Lux, Lumen and Illumination

Email by Elizabeth Steinebach on February 5, 2010
Categories Filed Under: NEWS

I decided to take a stained glass history course at the Jesuit College in Toronto. Not so much to really study the history, but to perhaps round out bits that I don't know anything about and more importantly to just get into a crowd of like-minded people to allow for inspiration and excitement at this still dark time of year. Sarah Hall, who has her lecturer cap on, is one of Canada's most well known stained glass artists, someone I've had to privilege to work for, so it is a delight to attend.

And it didn't take long to be reminded of something so familiar and yet so elusive that I have been in this delicious state of artistic agitation. The type of creative agitation that leads to new work, completely out of the usual scope. The work one does for one self, where budget and time are not in the formula.

The other bit of this unraveling is the knowing I have come across this material, sometime before. It's not new, but rather that ‘hmm' moment I had reading one of my stained glass books, a long time ago, and just thought interesting, but didn't know how to utilize it in the moment.

This time it was a kismet moment. Sarah's lecture was accompanied by her seemingly limitless images. So in hearing that which was already familiar, but seeing it dynamically portrayed in images was enough to take it to a deeper level. Of course now I cannot recall which book the reference I read was, but I have found a great posted article by Patrick Hunt, who can describe it much better. I've copied the important part here, but do go to the link and read the full article in context.

Patrick Hunt's

Abbé Suger and a Medieval Theory of Light in Stained Glass: Lux, Lumen, Illumination.

Patrick Hunt

"…Suger could somehow parse three different Latin words for light: lux. lumen, illumination. He understood lux, external light as physical, coming from the sun and nature, especially light shining outside the cathedral. But once it entered through the window it was transformed into lumen, new metaphysical light because the glass, now both wall and sacred boundary functioned much like the ancient temenos threshold of a classical sanctuary or poemerium. On one external side it was ordinary and profane light that shone on everyone, even the heretic and the wicked (Matthew 5:45: "He makes the sun to rise on the evil and on the good") , but on the other internal side the light was now consecrated and holy. Because "In Suger's vision, light was the primary source of faith and divine inspiration", (12) this light was one agency of a powerful benevolent grace that fed the soul. (Isaiah 9:2, "the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light." The light inside the cathedral was mediated by the gemlike windows, and this transformed light took a third route: once it passed through the physical eye of the believer, it was changed once again into illumination, now a spiritual light that elevated the mind and renewed the spirit within as a metaphor for internal life-changing light (Ephesians 5:8, "Now are you light, walk as children of light; I Epistle of John 1:7, "Walk in the light as He is in the light."). Suger himself poetically described some of his windows, here the Burning Bush panel of the Moses window (Saint-Denis Abbey, North III): "Just as the bush is seen to burn yet is not consumed, So he who is full of the divine fire burns yet is not consumed."…"

I find this awe inspiring. And profoundly healing. That light is our common thread, regardless of our religion. The fact that Suger knew and understood this, back in his life time (1081 - 1151), just shows me how much I still have to learn and why I love glass so.

Lux, Lumen and Illumination reveals it all about stained glass. Glass can be ordinary clear window glass letting the natural light and nature be visible to the interior. Glass becomes a barrier to the elements of nature, protecting us from wind or rain or snow. But what happens to windows on the inside? Interior designers and home owners use textiles in many forms to control light, frame the window, create privacy and/or influence style. Not as many as I would hope, use stained glass to achieve the same results. And yet it is stained glass that can offer deeper relationship to our environment, where the colors transcend the window and splash across the floor or wall, to be experienced as Suger calls - illumination.

The question that begs discussion is - Can stained glass in a home attain that same mystical quality of illumination? And further, in this day of "instant" everything, from cell phones to macaroni and cheese, do we want or need this enduring quality in our homes?

The reason I ask this, is due to an unlikely convergence. We are still in January and I often buy a half dozen or so, of architectural, interior and/or garden design trend type magazines, to get a sense of where those markets are going for the upcoming year. In the February issue of Veranda, as I randomly flipped through the pages, my eye was caught by the quality of light on almost each and every page. The colors, textures and material accents all seemed to be trying to create more than a beautiful living environment. The windows were woefully unadorned without stained glass and yet many images try to have interesting light patterns reflected off of materials or pass through interesting architectural features creating fascinating shadows. A poor man's illumination?

Is the effect illumination?

There's no sapphire blue here. No reverend hushed tones. The space is not consecrated and yet the images definitely have a wonderful "feel" to them. Is the gem of our time clear and transparent like diamond? Is there a place for colored glass in these kind of environments? I certainly think so. Quality and elegance are sought after as furnishings, old, as in antiques are desirous. Stained glass is old as in having been around for quite a while, yet there are so many new ways to create with it and the medium its self can be styled to meet any requirement.

There is also a small feature on Bermuda, in the Veranda issue. I look at the light and am reminded of many warm places I have been to: Cuba, Australia, Greece, South of France. The captivation of light doesn't always remain contained in a building. Places can hold the vibration of illumination. It makes perfect sense to me that is why we like these places to holiday, deep in our psyche, we know that ‘light' is a good thing.

So, I'm into my studio today. It may be snowy and cold, bleak by some standards, but I'm excited at what glass creation might be advanced. My hope is that wherever you are, that glass works its magic on you, that you consider your work in a deeper context.