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      The ROSE WINDOW 


Written by Richard Coombes, Rector 1951-1956

In order to understand the fineness of the great rose window in St. Paul’s Church it is necessary to say a few words concerning the principles that guide those who designed and created it.  The jewelesque effect of the colors, and the absence of pictures and symbols, may make this window somewhat different from other windows with which one is familiar. 

The art of stained glass originated in Europe during the middle ages and reached its supreme heights in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.  Anyone who has had the opportunity to stand in awe before the glass at Rheims, Chartres, Sainte Chappelle, or Cologne, comes away with the feeling that surely the beauty of God’s Heaven can, through the inspired creativeness and genius of man, be brought very close indeed to this earth.  That famous glass is a product of the medieval period.  And it has possibly never been equaled. 

In those ages a stained glass window was regarded as a mosaic of pieces of glass designed to suggest spiritual values through harmonies of color.  The artists had received much of their inspiration from the real mosaics of earlier years.  It was color, and the effective harmonizing of it, which was primarily important.

But beginning with the Renaissance other values were introduced into the art, values which tried to give it a purpose for which it was never originally intended, and for which it was not too well suited.  These new values were material rather than spiritual.  Craftsmen began to “paint pictures” with glass.  The use of colors, and harmonizing of them, was demoted gradually to second place.  And recently, the “painting of a picture” in stained glass has become so associated with the art in the minds of so many people that we have almost entirely lost sight of the original purpose.

But the rendering of a picture is properly the aim of painting and photography.  Both of those arts are admirably suited to the purpose.  In them, the use of color, while it may be very important, is, nevertheless, an accessory.  On the other hand, in the art of stained glass, color ought to be primary, and the picture, if indeed, there is one at all, ought properly to be the accessory.

The recapturing for the stained glass craftsmen of these classical medieval principles has become the dedicated purpose of a few firms both in America and abroad in recent years.  One of these is the Whitefriars Studios of Messrs. James Powell and Sons, in Wealdstone, Middlesex, England, of which the chief designer is Mr. E. Liddall Armitage.  The rose window of St. Paul’s was made by them under Mr. Armitage’s personal direction.  Whatever artistic and spiritual values the window may have are due to his competence.

The Whitefriars Studio is of great historic interest.  It is mentioned in the Diary of Samuel Pepys.  The words were founded in 1680 by one William Davis on a site near the Temple alongside the banks of the Thames in the City of London, where at one time had stood a monastery occupied by the Carmelites or White Friars.  Along with all the other monasteries of England, this one had been dissolved in the sixteenth century.  But the buildings remained, and the area continued to retain its rights of sanctuary, so that it became the refuge of impecunious debtors and criminals of all sorts and conditions, who, once they had entered the area, could not be put in jail.

It is thought that William Davis located his glassblowing firm on that site because land and labor were cheap, and because it was near to the river wharfs from which Newcastle coal, sand, clay, and other materials, could be conveniently drawn.  The Whitefriars works remained in that location for nearly two hundred and fifty years until 1923 when larger premises were required, and they moved to Wealdstone.  It is interesting to note that at the time of the move a brazier of live coals was taken from the old works to light the first furnace at the new works, so it can be said truthfully that the Whitefriars furnaces have been burning continuously for over 270 years.

For the first 150 years after its founding the works changed hands frequently.  But in 1834 the firm was bought by James Powell, hence the name of the enlarged company.  Today they are manufacturers of glass for many decorative purposes, including fine table crystal.  But the stained glass department continues to retain the original name of Whitefriars. 

In 1838, shortly after the purchase of the firm by James Powell, an event occurred which was of great significance.  There was a certain Mr. Charles Winston, a man of varied interests and accomplishments.  He was a lawyer, an archaeologist, and especially a connoisseur of fine stained glass.  Mr. Winston approached Mr. Powell, owner of the company, with a proposition by which they might together attempt to discover some of the secrets of the medieval glass.  Pieces of the early glass were chemically analyzed and carefully studied.  As a result of the knowledge thus gained, Mr. Powell was able to develop from his furnaces a range of color and quality of brilliance which was remarkable, and which, after the further development of over a hundred years, today rivals the brilliance of medieval glass.  The beauty of the material with which the firm was thus enabled to work attracted the devotion of the finest craftsmen throughout the nineteenth century, and still does today.  The succession of artists who have been associated with the Whitefriars Studio are the peers of the profession.

The greatest achievements of recent years were made under the direction of Mr. James Hogan, who, until his death in 1947, was chief designer of Whitefriars.  Many authorities feel that the genius of Mr. Hogan has not been surpassed anywhere in the world in modern times.  His magnificent windows for Liverpoor Cathedral (which are over 100 feet tall, and the largest gothic windows in the world), and his outstanding windows for St. Thomas’, and the Church of the Heavenly Rest, New York City, prove that the finest tradition of stained glass has been truly rediscovered, and is once more a living art that can compare with the finest medieval work. 

This classical tradition is still alive today in the Whitefriars Studio where artists and craftsmen work under the direction of Mr. Hogan’s successor, Mr. Armitage.  It is believed to be the only studio in the world which manufacturers its own glass, a feature which enables the chemist, the glass maker, and the artist to cooperate in producing whatever color the harmony of the design dictates.  But in the final analysis it is more than technical accomplishment which is required in producing a fine work of art.  As Mr. Armitage himself has said, “In much modern art values have become confused.  Self-expression has been emphasized rather than a humble and anonymous reverence for the highest aspirations of mankind.  Technical accomplishments has been valued above spiritual significance.  In the finest windows of the medieval period we feel a sincerity that is often lacking in modern work.  The lessons of tradition combine not only technical guidance, but also spiritual.  The creation of beauty is conditioned by faith.”

From the time that the new St. Paul’s was conceived it was anticipated that a stained glass window would be set in the liturgical east wall over the altar.  The size and shape of the opening were determined only after many consultations and much correspondence among the building committee, the donors, the rector, architect, contractor, designer, and many others.

The designing of the tracery (or wood frame) and its manufacture were matters which also required a vast amount of consideration.  At Mr. Armitage’s suggestion we engaged his brother, Mr. H. M. A. Armitage, A. R. I. B. A., a distinguished London architect, to submit proposals in this regard.  The one which was chosen was among the dozen or more suggested.  Normally such tracery is made from stone, which hardly seemed appropriate for St. Paul’s.  Yet is was not a simple matter to find someone who was familiar with the procedure of undertaking such a project in wood.

At length, however, the Pacific Manufacturing Company of Santa Clara agreed to make it.  Under the supervision of Mr. James Pierce and Mr. H. Thomson the resources of that huge millwork firm were concentrated on it, and within four months they had finished the tracery, laminated together from literally hundreds of small pieces of sugar pine, and weighing just under a ton.  Meanwhile, templates of the actual lights in the window had been made and sent to England so that the glass, the general color design of which had already been approved, could be cut.

The glass was finished and shipped from England in May, 1954.  It arrived in Salinas the first week of July.  The tracery was brought from Santa Clara and hoisted into place.  And the glass was set in the tracery by the Cummings Studios of San Francisco. 

Thus, while the rose window is, in every sense truly a “Whitefriars” window, it has required the services and cooperation of many people half way around the world.  It is the earnest hope of the Rector of St. Paul’s, and of the donors, that the radiance which shines forth from this window may carry into the hearts of all who see it something of the beauty and majesty of God.

The Rose Window has been given by Mr.and Mrs. L. Michael Tynan to the glory of God and in memory of Mr. Tynan’s mother, Mrs. Annie Tynan, who, until her passing into life of the Church Expectant in 1947, was a devout communicant of Saint Paul’s.  May her soul rest in peace, and may light perpetual shine upon her.