The Windows at St Columba
The nineteen windows at St. Columba are among the most outstanding architectural creations in the Florida Keys.
They display the characteristics found in the best of modern stained glass: bold colors, symbolism, and an impressionistic treatment of their subject matter, biblical lessons and church motifs. Much more than a passageway for light, these windows invite the observer to contemplate the meanings behind the stories and symbols presented, and through their resplendent radiance they permit the faithful to transcend momentarily the here-and-now and to sense the divine.
When the broken round window above the church entrance needed to be replaced in 1976, the rector, the Rev. Blount H. Grant, proposed new windows throughout the nave to “enhance the beauty of the church.”
His suggestion met with enthusiastic support.
In February of the next year, Hauser Studios of Stained Glass in Winona, Minnesota, was commissioned to prepare drawings for the window over the door and seven windows on the right side of the nave. A Celtic cross was the design selected for the round window and the Seven Days of Creation was chosen as the theme for the seven windows on the right side of the church.
But a ninth window is of particular interest, and perhaps one of the most unique in all Christendom: “The Legend of St. Columba and the Loch Ness Monster”. This small rectangular window above the north door in the nave recounts the story of the parish’s patron, St. Columba, saving a swimmer crossing Loch Ness from a water monster. Donors stepped forward to pay for these windows, and they were constructed and installed by May 1978.
The Fourth Day of Creation window was deemed “really less than satisfactory,” for the lower center portion contained a large area of epoxy with little colored glass. A replacement window was crafted and installed in April 1978. The larger, upper portion of the rejected window was placed in the sacristy, and the rectangular bottom portion, a rainbow, found a home above the main entrance door to the parish hall.
In 1981 St. Columba accepted an offer by Piercy Studios in Orlando to design, create, and install the last seven windows in the nave. The theme for the remaining window on the right side of the church is the Burning Bush and the Torah. On the left side, the window at the rear of the nave depicts the Prophesy of Isaiah, while the remaining five windows illustrate lessons from the New Testament. Once again, parishioners provided funding, and the eight windows were put in place in 1982.
The largest window is a circular one on the east wall of the parish hall that depicts St. Columba at his desk working on a manuscript. It was designed and created by Hauser Studios and installed for Easter in 1981. It was given by William Bradley, Sr., a founder of St. Columba, in honor of his wife, Helen Brothers Bradley. This beautiful window displays the name Columba above the saint, symbols found in Celtic illuminated manuscripts, and a dove, whose Latin name means Columba.
The windows were made following a stained-glass technique developed in France in the 1930s called dalle de verre or faceted glass. To construct these windows, cut pieces of colored glass are bound together with a cement-like epoxy mixture. The pieces of colored glass in the windows at St. Columba hail from West Virginia, Indiana, Germany, Italy, and France. The resulting mosaic-like windows offer bold treatments and display brilliant colors.
Certainly Fr. Grant did not exaggerate when he concluded that “the quality of color, light, texture and originality in these windows” represents the “finest craftsmanship” and offers viewers a “reminder in symbol and visual aid to the events of God’s work in the world”.
For a more complete account of these windows, see Peter J. Sehlinger, Resplendent Radiance: The Windows of St. Columba Episcopal Church, (2009). Copies available at the church.