FIRST BAPTIST CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH1613 West Washington Blvd. - Chicago, Illinois 60612 - 312.243.8047

Stained Glass - The Motifs

A casual worshipper in First Baptist Congregational Church would scarcely realize the wealth of symbolism in and about the building. The 13th century English Gothic beauty of the exterior with the single spire pointing upward like a finger as a silent witness to our faith in the One True God commands immediate attention while the quiet, mellowed atmosphere of the interior tends to lead one into reflective moods. Because of this tendency one is likely to miss some of the beautiful symbolism of the sanctuary.

If you study the windows, the carvings, and the architectural features of the interior, you will find a theme running through them all. Each figure or symbol has a meaning dating from the early history of the Christian Church. Among the symbols are the grape leaf, the vine, the conventionalize fleur de lys, the trefoil, the quaire-foil, the roundel, the oak leaf and acorn, the shamrock, and the tongues of fire. Even the colors take on symbolic meaning when these are put together, they weave a story of Christian hope and God's great love for His people as it is revealed and manifested through His Son, Jesus Christ.

The trefoil is a modification of three interlaced circles and it is used to represent the Trinity. If we examine each window in the auditorium, we will find some form of this symbol. The quatre-foil may be representative of the world as we read into it a picture of the four corners of the earth, the four winds of heaven and four primary elements of earth, air, fire and water. We also find the two used in a roundel which represents perfection.

Intersected triangles are not only symbolic of the Trinity, as is the single triangle, but they also form a six pointed star which is an ancient Hebrew, symbol of the creation. It suggest the creation as the work of the Triune God. The six pointed star, as the Hebrew star, is called the Seal of Solomon or the Shield of David. This star appears in the masonry of the spire of the Church. Can you find it and the other symbols there?

Two symbols which we find used together are the tongues of fire and the fleur de Iys. These appear in all of the smaller windows. The tongues of fire represent the Holy Spirit. The fleur de lys is a conventionalized form of the lily and has particular reference to the virgin because of its suggestion of purity. In color the flower is a bluish purple which is symbolic of the more somber periods of Advent and Lent. The tongue of fire is a lovely red and is symbolize of the purification of the Virgin Mary. We also find the cloven tongue of fire on the pulpit furniture and in the frame work of the organ. The red tongue of fire is also symbolic of the first day of Pentecost.

The shamrock is rather a late symbol, for St. Patrick used it, according to legend, as he explained the Trinity to the Irish Chieftains among whom he worked. Green is the universal color, representing nature and growth.

The vine and the grape leaf are ancient Hebrew symbols which took on Christian meaning as they were used to designate the teachings of Jesus. To the Jew the vine meant abundance. JESUS said, "I am the vine, ye are the branches." Thus the vine symbolizes the Church and often it is found carved on or about the pulpit and communion table symbolizing the Lord's Supper.

We find the vine not only in the windows but carved on the parapet enclosing the balcony and it appears on the woodwork in other parts of the building. These together with the graceful lines of the windows, the organ, the cross beams, and finally the spire all point out thoughts outward and upward in adoration and praise to the Father of all mankind and Christ our Savior.

LANDMARK STATUS

The Chicago City council granted Landmark status to the historic First Baptist Congregational Church on January 21, 1982

COMPILED BY:

Commission on Chicago Historical and Architectural Landmarks, March 1974

EXCERPTS FROM:

"The Message" of New First Congregational Church, March 1938 edition

Revised, 1970, 1982, 1987
 
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