St. Stephen Catholic Church

El Paso, Texas

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

Architect: Alvidrez Architecture Inc., El Paso, Texas; David Alvidrez, AIA

Liturgical Design Consultant: Kenneth J. Griesemer & Associates, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Altar Cross
11.0' w. by 22.0' h.

Nave Windows
Four at 1.5' w. by 15.0' h. each

Tower Windows
Two at 2.3' w. by 23.4' h. each


THE STAINED GLASS WINDOWS for St. Stephen’s new Sanctuary are found in three distinct parts of the church, each having its own liturgical significance and architectural context.

The layout of the Sanctuary can be visualized as an expansive, quarter-pie-shaped wedge. The south-facing main entrance is one of the straight sides of the wedge. On the left as one enters, a monumental curved wall protects the west-facing side of the Sanctuary from busy street noise and the harsh west-Texas sun. A second straight wall  faces north connecting the curved west wall with the entrance wall, thus completing the pie slice. A raised, polished marble Altar is located in the corner formed at the intersection of curved and side walls.  An interior limestone wall along the back of the Altar separates the Altar from the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. This wall contains a large vertical opening that allows for views and movement between Altar and Chapel.

Altar Cross Window: Set back three feet from the opening in the stone wall behind the Altar is a free-standing window wall. The Altar Cross Window is the focal point of stained glass. Throughout day and night its white Cross visually superimposes with the suspended, life-size Italian Corpus to create the Sanctuary’s very three-dimensional Crucifix. This window wall also separates Altar and Nave from Tabernacle and Blessed Sacrament Chapel while allowing light and celebrants to easily move between the two areas. The eleven foot wide Altar Cross Window is four feet wider than the opening in the stone wall, thereby insuring its edges are not visible from the pews. Because of the parallax effect between the Altar Cross and suspended Corpus, the horizontal arms of the cross were widened so that they hover behind the Corpus whether viewed from the Altar or from the main entrance 140 feet away.  “White” glasses ranging from filmy French mouthblown opals to denser hand-rolled domestic glasses allow the Cross itself to “float” in front of a background of transparent glasses. Natural light streams from the Chapel’s exterior windows. In daylight or when backlit, the “white” glasses have an amber cast that resonates with stone, wood and other interior finishes while symbolically recalling the original wood cross. These white glasses also reflect front-lighting from Sanctuary and skylights. Their reflective and transmissive properties allow the white glasses to remain animated throughout day and night, in all lighting conditions. Sparkles of mirror-like, color-shifting dichroic glass radiate from the Altar Cross. Shape and line abstractly imply Dove, Tree, Angel, Stone, Wings and the radiating Love and Light of God’s presence.

Nave Windows: Because the Nave Windows are located between larger-than-life tapestries of the Saints of the Americas by John Nava, their design called for a quiet, simple approach. The primary thread connecting all of the windows at St. Stephen is white, opal glass. The Nave Windows are made completely of this glass due to its ability to diffuse harsh afternoon sun and obscure views into the Sanctuary from a 6-lane roadway. This glass connects them with the other windows and provides a quiet transition between the Altar and Tower Windows. For economy as well as simplicity, a rectangular grid of white glass was initially planned . When it came time to fabricate the Nave Windows, I couldn’t resist using a more complex, interesting design of “billowing” white glass. A hint of pointed Gothic Arch that evolves from back to front in the upper sections of these windows. The subtle, amber-shifting, white glass does not distract from the strong, rich imagery in the tapestries. The amber glow from these four windows was inspired by Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls (San Paolo fuori le Mura) in Rome which are filled, not with glass, but with thinly sliced alabaster “panes” of white travertine. In afternoon sun the more translucent French mouthblown glass projects brighter highlights within the amber glow from these windows.  Finally, look for an Austrian lead-crystal prism. Is it the Star of Bethlehem? Or maybe a reminder of God’s Grace awaiting those who seek it? Or is it a visual mustard seed? Could it be a symbol of God’s ultimate gift to humanity? Do its colors echo God’s covenant with Noah which was sealed with a rainbow? Or might it  be a reminder that we will never find the unexpected unless we look for it?  All of these explanations are “correct” along with all the others worshipers will hopefully find. . .

Tower Windows: A prominent, soaring tower topped by a pristine white cross announces St. Stephen Deacon and Martyr Catholic Church as one approaches from afar. Once inside the church, except for a break in the curved wall where the tower inserts between two windows, the monumental tower and cross are only memories. The Tower Windows accentuate and underscore the visual and symbolic grounding of the Cross in the Earth. The elusive transparency of the clear and colored glasses with their wing-like flutters symbolize the descending Dove and represent the presence and comfort of the Holy Spirit flowing from above. The Tower sits on the lateral axis from the Baptismal Pool where its windows are reflected in the water. Between a parting drapery of white glass, the Tower Windows include the most colorful glass at St. Stephen. These colors become lighter as they rise implying a bright, heavenly, spiritual realm above. The transparent glasses project afternoon color across the Sanctuary. The deep color, especially the reds, symbolizes our worldly life and God’s gift of his Son. Three Austrian lead-crystal bevels recall our triune God. Their rainbows radiate onto pews, floors and worshipers as reminders of the undeserved bounty of God’s gifts and the everpresence of the Holy Spirit. Finally, the petal-like shapes at the base of the Tower Windows symbolize rebirth and spiritual growth.

 

OTHERS COMMENT:

Every time I sit in church your windows continue to move me! I was sharing with a woman how special your windows are to me. She was distraught, going through a tough time. To make a long story short, she sat in church one afternoon and was moved to paint the altar window. I want to let you know how your art touches people. I also want to let you know she painted it to “heal”. Her painting is beautiful, but the subject and artist are beautiful to begin with.

Parishioner, St. Stephen Catholic Church, El Paso, Texas

 


Materials: German, French and Polish mouthblown glass, domestic rolled glasses, dichroic glass, lead, and solder. Tempered protective glazing in lower lites.