Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Rose Windows

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Rose Window Geometry

For the medieval worshipper, the French Gothic churches were the crossroads where Heaven and Earth met. They were designed with delicate elegance-- taller, lighter, and brighter than any Romanesque church-- and provided a much enriched spiritual experience. One of the most wonderful of all of the architectural elements of the Gothic church was the enormous rose windows. At Chartres Cathedral, they spanned 4 feet in diameter, and filled the church with a Divine light. Unlike the Romanesque churches, which used mural paintings and mosaics to cover and adorn the walls, the Gothic church had a different claim to make with their rose windows. The Gardener text states, “They do not conceal walls; they replace them. And they transmit rather than reflect light, filtering and transforming the natural sunlight as it enters the building.”1. The result was not only a triumph in architecture, with walls that seemed to hold themselves up by lux nova, but an expression of perfect geometric form.

The great rose windows of Chartres Cathedral, with their combination of geometry, philosophy, and beauty were a statement of harmony in God’s world. Since the ancient mathematic study of Pythagoras, and through the teachings of philosophers like Aristotle and Plato, geometry was used as a measure of knowledge. There was no division between science and religion, and ‘geometry’, or ‘measure of the earth’ was used to represent the universal order of things. As said by Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, “What is God? He is length, width, height and depth.”. Medieval geometry was taken to another level in the rose windows of the Gothic


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1. Fred S. Kleiner et al., Gardiners Art Through The Ages Eleventh Edition (Orlando,Fl.Harcourt College Publishers, 001), 500-501.

. Robert Lawlor, Sacred Geometry Philosophy and Practice (New YorkThames and Hudson, 18), 6-11.

church, adorned with iconography within, but encompassed by one symbol; the mandala. According to Carl Jung, the term ‘mandala’, meaning ‘circle’ has become known in both theology and psychology as a symbol of wholeness.. The radiating, concentric designs of rose windows reflect that despite the chaos, there is order, and one can become whole with the help of the Church.

For my art project, I chose to do a miniature replica of the rose windows at Chartres, in part due to their beauty, but mostly because I believe them to be of the purest geometric form. All three windows at Chartres, Christ is presented in the center, and the windows are divided into twelve segments, a mystical number of perfection. I chose this type of symbol for my mandala. Painton Cowen, in his book Rose Windows states, “But within this scheme can be seen a less obvious and deeper meaning, for as mandalas the windows possess the power to bring about a change in thinking, to break down the habitual patterns that govern everyday consciousness.”4. I decided to give it a try.

While I do not have the time, or mastery of skill required to make a rose window of the proportions made for a Chartres Cathedral, I made a small scale model using the type of geometric shapes which had such meaning to the artists and worshippers of the period. While the medieval masters had only a compass and a strait edge to design with, I was able to find a pattern online.5. My representation is an eight inch circle, consisting of 48 small panels of cathedral stained-glass. In medieval times, each panel would have been a large project in itself. The glass


. Verena Cast, The Dynamics of Symbols Fundamentals in Jungian Psychotherapy (New York Fromm International, 10), 10.

4. Painton Cowen, Rose Windows (San Francisco Chronicle Books, 17), 81.

5. Chiffriller, Joe.”Tips & Tricks to Gothic Geometry.” []. 000-00

would have to be blown and tinted, and images fused with enamel by glaziers. Then each scene would be cut with iron shears, assembled, and leaded with detail to create the iconographic image of each panel. I did not attempt to make any images, but I represented the geometric shapes in glass, with four dominant colors used in French Gothic cathedrals. I used a glass cutter, a grinder, to cut smooth the edges of the shapes. After the pieces were cut, each one was foiled, soldered with lead solder, and covered with a zinc surround. Finally, patina antiquing was added to give it an aged look.

I have taken a stained-glass class before in the past, and visited Chartres Cathedral. I thought then, just as I do now, that the rose windows are an amazing sight to behold. They represent both a victory of light over gravity and a tool for meditation and transformation. I will enjoy having one of my own to hang in my window, for years to come.

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