A visual history of the stained glass windows of Holy Communion
The Chancel Window
As you enter the sanctuary, your attention is drawn to this beautiful window which focuses on the life of Christ and on those who gave us the Gospels and spread the Word. The atmosphere created by this backdrop, or reredos, is on of reverential awe as one contemplates the altar and the cross central to our worship.
Rising behind these sacrificial symbols is the power of God expressed in angel messengers, the Incarnation, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, and the Ascension. We are shown how this impact was received by man.
From left to right, the four central scenes of this window portray four primary events of Christ’s earthly life. The Nativity depicting the Word made flesh shows Mary, Joseph and the Angel with the baby Christ. The Crucifixion shows John and Mary as the saddened beholders of Christ on the cross. The Resurrection shows our Lord with his flag of triumph before two helmeted solders and the Ascension portrays Christ’s return to the Father with two of the Apostles looking on.
In the far left panel, Peter stands holding the keys of the kingdom, reminding us of the Master’s words: “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you find on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16: 18-19) The crest near his head displays a golden cock on a red field. Luke has a shell as his emblem and carries a staff and gospel. The shell is symbolic of baptism. Matthew with his Gospel is shown with an emblem of a winged man symbolizing bringing the Good News and below him is a book.
The window second from the left is contains the Resurrection and the Nativity. Michael, at the bottom, is armed with his great sword and was considered the great protector. He appeared to many of the great men of the Old Testament. With his angels, he fought with the dragon, Satan, in the New Testament. (Revelation 12:7) The small scales refer to Michael representing law and justice. The birth of the Baby Jesus is depicted in the middle of the panel and the Resurrection of Christ is at the top.
The next panel depicts the Crucifixion and Ascension. Gabriel, at the bottom, is holding lilies and he is frequently called a ‘man of God.’ He revealed God’s will and purpose in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, he came in a vision to Zacharias to foretell the birth of a son, John the Baptist. He is the messenger to Mary of the Annunciation. Most rabbinical scholars ascribe the blowing of the trumpet at the final resurrection to Gabriel, but some attribute that act to Michael.
The panel on the right, depicts Paul, Mark and John. Paul, at the top, who did so much to spread the Gospel, stands at the top with his sword. The crest for Paul is crossed swords on a blue field. Mark’s emblem, a rampant lion, represents the king of beasts. His gospel which he holds, stresses the royal character of Christ. John is in the middle and is shown with a torch and gospel with a chalice as his emblem. His Gospel expresses the mystery of Christ as He lives in man and man in Him. Below Mark is a crown.
At the very top is a Pelican. A symbol not often seen in religious imagery but one that depicts a central element in Christianity: sacrifice. Legend has it that the pelican, in time of famine, sacrificed her own blood for her young; hence the bird is a symbol of God’s sacrifice of His own Son for our atonement.
Other symbols contained within this window are:
- IHS: Jesus Hominum Salvator, the first three letters for Jesus in latin
- Chi-Rho or XPC above the Ascension, the first three letters of the Greek word, Christos, or Christ
- the Greek letter, alpha symbolizing the beginning
- the Greek letter, omega symbolizing the end
- a hammer and spear: indicative of the crucifixion
- The crown of thorns
- fruit, most likely pomegranates, remind us of divine grace and resurrection
- red roses of Sharon signifying hope, love and the Nativity
- A white flower symbolizing purity and piety
- a descending dove, representing the Holy Spirit, and
- three interlaced circles which denote both unending eternity and the Trinity.
The main level of both transepts contains three windows. The pulpit side contains Old Testament figures while the lectern side contains more modern ones. In these windows, much use is made of oak leaves and acorns in the borders. Just as the mighty oak is developed from a tiny acorn, the Church was developed from small beginnings. At the base of these lower transept windows. are whimsical figures of men made from oak leaves.
There are also two pictorial windows in the balconies of the transepts, one on the pulpit side and one on the lectern side. These windows are sometimes called clerestory windows. Clerestory refers to the upper level which contains widows in the nave or transepts of a church. These two clerestory transept windows memorialize Christ, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter and Paul. We recall Luke’s authorship of his gospel and the book of Acts. More than a fourth of the New Testament is attributed to him. Peter’s and Paul’s deeds fill most of the Acts. Paul’s epistles with Luke’s works show us how much these two great men have given to Christianity. John as the loved disciple contributed what many scholars consider the most spiritual gospel. Tradition states Mark drew largely on the recollections of Peter.
On the pulpit side is the lower transept depicting Old Testament Figures. On the left is Adam in Paradise or Man as part of God’s creation. Shown also is the tree of knowledge of good and evil with the serpent representing sin and death.
The center window shows Noah with a small ark in hand. We are reminded of God’s covenant with man. Noah, the builder, preserved the remnant of God’s people. Below him is another representation of the ark, presumably on Mt. Ararat.
Seen on the right with knife and lamb is Abraham, whose faith God tested by asking Abraham for the sacrifice of his son, Isaac. Below is a flaming sacrificial altar. Being satisfied with the faith of Abraham, God intervened and saved his son.
The two windows on the left are illuminated by lights as they are not exposed to direct sunlight. The outside was covered with the addition of the hallway between the church and the Parish House.
On the left, John appears with the seven-branched candlestick below him. This emblem, the Jewish Menorah, represents worship in the Old Testament. In the New Testament it refers to the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit and to the seven churches in the Book of Revelation. Of special interest are the light, the position of St. John’s head, and the grapes.
In the center is Martin Luther holding a bible. At his feet is a red volume indicative of his profound writings and also his musical compositions or hymnody. As a teach, priest, translator, writer, composer and reformer he is revered for his staunch defense of the Bible and as founder of Lutheranism. Below him is is coat of arms.
At the right, Henry Melchior Muhlenberg, D.D., in a purple robe, became the Father of American Lutheranism. He came to American in 1742 and gave 45 years to establish and strengthen churches and synods. Below him is a small crown. This window has been repaired and his head is different than that of other heads in these windows. His son, the Rev. John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg attained the rank of Major General in the American Revolution and preached the funeral sermon for George Washington.
Pulpit Clerestory Transept (Upper Level)
The three primary figures are Peter with his keys at the left, Christ in the center, and Matthew with scrolls at the right. At the left of the large picture of Peter is Mark writing the gospel ascribed to him. Peter, standing over Mark, is apparently assisting or directing him. About e their heads is a cross. Between Peter and Matthew is the figure of Christ whose act of benediction overshadows and transcends all. At the extreme right of the large picture is the smaller figure of Christ calling Matthew (Levi) at the Gate of Custom: “After this he went out and saw a tax collector, named Levi, sitting at the tax office, and he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ And he left everything and followed him.” (Luke 5:27) The upper portion of the window contains vines, grapes and flowers similar to the chancel window.
Lectern Clerestory Transept (Upper level)
The central figures are Luke, the beloved physician, Paul and John. To the left we see Luke being commissioned by Paul. At the right is John at the Beautiful Gate healing “a man lame from birth.” (Acts 3: 1-10) Of special interest are the robes and halos of the three central figures, Luke’s closed book, Paul’s four scrolls representing the Gospels, and John’s open volume. The stained glass of the window contains the inscription, “To the glory of God and the Memory of Maria and August Bulgrin” as a banner across the lower portion of the window. The upper portion of the window contains vines, grapes, and flowers similar to the chancel window.