Locals don’t have to travel abroad to enjoy the beauty and fascination of stained glass church windows! Fortunately, there are many beautiful old churches with stained glass windows in the New Orleans area, with three magnificent churches right here on the West Bank.
Medieval stained glass is the colored and painted glass of Europe from the 10th to 16th century. “Rose windows” are large circular stained glass windows. Stained glass refers both to colored glass as a material and to pieces created from it. For a thousand-years, referring to stained glass implies almost exclusively to the windows of churches and other significant religious buildings. Stained glass is traditionally made in flat panels and used as windows, but other modern applications of stained glass have evolved.
By adding metallic salts to glass as it is manufactured, stained glass is created and is usually decorated in various ways. Colored glass is crafted into stained glass windows in which small pieces of glass are arranged to form patterns or pictures, usually held together by strips of lead and supported by a rigid frame. Painted details and yellow stain are often used to enhance the design.
These lovely pieces of art in a church were used to both enhance the beauty of their setting and to inform the viewer through symbolism. The purpose of a stained glass window is not to allow those within a building to see the world outside or even primarily to admit light, but rather to control it. For this reason stained glass windows have been described as “illuminated wall decorations.”
To start a stained glass tour, let’s begin with a visit to St. Joseph Church and Shrine at 610 Sixth Street, an impressive Spanish Renaissance style landmark in the city of Gretna. Founded in 1857, it is affectionately known as the “Mother Church.” Over the years, 14 church parishes were carved out of the huge parochial territory of St. Joseph’s.
The very best reference about the stained glass windows at St. Joseph’s is Rev. Francis J. Carabello, fondly called Father Frank, the beloved longtime pastor who served there until his retirement in 2009.
“When I was appointed Pastor of St. Joseph Church in March 1980, the church had undergone renovations in 1970 following Vatican Council II. In doing so the interior of the church was totally redone. There were murals of the Holy family, Pope Pius IX declaring St. Joseph patron of the universal church and Joseph of the Old Testament before Pharaoh, placing him in charge of the coming years of famine. Unfortunately, these were all painted over and could not be preserved,” he said.
Father Frank couldn’t shake the loss of those destroyed murals and creatively found a way to memorialize them.
There are 12 stained glass windows, six on each side on the upper walls, a total of 11 French doors with decorated stained glass panes and various other stained glass windows throughout the church like the “Resurrection” window in the choir loft and the “Holy Spirit” window behind the altar.
“The upper side stained glass windows had to be addressed for both practical and aesthetic reasons. The original windows installed in 1927 were all the same color, amber, as it was very effective to cut down on glare and heat. During the restoration of 1970, they wanted to achieve a more modern look and replaced the amber stained glass with grey solar glass,” he said.
“However, the result was a less inviting church look, making the church look like a factory with th steel-edged small window panes. It was not effective in cutting the sun’s rays. Wherever the sun shorn down on some of the pews, the congregants were getting sunburned.
“In 1983, Bishop Stanley Ott who was born and raised in Gretna and attended St. Joseph School was made the third bishop of Baton Rouge. I attended the ceremony there at St. Joseph Cathedral. As I participated in the event, I glanced at the church windows. Many scenes were about St. Joseph and I wanted to honor St. Joseph that way. I had already decided to begin the restoration of St. Joseph Church Gretna as a center of devotion since it was the first church on the West Bank of Jefferson.
“The work began to study the theme of each of the twelve windows. The money had to be raised and artists had to be selected. Since the Conrad Schmitt Studios of Milwaukee had done the original church décor in 1945, I contacted them again. I had already commissioned them for the Holy Spirit window behind the altar and the Resurrection window in the choir loft. A campaign was begun in 1984 and donors for the windows were solicited,” he said.
A general collection from all parishioners paid for the first window, “Joseph of Old Testament with Pharaoh,” to replace one of the painted-over murals.
The other windows you can visit and enjoy depict:
- Joseph of Old Testament with Pharaoh
- Joseph Chosen – His Staff Blossoms, His Lineage, Root of Jesse
- Dream of Joseph – Do Not Be Afraid to Take Mary as Your Wife.
- Marriage of Joseph and Mary
- Nativity Birth of Jesus
- Presentation of Jesus in the Temple
- Flight into Egypt
- Finding of Jesus in the Temple
- Holy Family of Nazareth – Joseph and Jesus Carpenters
- Death of Joseph with Jesus and Mary at His Side
- Pope Pius IX and Pope John Paul II – Decrees St. Joseph Patron of the Church, to replace the second lost mural
- Our St. Joseph Altar Gretna
Besides its stained glass windows, St. Joseph’s offers a beautiful haven for quiet contemplative prayer, a friendly place to attend services or a good place to simply visit.
The idea to “highlight beautiful stained glass in magnificent old churches on the Westbank” was that of Gretna residents, Geri Mayville and Kathy Danjean. They were the eyes and feet for this story which is greatly appreciated.
The other Westbank churches on our tour are Our Lady of Prompt Succor in Westwego and Holy Name of Mary in Algiers.
The present Our Lady of Prompt Succor (OLPS) Church built-in 1955 is in the true Gothic style of the 1920’s. The church has at least 24 stained glass windows and 6 frescos, half depicting the Word of God and half, the Eucharist.
Located at 146 4th Street, OLPS in Westwego grew from the “Mother Church.” Priests from St. Joseph’s on foot, by boat or on horseback celebrated Mass in the early days in the little public schoolhouse on Sala Avenue. After the hurricane of 1893, an influx of survivors from Cheniere Caminada increased Westwego’s population.
In 1905, land was donated on Laroussini Street by 12 Westwego men to St. Joseph’s for a church and presbytery in Westwego. The next year a chapel was dedicated as the Church of Our Lady of Prompt Succor, a mission of St. Joseph Church.
In 1919 Holy Name of Jesus on St. Charles Avenue built a new church. The “Little Jesuits” church as it was known was slated for demolition, but was purchased by St. Joseph’s for $1,600. It was photographed, marked, dismantled and ferried across the river to Westwego where it was stored in a barn.
In 1919, land was donated at 4th Street and Avenue A to St. Joseph Church. The dismantled “Little Jesuits” building was removed from the barn and reconstructed on the site. After OLPS Parish was officially established, St. Joseph’s donated all church property in Westwego to OLPS.
Then on to Holy Name of Mary located at 400 Verret Street in Algiers, a cavernous Gothic Revival style building with a 100 foot clock tower that was built and dedicated in 1929. There are over 70 stained glass windows, including two “rose windows” in the church to enjoy.
The parish was founded in 1848 and originally named St. Bartholomew in honor of the family that donated the land. This was the first Catholic parish in Algiers. In 1872, the parish was renamed Holy Name of Mary and a year later its first wood-framed church was constructed several blocks from the present site.
The star of this tour is the craftsmanship and beauty of stained glass windows. Whether calling stained glass making an art or a skill, artistic talent is required to conceive an appropriate and workable design and engineering skills are necessary to assemble the piece.
A window must fit snugly into the space for which it is made, must resist wind and rain, and also, especially in the larger windows, must support its own weight. Many large windows have withstood the test of time and remained substantially intact since the middle ages.
Gather up the family or a friend for a wonderfully educational and enjoyable, yet socially distanced “tour of stained glass windows.”