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Birth of Christ depicted in colored glass

The elaborate exhibition evokes centuries-old symbolism and spiritual expression.

December 28, 2010|By Terri Martin
(Roger Wilson )

Out of a collection of more than 1,000 stained glass windows comprising one of the finest collections in North America, the "Light and Hope Exhibition" at Forest Lawn Museum in Glendale features five exquisite windows depicting the birth of Jesus Christ and two of his early childhood.

Backlighting brings the windows to life, achieving the desired effect of inspiration and spiritual alertness, by retelling the story with visual and emotive impact. The story begins with a window depicting the "Betrothal of Mary and Joseph", followed by the "Visitation between Mary and Elizabeth," "No Room in the Inn," "The Shepherds in the Stable" and the "Flight Into Egypt." The two childhood renderings are scenes of young Jesus in the temple at age 12 and as a young carpenter in Joseph's shop.

The early church understood the inspirational effect that beautiful radiant stained glass had on a culture in which literacy was rare, want and despair was abundant and hope through a relationship to God was paramount. Pilgrimages to cathedrals were rewarded by unimagined splendor and promise. Didactic windows communicated universally, transcending illiteracy and language, to teach Christian theology. Soaring cathedral ceilings, supported by walls punctuated with brilliant stained glass windows, became a conduit to God, and a source for the hope promised by the stories depicted. Pilgrimages to seek God became a way of life, a way to survive life.

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The exact origin of stained glass is lost to history, but examples from the 10th century survive to teach us a little about its genesis. Like all art forms, stained glass evolved into styles, born in different regions. The Light and Hope windows were created by the Franz Mayer and Company of Munich, Germany and date back to 1903. They were once part of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Buffalo, N.Y., and were purchased by Forest Lawn when the church was remodeled in the 1970s.

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