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The Function of Stained Glass in Gothic Architecture

    Practical Role

    Spiritual Function

    • Stained glass captured qualities of spirituality and mystery.Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images

      In addition to the spatial and lighting effects that giant windows created, Gothic stained glass windows also carried a spiritual quality. The colored panes -- created by adding various metallic salts and oxides -- glowed brilliantly like jewels when light passed through them, creating an experience laden with awe and mystery, and conveying the importance of light in accordance with the religious symbolism of the time.

    Illuminated Narratives

    • Stained glass windows often depicted biblical scenes.Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images

      Stained glass windows also served as illustrative tools, intended both to educate and inspire. Panels in Gothic cathedrals often depicted biblical scenes or important moments from the lives of saints. Scenes and stories could be contained to one window, or progress successively throughout a series of windows. However, these narratives were meant for people to not only "read," but also to experience on a spiritual level as objects of image, light, color and mystery.

    An Acknowledgment of Patronage

    • One function of stained glass windows that cannot be ignored was its role as a means to acknowledge the supporters who funded and labored to construct the cathedral, namely patrons and workers' guilds. Likenesses of such people would be depicted within a panel, oftentimes in the immediate foreground, kneeling near the sides of the panel.

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