Medieval Roots of Stained Glass Windows in Afrika
At sunset and sunrise, the stained glass windows at All Saints Cathedral, Nairobi sparkle with beautiful color and harmony as organ melodies echo through the walls of the cathedral. It is among a few early churches of the Anglican church in Kenya that exhibit stained glasses, engraved wall plates, baptismal font basin, tapestry, engraved lantern, and pulpit, among others. All Saints Cathedral is over 105 years old and has its roots in England’s The Cathedral of Canterbury. In Kenya, it was designated as a historical site under National Museum of Kenya cap 216. The members of the public who frequent the cathedral for worship, weddings, requiem masses, christenings, and commemorations, or simply listen to organ music, are probably astonished by the stained glass windows. The stained glass windows were designed with geometrical shapes such as circles and arches. The artistic inspiration and design of the cathedral artworks are borrowed from ancient Egypt, Byzantine, medieval, early Renaissance, and later modern periods.
Historically, the stained glass windows were inspired by the cathedral age of the medieval and gothic periods. Each stained glass window in All Saints Cathedral has its own themes and subject matter that reflect bible stories, the saints, the gospel of Jesus Christ, memorials, and religious leaders. For instance, the first stained glass window on the South Aisle depicts the theme of Fides – faith, and Caritas – Charity. The theme of advocacy on simple life of poverty is related to St. Francis of Assisi; a founder of the Franciscan Order for St. Joseph of Arimathea. In South Aisle they seen stained glass window of memory of Kenyan hero died in two world wars, and next is Lord Baden Powell, founder of the Boy Scout movement. A glance on north aisle the first two stained glass windows depict theme of justices- human figure caring a scales of justice on which envy, hatred and malice are being weighed against faith, hope and charity. Other is the theme of courage means Fortitude. Another theme has focus on The Saints such as St. Michael – depicting a guardian of Christian armies in their battle with the ‘heathen’ and St. Alban the first British martyr who lived in the third century. At children corner at North Aisle there are two stained glass windows depicting the adoration of the Christ child by the Wise men with spot of small star of Bethlehem. Original children corner at North Aisle with was meant to welcome children the Cathedral and currently is a place for special communion services. These subjects on stained glass windows are traced from Romanesque and medieval churches such as St Augustine Cathedral in Ireland, the Cathedral of Canterbury in Kent, and Birmingham Cathedral in the United Kingdom, among others.
It is critical to recognize that stained glass traditions with gospel and bible themes are not a new phenomenon in contemporary Roman Catholicism in Kenya, as well as in the Presbyterian and Methodist Churches. However, the current modern church in Kenya, especially evangelicals, employs minimal stained glass windows that incorporate few artistic designs and theological subjects. This might be due to controversial faith in Christian doctrine. The stained glass window at All Saints cathedral allows sun rays to penetrate through and animate the subject matter, giving glory and reverence to Almighty God. It also displays the historical conformation of Anglican doctrine and its principles. The inherent shapes of stained glass depict African designs that appeal to African religion. Two realist human figures of stain and hero are juxtaposed on the center level for the harmony of the composition. Some stained glass shows an African spiritual leader holding a quill pen and a book, while others show a white spiritual leader holding a staff and a holy bible. The juxtaposition of realist figures on stained glass signifies the integration of European religion into African culture. They are all submerged in the respective color harmonies, implicating the mission of Christ in Africa and beyond. The bold black lines have been created to divide the subject matter and background of the composition with the intention of cementing the patriotism of African citizens. The extensive use of line has been employed in southern African design, such as Ndebele art. As a result, it is critical to recognize that the art of stained glass in churches has its roots in the early medieval church. The art of stained glass windows plays an important role in creating an atmosphere of worship in church and appealing to Christian doctrine. Finally, All Saints Cathedral, Nairobi is gazetted as a historical site and it is among the mainstream churches such as Anglican, Roman Catholic in Kenya, Presbyterian, and Methodist. All these main early-stream churches incorporate African artistic designs on their stained glass windows that give a sense of African religion.
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Mr. Wanyama Ogutu is a scholar in the Master of Arts (Fine Arts) program at Kenyatta University. He is also a practicing visual artist specializing in drawing, painting, and sculpture within, Nairobi, Kenya. He focusing in Painting with its’ philosophy, education and extension to Africa contemporary Art. Most of his artworks focus on interaction, environment, and education. Wanyama has a passion for fine art research; its philosophy, development, and relevance. He writes on profound academic topics, where he has presented and published in international journals and conferences around the world. He is a consultant in innovation and creative strategy on issues affecting our society. He is currently a part-time teacher at some TVET institutes within Nairobi.