“Stained Glass Windows: A Latter-day Saint Legacy,” Ensign, Jan. 1981, 35
Stained glass, the jewel-like union of glass and light that appears in a number of temples and chapels throughout the Church, teaches some gospel lessons in a uniquely beautiful way.
Colored art glass creaked into Salt Lake Valley by ox-team for a chapel in Millcreek as early as 1866. However, it was not until a few months before the dedication of the Salt Lake Temple in 1892 that true stained glass, with the color dyed in the glass and patterns depicting a religious event, came to Salt Lake.
The First Presidency, seeking a worthy object for the Salt Lake Temple’s Holy of Holies, commissioned a twelve-foot-high window depicting the First Vision from the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company in New York, unquestionably the finest craftsmen for that work in nineteenth-century America.
Apparently the First Presidency was pleased with the prospects of this window, for two similar stained glass windows were also authorized. Two of the second-floor sealing rooms adjacent to the celestial room also have stained glass. The east room is decorated with floral Victorian-designed art glass. In the west room is a panel showing Joseph Smith receiving the golden plates from the Angel Moroni. As patrons leave the celestial room, above the stairwell descending to the dressing rooms is a round window six feet in diameter showing Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden by an angel.
A fourth window was added to the Salt Lake Temple after its dedication in 1893. Called the “Memorial Window,” it shows a leaded painting of the temple on glass flanked by a pair of heraldic shields and commemorative words.
These early windows, positioned in the most magnificent and sacred rooms of the temple and representing financial sacrifice, inspired the use of stained glass in other Church buildings. Three copies of the temple’s First Vision window followed in close succession. Salt Lake Seventeenth Ward ordered the first copy of the First Vision window in 1907 for its new Gothic Revival chapel a few blocks north of the temple. This window, one of the finest in the Church, was followed a year later in 1908 by the second version of the First Vision, ordered by the Salt Lake Second Ward. Brigham City Third Ward included the First Vision window, differing in some details from its predecessors, in its new chapel in 1911.
Even though the First Vision is a very popular subject, several chapels feature the Savior, especially since the windows could be ordered already assembled from “mail-order” houses. A figure of Christ beckoning “Come unto Me” was installed in Murray First Ward’s 1907 Gothic Revival chapel, then transferred to the chapel that replaced it. Millcreek Twelfth Ward’s original building had a stained glass window of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. A window of the Lord knocking at the door was installed in the Salt Lake Tenth Ward building in 1909.
Other popular windows without Biblical scenes in them featured scrolls, flowers, roundels, and jewels. Unlike the others, these could be made locally, usually by Bennett Glass and Paint, beginning in 1891. Its first major job was thirty-six stained glass windows for the Assembly Hall on Temple Square to replace the clear glass windows. One of the workmen, teenager Henry Kimball, showed remarkable promise. He left on a mission in 1896 and, after he returned, took charge of Bennett’s art glass department, becoming such a central figure in it that the department closed when he retired in 1953.
At least fourteen chapels in Salt Lake City and many other tabernacles and chapels in the mountain west display his handicraft.
Other examples of LDS stained glass are scattered throughout the country. Wilshire Ward and Santa Monica chapel in California have large spans; and a continent away, the former chapel of Washington, D.C., Ward displays a beautiful window.
Many other stained glass windows, salvaged from tabernacles, chapels, and private residences, glow with new luster in other settings. Two windows recently installed in the lobby of the Salt Lake Temple were found in Church storage, part of a 1933 Chicago Church Exhibit. Designed by J. Leo Fairbanks, one shows the Prophet in prayer and the other portrays Elijah holding a key representing the priesthood, standing before the Salt Lake Temple.
Among the best examples of modern stained glass are the dramatic modern windows of the Washington Temple and a new window in Salt Lake City’s Twentieth Ward building, designed by Utah artist Gary Smith.
The reproductions on these pages represent the variety and beauty of stained glass windows found in LDS chapels and temples throughout the United States.