Monday, May 19, 2008

Trinity Stained Glass Window on Trinity Sunday at Immaculate Heart of Mary

Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic church in Wilmington, Delaware has a large stained glass window behind the altar that is supposed to represent the Trinity. Since Sunday was Trinity Sunday it is a good time to explore the imagery in the window. (click any image for larger)

The plaque at the back of the church describes the window but does not credit the artist.

Immaculate Heart of Mary Church

Window Design

There are a number of traditional symbols of the Holy Trinity, based on various geometric forms. The “triquetra”, however was chosen because its curves lend themselves to harmonizing with the shape of the arched window; its symbolic meanings are even more significant.

The triquetra is a mystical symbol, quite simple in form yet full of meaning. The three equal arcs of the circle express the equality of the Three Divine persons, their unison expresses the unity of divine essence, their continuous form symbolizes eternity, and the fact that they are interwoven denotes the indivisibility of the Blessed Trinity. Each pair of arcs forms a vesica, the symbol of glory. Thus, the one simple figure reminds us of many important truths.

In this design the inner form of the triquetra is repeated in a wider one (basically of deep blues) and again in a narrower one of light blues. This parallelism gives the feeling of infinity, repeating itself throughout space and beyond.

The hand of God is shown at the top, interwoven with a large star, as though acting in the process of creation. Grey-violet clouds move in around the hand, thus the symbol of the father.

The Son is symbolized by the cross which extends through the whole, melting into infinity.

The Holy Spirit is symbolized by flames moving in a dynamic upward motion.
Throughout the design all of the symbols have been interwoven into a kind of giant tapestry, a synchronous movement that relates all of the elements.

I spend a lot of time staring at the window and trying to see different figures in it, some of which are described above and some are not.

Here is the outline of the triquetra. The triquetra appears in Celtic art as well as early christian art.

The intertwining of the triquetra forms oval leaf shapes called the vesica piscis (from fish bladder) and forms the familiar fish shape that early Christians used as a symbol for their faith. It is current fashion among modern evangelicals as well. My favorite fish is the right hand one in which a bit of Holy Spirit fire makes an eye. The vesica piscis was a favorite of early mathematicians, especially the Pythagoreans. Christians love to co-opt or were influenced by pagan symbols throughout history.

Here are the symbols of the Father (hand in yellow outline), Son (cross in purple outline), and Holy Spirit (flames in red outline), mentioned in the description above.

I can see the star on top of the hand, but the clouds at the top of the window look more like a snake head to me.

If you stare to long you will see anything, you can even see Spongebob Squarepaints just below the cross beams of the cross. I really think the colors and the yellow head and brown pants are intentional with some inside colors to represent his eyes.

I think it is strange that a church named for the Immaculate Heart of Mary does not have a stained glass window that reflects that theme. Before I read the plaque and not knowing what the theme of the window was, I was still able to guess the Father, Son and Holy spirit theme, and the intertwining figure for the trinity. I always though the whole window was Mary and the triquetra was a very non-traditional representation of the Immaculate Heart. That would make the hand her hand (though you only ever see Mary point to her heart with her right hand). That would make all the blue her traditional vestments, and the snake would be the devil that you usually see crushed underfoot, but makes an appearance higher up in this view. Turns out I was dead wrong. Yet the window still gives a focal point for contemplation (except for the Spongebob Squarepants part).

Are there any sharp eyed readers that see other images in this stained glass window?


Anonymous said...

Hello, the children and I were there today for an Adoration hour. Inside the PEA chapel to the right of the entrance into the main church there is a stained glass of The Blessed Mother.

Enjoyed this post very much, even the Spongebob part!

Richard said...

Thanks anonymous, I will look for it the next time I am there. I don't usually go into the adoration chapel. Maybe I should!

Anonymous said...

ok...I am still LOL! I was reading your comments and my mouse "hand" was on the glass and as I am reading, I see the hand and wonder what the heck was going on with a Michael Jackson gloved hand on such a beautiful window...then I shifted in my seat and the hand moved. Enjoyed your ditty very much! I'd love to hear one of your sermons!