerous conditions exist. The windows themselves are in poor condition and will require a complete disassembling and rebuilding before they can begin a new life in Raleigh. While the Cathedral project has chosen all of the largest, most significant windows out of the collection, there remain a few windows that will not be making the move. These will go into the Sacred Window Rescue Project collection of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to await the attention of another project.
I have been trying to find a home for these windows for a few years now, all the while concerned that they would languish. I was afraid that they would be less popular than the Bavaian School windows that are abundant and preferred by so many. These windows could not be any more different from the Mayer and Zettler windows. Yes, the windows of the Bavarian School are part of the Gothic Revival Movement but spring from a very different root stock of the Gothic Revival tree.
Way back in the 18th Century, Gothic became popular once again as a style and sentiment. this occurred in England first but almost concurrently in Germany and other places as well, almost like the discovering fire. This was a great surprise after a long hiatus through the age of enlightenment, when all remnants of the middle ages and renaissance were discarded. Suddenly Gothic novels and manor houses were the rage and very soon the virus spread across the Atlantic. By the late 19th Century, stained glass was thriving again after having been rediscovered in Germany, France, England and finally, America. The Germans and French wanted to make painterly scenes in glass and became the Munich School so familiar in Catholic Churches as well as Lutheran and some Episcopal ones as well. The English trace their Gothic lineage via an entirely different course. Their motivation, and likewise many American, sprang from a zeal for all things medieval. Rather than depicting scenes of landscapes and spacial illusions as the Munich bunch, they insisted that stained glass design should remain two dimensional.
In America, Tiffany and LaFarge were going off in their own direction. Meanwhile, William Willet, Charles Connick, Nicola D’Ascenzo were all engaged in making windows that fit this Purely-Gothic dictum. Paula Himmelsbach Balano is notable for several reasons. I believe that she is the first woman anywhere to operate her own stained glass studio. There were others, like Violet Oakley, who dabbled in the medium, but Paula filled many great Churches. She was born in Leipzig and came to the U.S. as a young child. She studied art but didn’t take up stained glass until she was in her forties, by which time, she was a single mother. She was working for Nicola D’Ascenzo and had a falling out with him (she was not the only one to find Nicola Difficult). She went out on her own and the rest is history.
I believe that Bishop Burbidge remembered these windows, as he is originally from Philly. The great Architect of Catholic Churches and now, I’m happy to say, my friend, James McCrery recognized the value in these great windows and probably encouraged Bishop Burbidge to Acquire the collection for the new Cathedral in Raleigh.
Joe Hughes has built a website just to chronicle this project and we will be filling that site with regular blog posts and soon, narrated videos, describing the on-going project. Stay tuned!