Page 3 - Stained Glass Book Hburg
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Stained Glass Windows in the Churches of Harrisonburg


No less than their prototypes in Medieval Europe, the churches of Harrisonburg display a great
variety of stained glass. This wealth extends to both style and subject matter, although the timeless
message of the Christian faith, redemption and resurrection predominate. The fortunate worshipper is
thus drawn forth, instructed and inspired by images which diffuse softly through glass, light, color and

The life of Christ is lovingly portrayed in a number of the windows. Angels tell the shepherds of
Jesus’ birth (Otterbein) and they come to adore him (St. Stephen’s). Christ’s resurrection from the tomb
and appearance to Mary Magdalene are themes found at Otterbein, St. Stephen’s and Muhlenberg. The
drama of these great events for those of the Christian faith becomes vivid to the worshiper.

Christian art has always been an art of symbols. Early Christians filled their worship and burial
areas with various designs such as the fish, the Greek “icthos,” the Agnus Dei or Lamb of God and Christ
the Good Shepherd, the leader of his flock. The churches of Harrisonburg are rich in symbols: the fleur-
de-lis or symbol of the Virgin Mary and of the Trinity is a frequent motif (Blessed Sacrament and First
Presbyterian). The anchor, the Christian symbol for hope and steadfastness (Asbury and John Wesley),
the wheat and grapes have direct reference to the Last Supper and the Christian rite of Communion (First
Presbyterian, Otterbein, John Wesley and First Brethren).

Some of the churches of Harrisonburg have symbols of vignettes, which relate the history of
beliefs of that particular church. For example, the sword and plowshare in one of the windows at First
Brethren remind the viewer that the Brethren Church is traditionally a “peace” church, and the cup of cold
water is their symbol of service. Muhlenberg has a window, which vividly depicts Martin Luther at the Diet
of Worms. Luther standing before the Hapsburg Emperor Charles V and representatives of all the
German states and of the Pope refuses to recant his religious views “ Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise.
God help me. Amen.” With these words, the Protestant Reformation began.

Valley history is not ignored. Among the historic references in Emmanuel Episcopal Church is an
image of the Wren Building at William and Mary reminding us of James Madison, an important bishop of
the Episcopal Church in Virginia, a member of the faculty at William and Mary, a native of Port Republic
and first cousin of President James Madison. Certainly one of the most interesting windows in
Harrisonburg is that which shows Peter Muhlenberg (Muhlenberg) preaching the cause of the American
Revolution in Woodstock. Pastor Muhlenberg is seen with a sword at his side and the uniform of a colonel
in the Revolutionary army beside him. He reads from the Book of Ecclesiastes 3:1-8. This was a dramatic
moment in the history of the Valley as Muhlenberg set forth to fight in the American Revolution.

The range of style to be found in the designs of the stained glass windows in Harrisonburg is truly
remarkable. The opalescent glass of First Presbyterian and the early windows in John Wesley give way to
brightly colored glass such as those in Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church. These later windows come
from the studio of Charles J. Connick of Boston who, inspired by the windows Chartres, led the change in
type of glass.

Most of the windows in Harrisonburg reflect English art of the second half of the 19th century. It
was there that the revival of interest in stained glass windows occurred. The English tendency toward
realism and detail especially in natural objects can be observed in stained glass work well into the 20th
century. The scenes of Christ the Good Shepherd (Asbury and First Presbyterian) are quite close to
English Victorian paintings.

St. Stephen’s altar window is based on the text “This commandment give I unto you that ye love one
another even as I have loved you.” In Asbury Methodist there are three allegorical windows depicting
Faith, Hope and Charity. The donors of the last window felt that Charity, or Love, should be in the center
since it is the greatest. Corinthians 13:13: “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the
greatest of these is charity.” Despite their wishes the traditional order was preserved. Those of us in
Harrisonburg who view the stained glass windows know better. Motivated by their religious faith, love of
church and fellow man, these donors contributed beautiful stained glass windows, which transformed our
churches into true treasure houses.

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