St. Vincent's Hospital, Elizabeth Bayley Seton Building, New York City (Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HABS NY,31-NEYO,85A–9 )


Stained glass window detail, Fitzsimons General Hospital Chapel, Aurora, Colo. (Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HABS COLO, 1-AUR, 2CK–8)

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.

Left image: Design drawing, Christ surrounded by disciples in mandorla (almond-shapted aureole of light surrounding the entire figure of a holy person) on azure ground with text "Christ the Friend," Hospital Chapel, Fort Lyon, Colo. (Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division) Right image: Design drawing for Captain Sally Tompkins memorial stained glass window with Robertson Hospital for St. James Episcopal Church in Richmond, Va. (Credit: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division)

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.

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 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.