Faith, Form and Light: A Guide to the Stained Glass Windows at Christ Anglican Church

christchurchaz

Grace Converse, PhD Candidate in Art History at USC offers descriptions of the artistic elements and symbolic meanings of the stained glass windows at Christ Anglican Church, Carefree, Arizona

Faith, Form and Light

A Guide to the

Symbols and Meanings of the

Stained Glass Windows

at Christ Anglican Church

Carefree, Arizona

Grace Converse


Guide Author

Grace Converse

PhD Candidate in Art History

at the University of

Southern California

Stained Glass Art Created By

Chris Powers

of Scottsdale Arizona

chrisT

anglican

c h U r c h

35500 N. Cave Creek Rd. • Carefree • AZ 85377

ChristChurchAZ.org


Christ Anglican Church, Stained Glass Windows

Introduction

The ten stained glass windows in this series are situated along the south and north faces of the church’s

clerestory above the nave. The windows proceed clockwise beginning with the southeast window. Each

window has the same dimensions—approximately 2 ft wide by 3 ft tall—and are each the same height

from the ground (18 ft). The uniform size and elevation create continuity in the series. This continuity,

in turn, is further aided by several repetitions of forms appearing across the series of windows.

First is the repetition of a thick, red external border of uniform width on each side, and a slender white

inner rectangular border, which together frame each window’s central image. The second form which

appears throughout is the vertical, cyan stripe. This bright blue band is comprised of two thin vertical

panes of equal width, such that the central black band that connects them perfectly bifurcates the left

half of the image from the right. This blue stripe runs from the top to bottom in each window,

intersecting the red and white frame.

This placement creates depth in the compositions as we innately understand or assume that the blue

exists in front of the red and white border. The main symbolic and gurative components of each

window appear to rest or hang on the blue band as if it is a pilaster, column, or beam. This lends

additional signicance to the central features as they are, or appear to be, elevated out of and above the

red and white surrounding elds. The consistent presence of the red, white, and blue forms also helps

integrate the windows into the surrounding architecture of the building. Just as each clerestory

window opening is the same size and is positioned at the same height, each image contains the same

essential features. To that end, the border area and band of blue in each window operate both

metaphorically and concretely as a transitional zone between the material realm of the church wall and

the spiritual world represented in each central image.

These repeated forms further parallel the function of the church’s architecture: they provide a

consistent ground to support a multitude of colors, shapes, symbols, and gures just as the physical,

built environment of this church provides a steady space for its many parishioners throughout their

lives and the variations in their journeys of faith. While one’s experience in this church is sacred, it is

not conned to this physical building. We are reminded of this in viewing the aspects of select

windows that are not contained by the red and white frame. These features cross through the

composition’s boundary to reach the edges of the composition.

Ultimately, this movement, expansion, and transformation—both of the compositional elements and in

our daily lives—is the essence of why stained glass is powerful: it embodies the ability for an

immaterial, intangible entity to move through a material form, at once transforming and causing

transformation. The small clear, diamond-shaped panes that appear in each window most acutely

represent this phenomenon as they refract light through colorless glass to reveal a full spectrum of

colors. In doing so, these diamonds provide a reminder that this phenomenal interaction of the physical

and immaterial, of spirit and matter, is as miraculous as it is profoundly simple, universal, and everpresent.

The artist Chris Powers of Scottsdale, Arizona created this series of ten stained glass windows. Powers

conceived of the imagery and was assisted by the utilization of extant designs and collaborative

conversations with the Rev. Canon Steven E. Dart. The Rt. Rev. John Upham blessed the windows on

the twentieth anniversary of the consecration of Christ Anglican Church on November 24, 2019.


Window 1: The Alpha and Omega – the Eternal Son of God

Within the crest at the center of this rst window, in a golden hue against a pale-blue eld,

are the intersected Greek letters, alpha and omega. They appear as if emblazoned on a coat

of arms. The form of the letters echoes and conforms to the surrounding shape: the cap on

the alpha parallels the horizontal top band of the crest, the lower corners of the letters align

with the point at which the crest curves inward, and the two bottom-most points of the

alpha narrow toward one-another, reinforcing the shape the pointed tip of the crest. As if

braided together, each part of one letter crosses over a corresponding part of the other. And

although these letters are both symmetrical, the interweave of letters is not. On the right, the

Omega begins in front, winds behind the alpha, before crossing back over the alpha at the

bottom.

On the left, the inverse is true. These differences are the only asymmetries in this window.

Yet rather than suggesting an imbalance, that perhaps one side or letter is more meaningful

than the other, the weave indicates the interdependence of these letters and embodies the

symbolic meaning of combining these letters: The alpha, the beginning, is as important as

the end, omega. One cannot be understood or exist without the other. If written as two

separate letters in a conventional way, one next to the other, these letters would be read

either left to right or right to left. In such an arrangement, they would be locked in an

imposed, xed order.

Here, through their interconnectedness, we read them simultaneously, as one unied form.

In this way, this representation of a traditional symbol of Christ epitomizes both the

message contained in the proclamation “I am the Alpha and Omega” (Revelation 22:13) and

the idea that God is everlasting, ever-present within, outside of, and beyond the forward

march of time on Earth.

Window given by

Micah Johnson and Dedicated

to the Glory of God in thanksgiving

for his three gifts;

Peter, Sydney & Keikilani.


Window 2: The Incarnation – the Birth of Christ

This depiction of the incarnation shows Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus framed within a

simple manger. Mary kneels, hands together in prayer, to the left of Jesus. Her head bows

slightly down, indicating the direction of her gaze and her connection to the infant. Jesus

gestures with both arms upward toward Mary and appears to meet her gaze. Through this

composition, an invisible triangle forms between Jesus and Mary: Jesus’ head and hands

exist on the same horizontal plane as Mary’s hands to form the base of this triangle; from

Mary’s hands to her face the left-most plane, and from her eyes to Jesus’ the third plane.

We see a similar pattern of triangular arrangements echoed throughout this window’s

composition. The roof of the manger, the rays beaming down from the Star of Bethlehem,

the three bodies at the center of the image. The triangle is signicant in the context of the

Incarnation because Jesus is the fulllment of the plan of salvation of the triune God.

Triangles are a geometric manifestation of trinities and their form is one of balance,

harmony, and solidity.

Yet, despite the prevalence of the triangular motif in this image, it is important that the

artist chose to represent the incarnation guratively, rather than as an abstraction or

through the use of symbols. There is a reason this is the only window in the series which

includes naturalistic, gurative representations of the human form. This portrayal of

bodies, in turn, underscores the meaning of the Incarnation: with the birth of Jesus, God

entered our human history as man. In this way, picturing Jesus as an infant with Mary and

Joseph at once illustrates the most celebrated event in the Bible while reinforcing the very

meaning of this event.

LOOK UP

And join the angels in rejoicing

In God’s gift of Christ’s birth

REFLECT

On the blessings, grace and strength

you receive from God each day

REMEMBER

The loved ones who have gone before you

Dedicated to the Glory of God in thanksgiving

For His many blessings

The Opstad Family – 2019

Stan and Judy and their children

Stan III, Ray and Stephannie


Window 3: Chi Rho – the Baptism of Christ

In contrast to the gurative portrayal of the Incarnation, the third window returns to a

symbolic representation of Christ similar to the rst window’s Alpha and Omega — in this

case it is the Christogram, Chi Rho, ☧. Chi (X) and Rho (P) are the rst letters of the Greek

word, “ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ,” or Christos. In their combined, symbolic form, as seen in this window,

the two letters become a monogram of Christ. The Chi Rho is therefore a reminder that

Jesus is the Messiah, or “Christ.”

Yet in this window, the Chi Rho serves a dual purpose—it is not only the Christogram but,

as the focal piece in this composition, it also operates in lieu of a gurative depiction of

Jesus. As the word Christos implies, the Chi Rho is not only a symbol of Jesus, but is

emblematic of Jesus’ baptism, the event from which he began His earthly ministry. In this

image, rather than seeing John the Baptist submerge Jesus in the Jordan River, the Chi Rho

appears in gold surrounded by a circular wreath.

Three aspects of this window cue us to understand the symbol as the representation of

Jesus at the moment of His baptism: the image of the white dove on the right side of the

inner circle, the deep blue background surrounding the Chi Rho, and the four rays

emanating from the upper left corner onto the wreath. According to the Bible, as Jesus

emerged from the river the heavens opened, the Spirit of God descended upon Him in the

form of a dove, and the Father declared: “Thou art my beloved Son, in whom I am well

pleased” (St. Mark 1:11). Here the golden Chi Rho—Jesus—rises above the deep, royal

blue eld of color—the water—as the white dove anks the Chisto Gram.

We understand this image as an event, as a moment in which powerful activity occurred,

by the dove’s open wings indicating ight. Likewise, the subtle tapering of the four rays

from narrowest in the corner to wider as they strike the left quadrant of the wreath

suggests the radiating movement of light from a distant point in the heavens to the

terrestrial realm of Earth, indicated here by muted earthen green leaves and red owers

comprising the circular wreath. The representation of Jesus as the Chi Rho denotes that in

Christ, Heaven has come to Earth.


Window 4: Miracle of Loaves and Fishes – the Miracles of Christ

According to each of the four Gospels, Jesus miraculously fed 5,000 people from just ve

loaves of bread and two sh as shown in the fourth window. This window serves as a

reminder not only that Jesus was a miracle worker, but also that He is the Creator, making

manifest the meaning of God as provider through His miracles.

Although part of a miraculous process, the sh and loaves are made of matter; they are

tangible things. The representation of the sh and loaves as just that—two red sh and ve

tan loaves in a straw-colored, woven basket—reinforces Jesus’ ability to create in palpable

ways. The actual, recognizable objects in this window therefore speak to why His miracles

were impactful: Jesus forged a bridge between the divine and the material world. He made

manifest sustenance for the masses. Furthermore, in viewing this window, we are placed at

the scene of this miraculous event by the blue, undulating curved band in the bottom half

denoting the Sea of Galilee.

Through this, we understand these events as occurring on Earth. The representation of the

sea, as the source of these sh and the site of this miracle, is also a sign of God’s abundance.

He has provided us with the means to not only feed ourselves but also to care for

others—the expansiveness, depth, and ultimate incomprehensibility of the sea serves as a

metaphor for the limitless capacity of God’s grace.

This window further shows the meaning of abundance, the possibility to amplify resources

to serve thousands, by the light it casts throughout the church. While each window casts

different degrees of colorful light, this window underscores the symbolic meaning of

stained glass: sunlight brings an ever-changing, prismatic glow reected on the church

walls through simple material forms—small red, blue, purple, and white oval, rectangular,

and triangular panes of glass—as the God of Love transforms those in whom He shines.


Window 5: Crown of Thorns – the Suffering and Death of Christ

The transformation of light through this window is especially powerful. As sunlight

moves through the garnet hued glass which dominates the majority of the central

rectangular eld, it paints the otherwise white church walls a dramatic red. As this

colored light permeates the church, it carries with it the many symbolic meanings of the

composition.

A dark, pewter gray and black tangled and barbed ring comprises the Crown of Thorns.

Encased in the Crown is a solid black central band inscribed with the letters INRI, the

color and sharp pointed ends of which mimic the surrounding web of thorns. Appearing

in stark contrast to the red and the near-opaque gray crown, are three, colorless, narrow

triangular bands with diamond-shaped caps—the nails used in the Crucixion of Christ.

The nails’ pointed ends culminate at the lettering, guiding the viewer’s eye to this central

point and, in turn, to the message and meaning of INRI Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudeorum,

Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.

As a reminder of Jesus’ ultimate and eternal love in the moment of His passion, the nails

in this image pierce the Crown of Thorns. This message is reinforced by how the bands of

glass comprising the nails function within the window: just as the nails are represented

penetrating the crown, they are the only areas through which unobscured and uncolored

light can pass. Combined with the light from the red panes, the light from this window is

both the red of Christ’s sanguinary martyrdom and that of the clear light and love of

Jesus—King of the Jews and the Kingdom of Heaven.


Window 6: Easter Lily and Palm Branches – the Resurrection of

Christ

Here, shown as three white lilies, a symbol of rebirth, Christ is resurrected. This

window again repeats the trinity motif seen most clearly in the Nativity and Crown of

Thorns windows. More still, this window reprises the appearance of white in the

trinity. It is as if the three bright nails piercing the Crown of Thorns from window ve

have transformed to this trinity of lilies. This repetition evokes Christ’s transformation;

His emergence from death in a jubilant manifestation of new life, gloried life.

Beyond appearing as a trinity, that they are three blossoms of the same ower,

suggests the divine unity of Christ with the Father and the Holy Spirit. As in the Alpha

and Omega and the Chi Rho windows, the lilies here are an embodiment of Christ. We

are clued to this by the color of their stems, which echoes the golden hue in these two

other windows.

The owers also appear against an oval violet backdrop—the color of the robe placed

on Jesus before his crucixion. The lilies thus can be understood as relating to the

surrounding eld of violet as Christ’s body did to the violet robe. Similarly, below the

lilies are two crossed palm fronds. Appearing in this orientation to the owers, they

evoke the placement of palms throughout the streets of Jerusalem during Jesus’

triumphal entry into the city. The fronds are, in a sense, at the lilies’ feet in much the

same way they were when Jesus entered Jerusalem. Yet notably, the palms appear

fecund as they extend upwards, toward heaven. They are a victorious visualization of

the meaning of resurrection—to rise up and to be revived.

In its combination of violet, palm fronds, and lilies, this image encapsulates the day of

resurrection as well as the processes, events, and rituals leading up to Easter. Just as in

this window the palms and the violet background provide richness and visual support

for the lilies, it is the period of Lent, Palm Sunday, and the commemoration of Good

Friday that give meaning to Easter.


Window 7: Orb, Scepter, and Crown of Christ, Heavenly King –

the Ascension of Christ

Surrounded by a rainbow mandorla are Christ’s golden crown, orb, and scepter. Jesus has

ascended into heaven and reigns in glory as King. The orb, the ancient symbol of rulership,

signies that Christ holds the world in His hands. The scepter, which crosses behind the

orb, represents Christ’s ability to comfort and protect. As such, it reminds us we need not

fear any enemy, not even death.

In breaking the connes of the mandorla, extending to the edges of the white rectangular

inner eld, the scepter also signals that Christ’s work exists and expands beyond the realm

of Heaven. This meaning is compounded by the diagonal direction of the scepter: it slopes

from highest at the left to lowest on the right, echoing the direction of the rays of light in

the Chi Rho window. In that window, the direction of light represented the Holy Spirit’s

descension from Heaven to Earth in the form of a dove and here again, the left to right

descension suggests that even though He has ascended into Heaven, Christ maintains a

continual presence and reach on Earth.

The crown occupies nearly the entire upper half of the mandorla, with the center, highestmost

crest, tting perfectly into the inner, apex of the rainbow. In this way, it is as if the

golden crown itself is giving the mandorla its shape. At the middle of the crown’s center

crest is a red diamond-shaped form, representing the largest of the many gemstones

decorating the crown. A series of small, round rubies dot the crown along its central band.

Below this area, emeralds punctuate a swirling ligree.

As in the Resurrection window, these objects appear against a violet background, denoting

Christ’s royal status. And, carrying over from the Crown of Thorns and Resurrection

windows, the white trinity appears here in the form of three crystalline ovals within each

object. These cut-glass ovals are also prisms which refract light into the very colors of the

rainbow which appear in the mandorla. In doing so, these prisms carry the meaning, and

indeed visual content, of this window into daily life. Through this rainbow light, the world

may bask in God’s incorporeal energy as it radiates from Heaven.


Window 8: Shell and Water – the Sacrament of Holy Baptism

Where the Ascension window offers an experience of grace through prismatic light,

this window describes an essential step in one’s journey to follow Christ’s path into

Heaven.

When Jesus was baptized, He identied with sinners and this pointed to His

crucixion where He would become sin for our sake. Baptism for the believer is the

reception of this saving ministry of Christ and an initiation into the sacramental life of

the Church. In this image, a dove with its wings fully extended appears in the center

of the topmost red band. Its head—which is surrounded by a pale-yellow circle,

which in turn is framed by a larger slightly darker golden semi-circle—points

downward. As such, the dove directs our gaze downward to the shell. If we further

extend this directive our gaze reaches the earthly forms in this image. Further still, our

gaze will extend beyond the window’s frame, ultimately reaching the earth beneath

us. Through this act, we may come to understand how our own baptism, experiences,

and acts of faith on Earth forge a connection to Jesus’ life and, in turn, to God above.”

Repeating the motif of Heavenly light from other windows, four golden rays expand

outward from the dove’s aura. These rays penetrate a turquoise circle, which, in turn,

encloses a light tan cross and a dark blue and silvery gray scalloped-shape shell. This

shell symbolizes pilgrimage; our time on Earth has become the journey to Heaven.

From the shell, three drops of water fall into a halfmoon-shaped royal blue pool.

These droplets appear to rinse the lower portion of the cross’ vertical shaft, denoting

how, through baptism, an external washing brings inner cleansing through the power

of the Cross. From this sacrament, one is reborn a child of God.


Window 9: Pelican Feeding Young with Her Own Flesh – the

Sacrament of Holy Communion

In this window, an ancient symbol of the Eucharist is referenced with a pelican mother

bending her long neck downward toward her three open-beaked nestlings. But, her beak is

closed, indicating that rather than eating from her mouth as birds do, the chicks are nding

sustenance elsewhere.

At the point where the chicks’ beaks meet their mother’s chest are three red streaks,

evidence that the mother is sacricing her own body to feed her young. To further ensure

her chicks’ survival, she spreads her wings wide to transform herself into a shield against

predators and the elements. By doubly sacricing her body—exposing it to harm and

giving it over as food for her young—the pelican parallels Jesus’ own self-sacrice for all

humanity. This highest form of love, agape, is received through Communion.

The pelican appears within a red quatrefoil. While the four-lobed shape is a form of the

cross, its symmetry and rounded edges speak to its additional meaning as representing the

four ends of the Earth. In this context, we understand that the pelican’s sacrice, as a

representation of Jesus’ sacricial love, is universal. Further adding to this is the

appearance of four cut-glass ovals at each point in the quatrefoil. These cast prismatic light

throughout the church, and, in this case, the light refracts equally from each of the four

points, indicating that Christ’s love is not bound by geography, but is instead universally

accessible.


Window 10: The Lamb of God – the Sure and Certain Hope of

Glory

The series of windows culminates with the Lamb of God. Whereas the pelican represents

sacricial love, this gure symbolizes that Jesus was on Earth God’s Paschal Lamb. He

performs the ultimate sacrice, and in His dying takes away the sins of world.

Shown here holding a banner with a red cross, the Lamb is understood as a victorious

martyr — “Who by His death has destroyed death, and by His rising to life again hath

restored to us everlasting life.” (BCP p.78) The haloed Lamb looks upward, reminding

viewers of Christ’s work to open the gate of Heaven.


We hope you have enjoyed this tour though the stained glass windows

at Christ Anglican Church and you will one day visit in person.

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