When Justin Dunn preaches about Jesus feeding the 5,000, he points to the stained glass window on the southwest side of University Baptist Church in Shawnee, Oklahoma.

There, the gospel story is illuminated alongside the stories in the other windows in the 67-year-old sanctuary, which show Christ’s birth, miracles, crucifixion, and resurrection.

“As a pastor, you’re always looking for a good illustration,” Dunn said. “The windows are perfect for that because they’re right there and get people to look up, and then they’re going to come back next week and see the same window again.”

Stained glass windows became common in American evangelical churches in the West and Midwest in the 1870s. With the prosperity and growth following the Civil War, church architects increasingly turned to Romanesque and Gothic Revival styles, according to David Bains, professor of biblical and religious studies at Samford University, and that included gorgeous windows. The stained glass created an aesthetically rich interior and blocked out the bustling city streets outside.

Early evangelical stained glass often featured simple symbols, like a Bible or a cross, but technological advancements in the manufacture of opalescent glass in the 1880s and ’90s allowed for more elaborate biblical scenes.

“You get big, very legible teaching images of Jesus that you can look at and think about during church services and that ministers can appeal to in their sermons,” Bains said. Evangelicals “copied popular illustrations by German artists that were then being reproduced in Bibles and Sunday school literature” and enthusiastically funded the work of artists including Louis Comfort Tiffany ...

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