By Ashley Andyshak Hayes
The Frederick News-Post
EMMITSBURG — Throughout history, stained glass has been used as decoration in the homes of the wealthy.
The people, places and events often depicted in stained-glass windows have also been used to tell stories in places where people could not read.
At the Basilica of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, there’s a meaning and a story behind each of the approximately 200 stained-glass windows that adorn the chapel.
“It’s not just decorative art,” said Sister Anne Marie Lamoureux, a tour guide for the shrine and a self-taught expert on the history and significance of the basilica’s stained glass. “You could do that (as decorative art), but (these windows have) a whole lot of meaning.”
Lamoureux, who has lived in Emmitsburg since 2011, said she took it upon herself to learn the history of the stained-glass windows after some children, preparing for All Saints’ Day, wanted to learn about the saints depicted in the windows.
The windows include saints from five continents, Lamoureux said. Many of the saints are symbols of the Vincentian order of priests, which is the “brother” community to the Daughters of Charity.
Construction of the building that houses the basilica began in 1961, said Amanda Johnston, marketing and communications manager for the shrine. The Daughters in Emmitsburg at that time chose the saints and stories that would be depicted in the windows.
“They don’t all relate to Mother (Elizabeth Ann) Seton because she was not a saint at that time,” Lamoureux said. “Some of them don’t seem like they have any relationship to her, but they have a relationship with the Daughters of Charity, the worldwide community.”
Seton, the first American-born saint, was canonized in 1975, and the basilica was dedicated as
St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Chapel the following year.
The windows were obtained through a partnership between the project contractor and German artisans. Europe was recovering from World War II at the time and was rebuilding many churches and chapels that included stained-glass windows, Lamoureux said. This partnership allowed the Daughters to buy the windows for “less than we could ever do now,” she said.
Several of the windows depict St. Joseph, who held a special place in Seton’s heart.
“Mother Seton had a great devotion to St. Joseph,” Lamoureux said. “She named everything
St. Joseph’s,” including St. Joseph’s Valley, the area in Emmitsburg where she and the original Sisters of Charity settled; St. Joseph’s Free School, the first free Catholic school for girls in America; and the community of religious women she founded in Emmitsburg, who were originally called the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph’s.
Also depicted in several sets of windows are Daughters of Charity performing the Corporal Works of Mercy; the Seven Sorrows of Mary; and the titles of Mary from the Litany of Loreto.
The windows extend the entire length of the north and south walls of the basilica, into the confessionals and into the choir loft, where King David, composer of the Psalms; Pope Gregory I, who developed the Gregorian Chant; and Pope Pius X, who encouraged Catholics to include music in the Mass, are depicted.
Saints Peter and Paul are depicted in windows on the altar, and smaller windows in the sacristy and at the entrance to the chapel depict traditional Christian symbols, including a lamb and the loaves and fishes.
“These are forms that have been used throughout the years,” Lamoureux said. “It’s the artist’s way of depicting something that’s very special.”
The basilica is open to the public daily, and there is no charge to visit, Lamoureux said. Once a year, during the holiday season, the public is invited to create their own stained-glass pieces.
More than 45,000 people from more than 25 countries visit the Seton Shrine each year, many of them from South America, Asia and Europe, said Johnston.
The windows don’t require any special cleaning or maintenance beyond that of any other window, Lamoureux said.
And it’s not just the color of the glass or the people and scenes depicted in the windows that create beauty, she said.
The light that shines through the windows in different ways throughout the day creates its own beauty.
Originally published December 23, 2012