Glass fragments from sites dated to 540 A.D. in Italy include an image of Christ. Another small window with the popular Alpha and Omega symbols was unearthed in France and the site dated to 1000 A.D. The head of Christ became an increasingly popular image, a notable example found near Wissembourg, Alsace from 1068. As the earliest Christians, who had long been persecuted, began to feel safer, they moved from building secret spots of worship in their homes or beneath the earth, to building churches to house relics of the saints. The rulers of church and state sent emissaries to the Holy Land to bring back works of art, carved ivory, and jewels, including precious colored glass. Christian art, borrowed and advanced the techniques as the need to enhance buildings of worship came into fashion. The medieval Church became the most influential patron of the arts. As treasures from the Crusades flowed home to Europe, the need to display them in an environment of light, caused the French Abbot Suger of Saint Denis to enlarge the windows and beautify them with stained glass. What started out as simple figures became complex and ornate with strong religious and personal symbolism including heraldry.
It is the nature of glass that led to man's enduring love affair. Glass is a solid that maintains qualities of a liquid. By capturing light, it appears to glow from within, transforming and passing light in the manner of a jewel. When created with the addition of metallic salts and oxides, the most brilliant and inspiring of colors can result, including the crimsons of gold, the deep royal blues of cobalt, the sun yellows of silver, and the forest greens of copper. These were displayed in the Gothic cathedrals of Europe, as craftsmen learned to generate results that could tolerate greater sizes and the ravages of weather. In Medieval days, the craftsmen were interested in symbolic images more than realism. They employed grisaille, a brown enamel that covered the surface of the glass to define features rather than to transmit light. Later on, paler colors allowed for more light to pass, and the figures became larger, with more metallic oxides used to create colored, painted masterpieces. The art form, throughout the ages generated results that increasingly exhibited the romance and spiritualism of the human spirit. It was stained glass that united architectural elements and with the mysteries of man's beginning, journey, and attitudes to fellow men.
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