All eyes face front, dutifully paying attention to the priest or preacher ministering to the flock. Then, without warning, the clouds break and a warm wash of sunshine floods the church, soaking the congregation in flaming fractals of colored light.
For the briefest moment, attention is drawn away from the sermon's parables and proverbs and the assembled parishioners enjoy the simple play of sun against colored glass.
And somewhere, an artist smiles.
For nearly 1,000 years, houses of worship have been decorated with windows made from brightly colored glass. Some depict stories or lessons. Others are merely geometric patterns, designed to diffuse sunlight as shafts of color.
In Augusta, there is a long tradition of spectacular stained glass. From the giant circular rose window at Sacred Heart Cultural Center to the miracle glass at Springfield Baptist Church, Augusta's stained-glass delights the senses and, from time to time, offers a bit of history as well. Here is a guide to some of the stained-glass high points in Augusta.
FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF AUGUSTA, 3500 Walton Way: In the church's administration building, backlit by electric light, are two good-sized windows built for the church's original home on Eighth Street. The softly colored windows, made by the Louis Comfort Tiffany Studio, bear the hallmarks of the famous glassmaker's technique.
"Tiffany did not do an enormous amount of hand-painting," said Robin Schweitzer, owner of Schweitzer Art Glass, running her fingers over the rolled glass folds in a Tiffany Christ figure's robe. "He substituted glass, textured glass, instead. He would only use painting on the hands, faces and feet."
EPISCOPAL CHURCH OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD, 2230 Walton Way: Although Tiffany is among the most well-known, there were several glass studios producing extremely high-quality stained glass in the early 20th century. Among the finest was the Lamb Glass Studio. The Church of the Good Shepherd has several Lamb windows, including a particularly fine piece depicting the Virgin Mary that incorporates a glass-layering technique called plating. The figure seems to be stepping away from the glass and proffering a helping hand.
"The plating gives the three-dimensional effect," Ms. Schweitzer said. "It's a style very typical of both Lamb and Tiffany."
REID MEMORIAL PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, 2261 Walton Way: Reid has a couple of stained-glass oddities. In its chapel, the windows figures actually are cast in lead and placed over colored glass. It's a technique that is complicated and time-consuming and, therefore, rare.
"You have to actually make molds for the lead, liked a jeweler making a casting" Ms. Schweitzer explained. "There are no other windows like this, that I know of, in Augusta."
The other oddity is hidden in the complex kaleidoscope windows in the church's main sanctuary. There, across from the pew President Eisenhower used during his regular visits to Augusta, is a window depicting the Nativity. The odd part? One of the three wise men bears an uncanny, and certainly intentional, resemblance to the former president.
SPRINGFIELD BAPTIST CHURCH, 114 12th St.: There are no visual parables hidden in the colored glass at Springfield Baptist Church, but the austere windows may be Augusta's most remarkable simply because they have survived.
More than 100 years old, the windows are among the oldest in the city. Ms. Schweitzer, who has assisted in restoring the amber panes, said that when she first entered the sanctuary, she was shocked to see windows that old in such good shape.
"When I walked in here and saw how many windows, original windows, were still in the openings, it was a real relief," she said. "These are just exquisite windows, no painting, just magnificent stylized windows. The fact that they have survived just makes them that much more wonderful."
ST. PAUL'S EPISCOPAL CHURCH, 605 Reynolds St.: The immense windows that line St. Paul's sanctuary are something of a history of 20th century American stained glass. The pieces date from the early part of the century to the 1960s. Among the windows are uncommon examples of Tiffany glass.
"These are unusual, because they aren't really in the typical Tiffany style," Ms. Schweitzer said. "These are fully painted, and don't use glass in the typical Tiffany style. Still, they are incredible windows."
Ms. Schweitzer said the windows are probably atypical Tiffany because they were made to conform to the style of the church's other pieces.
CATHOLIC CHURCH OF THE MOST HOLY TRINITY, 720 Telfair St .:Like Renaissance paintings, the opulent windows at Most Holy Trinity use detailed brushwork and a masterful use of perspective to produce a sense of depth.
"It's all in the artistry with these windows," Ms. Schweitzer said, clearly in awe. "I mean look, there is no plating in and of these windows. This is all in the artist's eye."
Most Holy Trinity also offers an interesting comparison between European and American stained-glass styles. Historically, European windows incorporate more figurative designs, resembling paintings rendered in glass. American design tends to be more graphic, more concerned with form and color than illustration. The large windows that line the Holy Trinity are European in flavor, while the more stylized windows over the altar bear the hallmarks of American stained-glass design.
Sadly, one of the church's stained-glass high points, the magnificent rose window, is blocked from the inside by Holy Trinity's impressive pipe organ.
SACRED HEART CULTURAL CENTER, 1301 Greene St.: Sacred Heart is in the process of preserving its stained-glass heritage - which is no small task. The former sanctuary shimmers with windows, giving its walls the appearance of being more glass than brick and mortar. Some points of interest at Sacred Heart include the famous rose window and the interesting rose-and-panel configuration on the pieces that line the sanctuary.
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or email@example.com.
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