Today’s Throwback Thursday harkens back to the 1800s, when hospital chapel stained glass windows first gained popularity in the United States.
This period followed nearly a century of opposition to the windows. Protestants, who then dominated the population, considered decorative glass panes to be unpatriotic and unchristian, says the Rev. Derek R. Davenport, director of enrollment at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, who is writing a thesis on church symbolism.
In the early 19th century, Roman Catholic churches increased tenfold, Davenport’s research shows. And the opposition to art and imagery in houses of worship dissipated.
By the mid-1800s, Protestant churches in the United States were built in the style of Gothic cathedrals. Stained glass windows became acceptable as symbols of faith and hope, not just in churches, but also in hospitals from coast to coast.
Since many early American hospitals were built by cloistered religious orders that specifically cared for the sick, windows often featured Jesus as healer.
“In the 1880s to 1910, many hospitals in Europe had stained glass windows, especially in their entrance halls, lobbies and their chapels,” says Chicago art historian Rolf Achilles. Hospitals here took their inspiration from their European counterparts. There are marvelous windows at hospitals associated with Catholic orders in the Midwest, he says, including the Ryan Chapel atop Presence Saint Joseph Hospital in Chicago, another at HSHS St. Mary's Hospital in Streator, Ill., and the Mother Cabrini shrine, a Chicago chapel associated with the defunct Columbus Hospital.
Also in this issue
|PwC: Health Care Needs Modern Billing, Payment Practices|
|Stress Training Brings Calm to Hospitals Emergency Departments|
|Public Partners in Population Health|
|Improving Physician Engagement with EHRs|
Beginning in the 1950s, hospital chapel windows became nondenominational with themes universal to all faiths.
It’s not clear whether the hospital stained glass windows shown still exist. Fitzsimons General Hospital, later renamed Fitzsimons Army Medical Center, was closed in 1999, according to military.com. When St. Vincent’s Hospital was demolished in 2012, a stained glass window from the facility was moved to St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center’s main lobby in Paterson, N.J., according to spokesperson Liz Asani.
For last week's throwback Thursday column featuring the first hospital high-rise, click here.
Mary Beth Klatt is a writer specializing in architecture and design. She has also written for the National Association of Realtors’ online Architecture Coach column.