“The Stained Glass in the Rome Visitors’ Center,” Ensign, March 2019
The glittering beauty of stained glass illuminates temples all around the world. There’s just something about the ornate patterns and pictures within these masterpieces that can touch hearts and build testimony in a unique way.
Just as remarkable as the windows themselves is the amount of time, work, and patience that goes into creating even the simplest design. Since no two panes of glass are quite the same, artists have to thoughtfully choose what glass to work with. All of the glass is carefully cut out and ground to a specific shape. Details are painted onto the glass and sealed with heat. The pieces are then carefully placed into the correct position and lined with a thin strip of lead. They are joined together using solder (metal that melts with low heat and solidifies quickly). Then the work is often cemented to secure the glass inside the lead and to waterproof the window.
With that intricate process in mind, imagine the work that goes into creating a massive stained glass mural depicting Christ’s mortal ministry, because that is exactly what Tom and Gayle Holdman of Provo, Utah, USA, and a team of artists, designers, and models miraculously accomplished in less than a year. The finished product is displayed in the Rome Italy Temple Visitors’ Center and is absolutely breathtaking.
In the beginning, plans for the Rome Temple Visitors’ Center included a video wall, but the idea was canceled, which made an opening for the stained glass window to be placed there. A scene was drafted for the window; then actors in costumes were brought in to pose for it, allowing artists to create concept art for the window.
“We kept feeling more and more impressed to go with a certain concept design,” Brother Holdman says. “We ended up doing an intricate sketch of the whole picture so we could capture the emotion of the actors.” After the final sketch was created, Tom was able to begin working with the glass.
The window depicts the Savior and His Twelve Apostles during His earthly ministry. It is placed strategically at the center of the visitors’ center so it will be the first thing visitors see as they walk in the building. Then as visitors walk around to the other side of the window, they can see the marble statues of the Christus and the original Twelve Apostles.
One of the many beauties this stained glass window contains is that it does not depict just one scene from the Lord’s earthly ministry. In what appears to be a single scene at first glance, Jesus Christ and the Twelve Apostles are in the midst of characters and symbols that represent events and people from the Lord’s earthly ministry as well as each parable He taught. The Holdmans are excited for visitors to see the piece and to find and point out their favorite stories about Christ.
The depiction of the woman by the well is especially intricate. She represents more accounts than just the woman at the well; she is reaching out to the Savior as the woman with the issue of blood did, and the stones next to her symbolize the woman accused of committing adultery who was brought to be stoned.
“The woman at the well is one of my favorite parts of this window because she represents so many different women from the New Testament,” says Sister Holdman. “Each of those women had a different outward need, but ultimately they all just needed to be healed. Their stories and faith truly testify to me, and hopefully to many visitors, of the Savior’s healing power.”
One of the Holdmans’ highest hopes is that their stained glass will be an inspiring way to reach those who come to the visitors’ center. “This whole piece was created to be a visual testimony of Christ,” Sister Holdman explains. The artwork includes symbols and elements of Christ’s birth, Crucifixion, Atonement, Resurrection, and many more symbols of Him.
“We included imagery that exists within other Christian religions like the cross and the crown of thorns so it can possibly create a spark of recognition and allow investigators and missionaries to build on common beliefs,” says Brother Holdman. “This whole window shows that what is important to them is important to us. It shows that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a Christian church. I hope this will help people fully understand that.”
After working tirelessly to complete this miraculous project in less than a year, Brother and Sister Holdman have been humbled and overjoyed in seeing this beautiful piece of artwork come together. “The artwork really allows you to see how all the stories of Christ’s ministry overlay and interweave and also relate to us today,” says Sister Holdman. “We’re not much different from those who lived in Christ’s day because we need Him and His teachings just as much as they did.”
“We specifically crafted and designed this piece so that all of the lines of glass point to the heart of the Savior at the center of the piece,” Brother Holdman explains. “From the buildings to the height of the people, everything in this artwork points back to Him.”