The Art of Stained Glass Scripture

Lo & Behold is a digital art project that uses unique art pieces found in Catholic churches and cathedrals across the UK to share the stories of the Bible. In this article, its creator, David Ashford, aims to bring to light the works of art that are tucked away in the corners of churches, soaring high above in stained glass or hidden in plain sight within suburban sanctuaries.

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Open the door of a Catholic church in your area – and you might just discover some fascinating biblical art. From gothic revival glories to modern art masterpieces, Britain’s Catholic churches contain mosaics, stained glass windows, statues, murals, paintings and sculptures that really do bring the sacred page to life.

Lo & Behold (loandbeholdbible.com) is a digital art project that uses some of the unique art pieces found in Catholic churches and cathedrals across the UK to share the stories of the Bible. It aims to bring to light the works of art that are tucked away in the corners of churches, soaring high above in stained glass or hidden in plain sight within suburban sanctuaries.

The website features a growing collection of works of art that picture biblical scenes – 100 taken from the Old Testament and 100 from the New. Alongside a photo of each work of art is a bite-sized summary of the Scripture story it represents, as well as further background on the artist and where to find it. You’ll even find reflections from the three most recent popes on the story in question.

Given the range of styles within Britain’s Catholic churches, there’s something for everyone on the site. Modern art lovers will probably appreciate Graham Sutherland’s powerful oil painting of The Crucifixion, found in St Aidan’s, East Acton. Traditionalists, however, might prefer Ion Pace’s stunning stained glass window of Christ Stilling the Tempest, which draws the eye within St Joseph’s, Southampton.

Lo & Behold also includes an interactive map, enabling people to discover nearby churches containing interesting biblical art. This is handy for planning a day out – perhaps involving Sunday Mass at the church, admiring the works of art and then rounding it off with a pub lunch. Alternatively, the time-poor among us can just explore the art on our smartphones from the comfort of the sofa.

The project came about in response to the Church’s ongoing call to consider art as a 21st century way of sharing the gospel. As Pope Francis wrote in his Apostolic Exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium: “Each particular Church should encourage the use of the arts in evangelization, building on the treasures of the past but also drawing upon the wide variety of contemporary expressions so as to transmit the faith in a new ‘language of parables’.” (EG, 167)

The particular great thing about the art found within our churches (and the project itself) is that it tends to really draw out the link between the Old and New Testaments. The Church teaches that the Old Testament is full of secret clues about Christ, which the New Testament then shines light upon (cf Luke 24:25-27; 44-47). Contemplate an Old Testament scene in stained glass, mural or mosaic – and you’ll often find Christ hidden with it.

For example, the oil painting of the Hospitality of Abraham (Our Lady of Lourdes, Wanstead) features Christ in the middle, wearing a rather natty turban. In the beautiful mosaic of the Three Holy Youths (Westminster Cathedral, London), you’ll find Jesus walking around in the flames of the furnace. And in the stained glass scene of the Miracle of the Manna (Erdington Abbey, Erdington), look out for Christ himself distributing the bread to the Israelites.

This is because the Bible is basically a book about people and of how God in Christ has intervened in their lives – either directly, or behind the scenes. In its pages are countless examples of this that are practically crying out to be pictured in art. Whether it’s the singing judge Deborah bringing peace to Israel, the vegan prophet Daniel and his brush with death or the pushy St John the Apostle trying to bag a heavenly upgrade, you’ll find all of these stories featured in the site’s art.

Lo & Behold is an evolving project that will grow over time. You too can join in this biblical journey of discovery at your own pace, in your own way. Here are some suggestions:

  • Dip in and out of the website as the mood takes you or when you have a spare moment;
  • Take inspiration from the readings you hear at Mass to find the work of art on the site that speaks to that story;
  • Follow Lo & Behold on Instagram (@loandbehold_uk) to get a regular dose of biblical art in your social media feed;
  • Get biblical during Lent, reflecting on the 20 works of art in the project that are based on the events of Holy Week;
  • Make the most of Advent, contemplating 15 scenes from the Early Life of Christ;
  • Look at one work of art a day on your daily commute (five days a week) and complete the whole set of 200 in around a year.


David Ashford is a London-based communications professional and the project manager of Lo & Behold. He previously worked for the Bible Society and was involved in the development of Word on the Go, a resource to help busy Catholics to engage with Scripture.


Links:

Hospitality of Abraham:

The Three Holy Youths:

The Miracle of the Manna: