Cleansing Fire

Defending Truth and Tradition in the Roman Catholic Church

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Saint Anne’s Nativity of Mary Window

September 8th, 2012, Promulgated by Bernie

(click on pictures to see clearer images)

While attending a funeral Mass this morning in Saint Anne Church in Rochester I looked up at one of the gorgeous windows overhead and, low and behold, there was an image of the Birth of the Blessed Virgin. I should have remembered it being there as I no doubt saw it hundreds of times when we belonged to that parish. I should have also recalled that since nearly all the windows in Saint Anne Church represent events in the life of Mary and her parents -as well as events she shared with her son- that there would no doubt be a representation of the Nativity of Mary.

The entire set of windows in this church are beautiful with events represented as vignettes on soft pastel colored stained glass panels. They are characterized by graceful figures carefully arranged into complete compositions unified by a very limited range of low intensity hues.  Emphasis is added by the placement of pure, bright color here and there. You can see that treatment in the Nativity of Mary window in which brighter yellow-oranges emphasize St. Anne and her child, Mary, as well as the star in the sky. (Why do you think there is a star depicted?) For visual balance a touch of a slightly duller yellow-orange livens up the the base of the scene.

The Western treatment of the Nativity of Mary can vary considerably from the traditional iconography of the Eastern and Byzantine Catholic Churches. Eastern icons tend to not only depict the historical event but also include elements perhaps not even mentioned in the Gospel narrative in order to stress a doctrinal belief.

Western imagery has done the same, of course, but the freedom of expression allowed Western artists can sometimes make the doctrinal statement less clear or even less important -sometimes more important! Western images, although initially inspired by the iconic images of the East, have gradually evolved into more ‘creative’, unique, and personal expressions of the artists. You can see the possibilities for problems arising! Such a development would be a no-no in the East where icons are not viewed as personal expressions but rather as imaging the orthodox (right) faith and liturgy of the whole Church. To change the image in a significant way by omitting or adding to the scene would be to change the faith and to introduce heterodoxy (wrong faith or practice).

The image we see here in this window in Saint Anne Church would no doubt be considered incomplete in Eastern eyes. Where is Joachim, for example? He should be represented in the vignette at some distance from St. Anne, usually in another part of the house. Where is the house? St. Anne, in the Eastern tradition is always represented reclined on a couch or bed with the baby Mary attended to by servants (Mary’s parents were reported to be well-off). Sometimes, St. Joachim stands next to the bed and, with St. Anne, points to Mary. All of these elements would be necessary in an Eastern icon for the scene to be ‘realistic’ and recognizable.

In the Saint Anne Church window we see an abbreviation of the event rendered in touching tones, colors and shapes personally important to the artist, and offering us few iconic clues. The scene is something of a mystery as we are not quite sure of the story represented. In that way the vignette draws us in and invites us to linger and discover what the scene represents.

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One Response to “Saint Anne’s Nativity of Mary Window”

  1. avatar Raymond F. Rice says:

    I think you might have a book hiding somewhere in you!!! Maybe it is time to consider letting it out. People do need some guidelines on what real liturgical art is or should be.

    Thanks!!

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