Stained Glass Windows at St. Vincent Ferrer
Religious stained glass windows have evoked a sense of reverence among believers for over a thousand years. Before people could read and before the invention of the printing press, people learned their bible stories by reading the symbolism in the churches and cathedrals of Europe.
“Now that we are literate, we have lost the ability to read the symbols and see the story unfold in the colored glass pictures before our eyes,” said Geraldine Ensminger of the McKeever Studios in Vallejo. She has written an extensive manual about the symbolism of the stained glass windows in St. Vincent Ferrer Church. We are deeply appreciate of her work. The explanations of the symbolism which follow are summarized from her research.
Generations of parishioners at St. Vincent’s have been inspired by the beauty of the stained glass windows. These stained glass windows found on all four sides give maximum filtered light. During the early morning Masses the sun glistens through the windows on the east side. At midmorning the windows in the choir loft are vibrant as the sun shines through them. During the evening Masses the sun sparkles through the windows on the west.
Ensminger believes that the bell tower window and the two windows in the church narthex entranceway may be original. The window sin the church nave were completed in the 1940’s. The modern style windows in the form baptistery, now a meditation chapel, were created in the 1960’s.
Bell Tower Window
For many years the beauty of this window was hidden behind the large pipes of the organ. Sadly, during the recent renovation, the pipes and the organs were removed. However now, the morning sun illuminates the yellow, lavender, and green colors.
The rose window contains eight petal panels with rays emanating from the center of the Eye of God. The eye is set in the center of a triangle, a symbol of the Holy Trinity.
The left lancet contains the medallion of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Her hear is topped with flames of fervor and a cross representing her great love for mankind and acknowledging the sacrifice of her son. Her heart is pierces with a sword, symbolizing her greatest sorrow (Luke 2:35).
The center lancet contains a Holy Spirit medallion. Rays of light shine from the head of a dove, one of the traditional representations of the Holy Spirit. The symbolism is best known in the Baptism of Jesus at the Jordan.
The right lancet contains a medallion of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. His heart is topped with flames of fervor and a cross representing his great love for mankind. His heart is wrapped in a crown of thorns, a symbol of His passion. The three lancets have white entwined fleur-de-lys at the bottom, which symbolizes purity.
The two windows in the entranceway of the narthex may be original to the church building. The colors and styles are of the 19th century. The east window contains medallions of lilies, a symbol of purity, attributed to saints like the Blessed Mother and St. Joseph. They are also symbolic of St. Gabriel the Archangel who is the bearer of good news. The left lancet in the west window contains a medallion of the three theological virtues. Faith is represented by the cross. Hope is represented by an anchor. Charity is symbolized by a flaming heart. The flames represent the fervor of Divine Love for mankind. The right lancet contains a cross resting within a crown medallion. In this image it signifies the victory of Jesus over sin and death.
Flanking the tall bell tower window are two circular monogrammed windows. The circle or ring has been universally accepted as the symbol of eternity and existence without beginning or end. As the monogram of God, it represents both the perfection and everlasting attributes of God. The leaf shaped panels are symbolic of the constant cycle of nature and its seasons. They symbolize God’s constancy.
The left window contains the Alpha and Omega monograms. Each is wrapped around a cross. Alpha and Omega are the first and last letters in the Greek alphabet and are frequently used as a symbol for God.
The right window contains the monogram of the Blessed Virgin Mary wrapped around a cross. This particular monogram is an ancient one and is comprised of an “M” and an “R”, for “Maria Regina”, Queen Mary.
Inside the right leaf is the IHS monogram wrapped around a cross. These letters symbolize the holy name of God revealed in the New Testament, Jesus. The name “Jesus”, in Greek, is written ιησους which is transliterated as “ihsous” and pronounced iēsous. This is the Holy Name as it was written in the Gospels. However, in Hebrew, the name “Jesus” is written ישוע which is transliterated as “yeshu‘a” and pronounced yeshūa. Finally, in Latin, the Holy Name is written Iesus which gives us the English “Jesus”, since the “j” often replaces the “i” at the beginning of a word (as well as between vowels). The insignia “IHS” comes from the Latinized version of the Greek ιησους. In Greek capitals this would be ΙΗΣΟΥΣ or IHSOUS in Latin letters, taking the first three letters in capitals IHS(ous). This is the meaning of IHS, it is the first three letters of the Greek spelling of the Holy Name of Jesus.
Dominican Saints Window
The window honoring St. Dominic, St. Vincent Ferrer, and St. Catherine of Siena is 25 feet high and 13 feet in width. The quartefoil at the top of the window contains the Dominican shield. It has a white Moline Cross overlaying a blue field. The first lancet on the left contains a dog and flaming torch medallion. The Dominicans were known as the watchdogs of the Lord, defending the Church with the fiery torch of the Holy Spirit.
The second lancet is an image of St. Vincent Ferrer, a 14th century Spanish priest, who was educated at the Dominican school in Barcelona, and became a Dominican priest. Because of his mastery of many varied dialects in Western Europe, he was said to have the gift of tongues. St. Vincent Ferrer converted thousands of people through his dynamic preaching. He is shown holding a long neck trumpet, which is usually seen in the hands of angels and symbolizes their eternal praise to God. Above St. Vincent’s head is a circle medallion containing the IHS monogram. The circle represents eternity and is an emblem of God the Father. The IHS monogram stands for the first three letters of Jesus. This medallion represents St. Vincent’s devotion to the teachings of Jesus Christ.
The center lancet contains an image of St. Dominic. He is on a higher plane than St. Vincent and St. Catherine, which shows his stature as the founder of the Dominican Order. St. Dominic is holding a stalk of lilies, the flower of the Virgin Mary, symbolizing purity. He is also holding a rosary. According to tradition, the Virgin Mary appeared to St. Dominic and gave him the rosary. St Dominic was born in Castile, Spain in the 12th century. Educated at the University of Valencia, he later became a priest. He received papal sanction to start the Order of Preachers in 1215, after encountering Catholics who had fallen into heresy as Cathari. Realizing the need for authentic humility, sanctity, and asceticism, he started an order to re-evangelize the fallen away through a zealous way of life. His black and white robed friars eventually traveled throughout Europe, preaching and evangelizing.
In the next lancet is St. Catherine of Siena, Italy’s patron saint. Above her head is a circle medallion containing a Crown of Thorns, symbolic of her suffering the stigmata. She holds a quill and a scroll, representing the treatise known as the “Dialogue of St. Catherine’s”, dictated to her under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Born in Siena in 1347, she became the most remarkable woman of her time. She became a Third Order Dominican and devoted much of her life to the care of the poor and sick.
The fifth lancet has a tabernacle medallion, referring to St. Thomas Aquinas, another very famous Dominican. He wrote much about the Eucharist as well as the Liturgy for the Feast of Corpus Christi, including the now famous hymn, Pange Lingua. He is also the patron saint of education. His famous Summa Theologiae is still the basis for much of Christian thought today.
The Transfiguration Window
An INRI monogram encircled with a crown of thorns is the central image in the quartrefoil of the large window on the eastern side of the church. The INRI represents the Latin words “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”.
The first lancet on the left contains a five pointed epiphany star medallion. The rays of light emanating from it emphasize its attribute of revelation. The next lancet contains an image of Moses. Above his head is the six pointed Star of David. His garments are embroidered with decorative designs and a Star of David. He is holding the two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. He is standing on “terra firma”, which is represented by green grass and blue water elements.
The central image in this window is of Jesus Christ showing His Sacred Heart. Jesus appeared to St. Margaret Mary Alacoque in 1675. He said to her, “This is the heart which has loved men so much and in turn is so little loved by them.” Jesus’ robes are emblazoned with a cross inside a crown of thorns and hot and chalice, symbolizing Jesus’ Passion and the Sacrament of the Eucharist. He is standing in the water element, which in this case, represents the purification of the baptismal waters.
The next lancet contains an image of Elijah. Like Moses, he is standing on “ferra firma” with green grass and blue water elements. A Chi Rho monogram medallion is featured in the last lancet in this row. The two Greek eltters Chi and Rho are the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ (Xristos).
The bottom row contains five lancets, each holding a medallion. The left lancet holds a circular medallion. The circle represents eternity, and therefore is an emblem for God. In the center of the circle is the cross. A red rose medallion is contained in the next lancet. The red rose symbolizes the Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The three blossoms on a stem is an attribute of the Holy Trinity. The center medallion holds an image of a seven branched menorah. The menorah is symbolic of the Jewish people. Its central position in this window ties together the images of Moses, Jesus, and Elijah. A medallion with three lilies is shown in the next lancet. Lilies represent the Blessed Virgin Mary’s purity and her Immaculate Conception. Again the number three symbolizes the Holy Trinity. The final lancet in this set holds a circular medallion depicting a cross inside a crown. This is a reference to Jesus’ words in John 18:36.