Stained glass is absolutely beautiful, and these nativity scenes are no exception! The mother and child image is synonymous with Christmas, and the vibrancy of these colours really seem to bring these images to life!
The History of Stained Glass
Coloured glass has been made since ancient times. Both the Egyptians and the Romans manufactured small coloured glass objects. Stained glass gained recognition as a Christian art form sometimes in the fourth century as Christians began to build churches. The spread of Christianity throughout Europe is directly related to the expansion of stained glass across the globe and made stained glass the dominant art form of the new millennium.
Techniques of stained glass window construction were described by the monk, Theophilus, who wrote a ‘how to’ for craftsmen about 11AD. It describes methods little changed over 900 years: “if you want to assemble simple windows, first mark out the dimensions of their length and breadth on wooden board, then draw, scroll, work or anything else that pleases you, and select colours that are to be put in. Cut the glass and fit the pieces together with the grozing iron. Enclose them with lead cames… and solder on both sides. Surround it with a wooden frame strengthened with mails and set it up in the place where you wish.”
However, the 15th century onwards brought change and glass artists became glass painters; painted glass became fashionable and many traditional stained glass windows were destroyed as they were considered hopelessly old fashioned. Thankfully, the original methods were reviewed in the mid-1800s!
The Nativity Scene
Tradition has it that Saint Francis os Assisi created the first nativity scene in 1223, when he mounted a living nativity scene, consisting of a manger, an ox and a donkey, as part of a Christmas Eve Mass he organised whilst visiting the mountain town of Greccio, 60 miles outside Rome. Francis’s original nativity was inspired by his trip to the Holy Land and Jesus’ birthplace, in 2121. He was deeply moved visiting the site where God became fully human. Hoping others could enjoy the same profoundly spiritual experience, Francis encouraged believers to make pilgrimages to Bethlehem. By 1223, however, conflict among the powers vying for control of the Holy Land made the trip too dangerous for pilgrims. Francis decided to do the next best thing – bring Bethlehem to the pilgrims. Within a couple of centuries, nativity scenes had spread throughout Europe.
Did you know….?
- One of the oldest known examples of multiple pieces of coloured glass used in a window were found at St Paul’s Monastery in Jarrow, England, founded in 686AD.
- Gothic stained glass windows are a complex mosaic of bits of coloured glass joined with lead into an intricate pattern illustrating biblical stories and saints lives.
- Medieval craftsmen were more interested in illustrating an idea than creating natural or realistic images. Paint work was often crude and unsophisticated.
- St Francis cleared the idea of creating the nativity scene with the Pope before putting it together.
- Legend has it that St Francis was so moved with love for the Lord, that during his homily, he couldn’t bring himself to say the name ‘Jesus” instead he used the phrase ‘the babe of Bethlehem’.
- Every year in mid-November, scaffolding goes up in the middle of St Peter’s Square at the Vatican, and a manger scene is built, Every year, the scene is donated by a different region in Italy.