Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Goddard's stained glass saga

During these spring and summer months, the President's Lawn is a popular hangout, especially for those students who harbor ambitions of becoming professional Frisbee golfers. But have those students, in their frisbee-golf-induced reverie, ever thought about what would happen if one of their errant Frisbees were to collide with one of the four stained glass panels that line the south side of Goddard Chapel?

Luckily for them, the result would be somewhat anticlimactic: plastic outer coverings, complete with vents, protect those stained glass windows. But believe it or not, the danger posed by Frisbee fanatics is not the reason for the coverings. The real culprit? Dirt.

Yes, dirt. Prior to their restoration, the four windows at the rear of the chapel "were so dirty we didn't even think you could see out of them," University Chaplain David O'Leary said. "When we first moved back into the chapel [after the restorations were completed], we saw condensation beneath them every morning and were worried that it would damage the woodwork. We called in stained glass experts and they determined that the dirt had been acting as insulation."

As a result, the windows now have outside insulating coverings - which, O'Leary says, serve the added benefit of "protecting them from the Frisbee golfers." And Goddard's stained glass is certainly well worth protecting; because of the historical value of its stained glass, the University Chaplaincy is in the process of putting Goddard on the National Historical Registry.

"We've got the pedigree," O'Leary said: five of the chapel's stained glass windows resulted from the joint efforts of J. Phillip Rinn, Goddard Chapel's architect, and Tomasso Juglaris, a renowned artist. While working with Juglaris on those panels, Rinn developed a pioneering process in which the glass' color was etched rather than painted on.

Adding to the stained glass' historical significance is the fact that one panel - the Pitman Easter Lilies Memorial Window - has been officially documented as a valuable, original Tiffany piece. Louis Comfort Tiffany was a renowned artist of stained glass around the turn of the century.

Additionally, "the [newly restored and installed] six panels on the right of the altar are rumored to be original Tiffany," O'Leary said. "It hasn't been documented for sure, but all indications indicate that [Tiffany] threw them in along with the larger work." Substantiating the clich?© that "one man's trash is another man's treasure," two of those panels were only recently discovered in Goddard's basement, where they had been gathering dust for years.

According to an official statement of purpose, Goddard should "serve as a place of worship for all faiths on campus." In light of the non-exclusive credo of the Unitarian-Universalists under whom Goddard was built, the chapel's overtly Christian iconography is particularly surprising.

Since the Unitarian-Universalists were believers in universal rather than selective salvation, O'Leary said "it stands out that so many of the stained glass panels depict Christian scenes and New Testament figures." He noted, however, that "the Buddhist, Ba'hai, and Hindu faiths that gather [in Goddard] don't seem to have a problem with it."

Many students and alumni have expressed a deep appreciation of the stained glass: "Now that the glass has been restored, a lot of alumni have come back and just been awed," O'Leary said.

This year's large-scale restoration of the Chapel has stirred an interest in its stained glass perhaps not seen since the mid-1980s, when the University Chaplaincy sponsored a trivia contest based on who could correctly identify the windows'


Unlike the windows' subject matter, which mainly consists of Christian iconography, the Latin inscriptions that run across and around many of the panels are mostly secular. They are not all Biblical wisdom or hallowed moral pronouncements; rather, they are largely "all sorts of good things about the person who gave the money for the window," O'Leary said.

The lettering at the bottom of the Chapel's north window, which depicts St. Paul, is an exception from the majority of the windows' scripts: instead of flattering benefactors, the text exhorts "Stand ye, quit like men - be strong." A noble statement, to be sure, but also an ironic one: the window was shattered in 1955 during a fierce windstorm. It was reinforced and refurbished soon afterwards.

The north window has also weathered storms of another sort due to the ambiguity of the large sword St. Paul is pictured with. "[Former Tufts president] Jean Mayer told me that if anyone wanted to break that window, he would throw the first stone," said art history professor Madeline Harrison Caviness, who has published numerous works on medieval art and stained glass and served as President of the Corpus Vitrearum, an international stained glass cataloguing project.

"The sword is a bit off-putting if you don't understand the iconography of Christian saints," Caviness explained. In truth, however, images of St. Paul are often accompanied by a sword to symbolize the weaponry by which he was killed under the Roman emperor Nero. The sword, then, is far from an endorsement of violence: rather, it serves as a reminder of violence's consequences.

The Chapel's south window, located opposite the one of St. Paul, depicts St. John and is dedicated to Tufts' first president, Hosea Ballou II. In 1982, the window - which also includes an eagle, a symbol of dignity and contemplation of the divine associated with St. John - was removed and restored to prevent it from collapsing.

The panel on the Chapel's East side depicting a figure sowing seeds strikes viewers as odd for a very good reason: it is

backwards. "On purpose, though," O'Leary said. "The preacher used to sit in the meditation room on the other side." The window, which looks "normal" from within the meditation room, was initially meant to inspire the chaplain as he contemplated his sermons or homilies.

The Founder's Window, the largest of three stained glass panels on the West side of the Chapel, is the only memorial window that is secular in nature. Though official descriptions say its subject matter is an oak-wreathed memorial scroll for Charles Tufts and Silvanus Packard, O'Leary said that he's "always thought that [the window] may be a portrayal of the earth surrounded by peace." In support of his interpretation, O'Leary points out that the earth-like green and blue at the window's center is surrounded by olive and palm branches - traditional symbols of peace.

In a 1994 Speculum article, Caviness described the Medieval philosophy that "whereas the light of God was immaterial, the light of the sun and moon was matter; it was thus a miracle...that the physical matter of light could pass through the physical matter of glass without breaking it."

The view of stained glass has obviously changed a little since medieval times. Although we no longer regard them as the same kind of miracle, Goddard's stained glass windows are still remarkable, both for their aesthetically pleasing and historical qualities. Just pray that Frisbees - and Jean Mayer - steer clear of them.