St. Bridget: Nave & Clerestories

Seattle, Washington

Artist Citation Award
Texas Society of Architects/American Institute of Architects

Architect: Bassetti Architects, Seattle; Don Brubeck, AIA

Creation (Altar) Clerestory
31.6' w. by 10.4' h.

God the Father Clerestory
31.7' w. by 9.3' h.

God the Son Clerestory
31.6' w. by 9.4' h.

God the Holy Spirit Clerestory
31.6' w. by 5.8' h.

Nave Windows: God's Gifts
21.1' w. by 14.8' h. each


Over thirty years after its completion soon after Vatican II, as part of its first major renovation, St. Bridget finally got her stained glass. The new stained glass was created in two phases. Phase I includes the Entry Area Windows from which St. Bridget welcomes worshipers and relates stories about her life. Phase II fills the Sanctuary with stained glass that enframes the Altar and crowns the Nave with reminders of God and his gifts.

Nave and Clerestory Windows: God’s Gifts

The transition from the open, public spaces of Main Entrance and Narthex into the Sanctuary is accompanied by a shift in thematic emphasis in the stained glass from welcome to worship.

Upon leaving the more compressed Narthex, one enters the expansive Sanctuary. The interplay of sunlight within the Nave combined with glimpses out to treetops and sky, transform the Sanctuary Windows into a three dimensional celebration of light – a perfect symbol of God’s abiding presence and guidance. With their more immediate, less narrative imagery, these windows billow as radiant backdrops to worship.

First seen are the three God’s Gifts Windows surrounding the Altar. Line and shape seen streaming down from the Creation Clerestory into the two Nave Windows below span their wide separation and unify them into a sparkling halo around the Altar. What began as an abstract representation of the Christ’s Ascension in the Creation Clerestory evolved to also include God’s gifts. Circular “ripples” radiate down from Creation into the Nave Windows below much as God’s enlightenment flows into our lives. God’s grace, blessings and gifts are represented by the same prisms seen in the Reservation Chapel Window. Floating on rays of white, these prisms stream down into the Nave Windows. White glass recalls God’s power to illuminate darkness (gray glass) as well as his omnipresence here on Earth. In direct sun myriad rainbows radiate throughout the Sanctuary as reminders of the often unexpected appearance God’s gifts in our lives. Even on cloudy days the prisms add uplifting sparkle to the worship space.

The Creation Clerestory also reminds us of or personal relationship with God. When approaching the Altar, the heavy beam that usually obstructs the lower part of the clerestory window gradually reveals a cleansing spiritual “freshet” pouring down to us from directly above the Altar Table. This verticality contrasts with the outward flow seen in the rest of Creation as a reminder of God’s personal relationship with each of us.

In the two Nave Windows subtle raised, outstretched hands may be discerned. They are not simply reminders of God’s bounty but also of our obligation to help the less fortunate. The reappearance of St. Bridget’s Cloak in the Nave Windows reiterates her charity and healing. Her cloak is etched with Isaiah 58: 7&10: “Share your bread with the hungry, and shelter the homeless poor. Clothe the person you see to be naked. Then your light will shine like the dawn and your wound be quickly healed. Give your bread to the hungry, and relief to the oppressed. Then your light will rise in the darkness.”

In addition, the design for the Sanctuary Windows strikes a balance between making the most of low light on overcast days with the need to diffuse direct sun during sunny days. (Yes, the sun does sometimes shine in Seattle!) This practical necessity was achieved with denser whites and custom-made transparent grays (Fremont Antique Glass Company, Seattle), to mitigate unwanted brightness on sunny days through diffusion and shading.

High above the Nave, the remaining three clerestory windows watch over worship without undue distraction from the Altar. Using a glass palette similar to that of the Altar Clerestory, “beams” of white stream downwards leading the eye back toward the Altar.

The God the Father Clerestory draws from a common medieval symbol for the Father aspect of Trinity as an outstretched hand, and from the rainbow, God’s own symbol of his covenant with humanity after the flood. The hand serves to remind that, although we must take the initiative to seek him out, our Father’s helping hand is always there waiting. The clear textured “rainbow” reminds us of the power of God to guide us through life’s “storms.”

Using Christ’s own metaphor, I am the Light of the World, as inspiration, the God the Son Clerestory contains allusions to both sunlight breaking through the clouds and a cross limned with both colorful and golden dichroic glass.

The smallest clerestory window is the last of the stained glass windows at St. Bridget to be experienced. Its design echoes the flame of the Holy Spirit first encountered in the Reconciliation Chapel Windows. Dichroic “tongues” from above appear to stream down toward the Baptistry, Pool and Entrance Doors which are below to the right of God the Holy Spirit. When viewed from outside, these flames connect and resonate with similar imagery in the Reconciliation Chapel Windows.

The cycle of St. Bridget Windows is completed as worshipers again symbolically and physically pass through the St. Bridget’s Cloak Doors into the Narthex and the St. Bridget Window. Here St. Bridget embraces them in benediction, as they return to their earthly reality, hopefully revitalized and refreshed.

Go to “St. Bridget Catholic Church: Narthex and Chapels”

OTHERS COMMENT:

Jeff Smith designed the stained glass for St. Bridget Catholic Church here in Seattle. He worked with a church committee of which I was a part, helping us develop a theme related to our parish mission and identity, something that would “tell the story” of who we are to our current parishioners as well as to the next generations. The glass work is outstanding, as visitors are constantly telling us. The church is filled with a brilliant light, and the variety of the textures and colors are striking without being distracting. Small prisms splash tiny rainbows throughout the church, and especially lift the spirit on sunny Sunday mornings. It’s simply masterful! I will always feel proud for my part in helping create this legacy for future parishioners, and grateful to Jeff for his creativity and artistry.

Deacon Denny Duffell, Pastoral Associate, St. Bridget Parish, Seattle, Washington

I wanted to write and tell you how beautiful your artwork is at St. Bridget Church.  Every time I go to mass, I find myself looking at all the amazing panels and noticing new, interesting details.  What an amazing artist you are and what a great gift you have given us.  Thank you very much.

Jeanette Whiting, Parishioner, St. Bridget Parish, Seattle, WA

I went to St. Bridget last evening near sunset while the choir practiced, to enjoy the glass at that time of day. The design and the light it casts and the dynamic effects it gives to the space are wonderful.  The church needs some more improvements, but now it finally feels like a sacred space, connected to creation in the way I hoped it would be.  THANK YOU!

. . . St Bridget’s stained glass is still one of my very top favorites for both the artwork and the process of working with you.

Don Brubeck, Project Architect for St. Bridget Church, Bassetti Architects, Seattle, WA


Materials: German, French & Domestic Mouthblown Glass; Domestic Machine- and Hand-rolled Glass; Dichroic Glass; Austrian Lead-Crystal Prisms; Lead; Solder. Installed behind protective tempered glass as needed.