While Associated Crafts® and Willet Hauser® have been in the stained glass business for years (seriously, we are going on 120 years!)  but the practice of stained glass goes back centuries! This time on the blog, we want to look at medieval windows, specifically stained glass and more.

Stained Glass Medieval Windows

While it might be hard to believe, windows have not always been set in every wall of a home or building, well, at least not like we think of them today. Glass was an incredibly expensive material and so was rarely used in castles or homes. Usually these were openings just to let in air and light, covered with wooden shutters. In some castles the window equivalent was shaped like a cross for defensive military purposes, not to provide wide wonderful views.

The only structures that could usually afford to have glass windows were places of worship, and the style of medieval windows (stained glass or otherwise) have changed throughout the centuries.

Early Stained Glass

Window glass has been in use in some capacity since as early as the first century AD, with colored or painted window glass being used at a similarly early time. The absolute earliest surviving piece of stained glass related to a church is from Ravenna, Italy, thought to date back to the 6th century. It is a clear glass roundel depicting Christ in Majesty. This is probably the earliest, though we’re not sure for certain.

Clearer examples of stained glass show up when excavations of the Abbey of San Vicenzo in Volturno, Italy turned up works and dated them to around 800 to 820. Italy wasn’t the only home for these works, glass of similar colors were found in England dated to a similar time. These were small pieces, few and far between.

Stained Glass Booms!

When the 11th and 12th century rolled around, the whole game changed! This era saw the development and building of huge, monumental churches called cathedrals! These massive buildings frequently used stained glass and, thanks to their size, lots of it! The use of stained glass reached its peak in the following centuries.

How They Made Stained Glass in the Medieval Era

Before the 10th century, almost all colored glass was made from soda glass. In the northern parts of Europe soda glass was superseded by Forest glass, which was used heavily until the 16h century. The panels themselves would be created from one of two methods, the cylinder blown sheet or crown glass (now that’s a good topic for another blog!) 

As for color, it was all a matter of chemistry! The materials used to make glass have innate chemical compounds found in them that could determine the color of the glass made. Depending on impurities, levels of iron, manganese, the levels of oxidation or the adding of materials such as copper, artisans could craft the exact colors they desired reliably.

Now, how do we know so much about how they made medieval windows? We have a written record of how stained glass medieval windows were made back them! Something we owe to a Benedictine monk named Theophilus Presbyter. The monk, who experts believe to be a metal glass and pigment worker described in his work De Divers Artibus a range of crafting processes, including glassmaking and working. He wasn’t the only one of course, as there are other texts including the De coloribus et artibus Romanorum that detail the ‘ancient’ ways of glassmaking. 

Glassmaking is one of the oldest crafts of man, and here at Associated Crafts® and Willet Hauser® we are happy to continue that tradition and craft. We might not use the exact same methods of old medieval windows, but our works will no doubt inspire awe.

Not here for a history lesson? Looking for a stained glass studio to craft brand new stunning windows or help conserve the ones you have? Look no further!  Reach out and see what the Associated Crafts® and Willet Hauser® family can do for you! We offer free window inspections, project guides, and a no-obligation appraisal! We love the work we do, and so will you.