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Revered for their beauty and splendor, stained glass windows were a staple in Gothic architecture and have adorned cathedrals and churches for hundreds of years. Majestic in display, stained glass is often associated with religious icons and Bible stories displayed in painted glass; however, early records show that there were secular uses of stained glass windows. The inherent loveliness of stained glass has kept it one of the most popular glass forms for centuries. Collectors and museums pay careful attention to restoring these illuminating relics, while modern art workers seek new ways of using stained glass. Though not as common in churches today as they were during the Middle Ages, stained glass windows continue to dazzle and amaze spectators with their alluring are rays of colored hues.

Beautiful colored glass can trace its origins back to ancient Egypt, and while colored glass has been found dating back to the early 7th and 8th centuries, it wasn't until the Middle Ages that stained glass windows flourished. Christians and Muslims used stained glass windows in their houses of worship. Architects and designers continued to develop new methods and styles for the windows that would adorn cathedrals and churches throughout Europe and the Middle East. During the height of the Middle Ages, Chartres, France, would become revered for their stained glass production. While not as popular today as in the Middle Ages, stained glass windows continue to hold an allure for all who see them. They are still commonly used in churches and some universities.

Throughout the Middle Ages, the production of stained glass was a thriving business. As silica was the primary ingredient used for creating glass, glass workers established their trade in locations where silica was plentiful. Various elements and chemical compounds were added to the silica mix in order to produce different-colored glass. Over the years, the process of coloring glass has expanded: As more elements have been discovered, so, too, have the colors that can be produced in stained glass. Iron oxides and chromium give glass a green tint; cobalt, sulphur, nickel, and copper oxide produce various shades of blue; selenium adds a gold hue; metallic copper creates a red tint; and silver, titanium, cadmium and uranium produce yellow. Manganese and high levels of nickel can create shades of purple to black, and tin oxide is used for white. The process used to color glass is paramount to the overall beauty and finished appeal of stained glass windows.

Throughout the centuries, great focus and emphasis has been placed upon the design of stained glass windows. There are many factors that must be taken into consideration, such as the technique the crafter will use to create the window, ensuring that the glass will fit into the architectural structure, how much light will be used, and the overall picture the stained glass window will display. Typically, the person or organization buying the window will select a picture or religious narrative, then speak to the crafter about their ideas. The crafter will make a model design, called a vidimus, so the buyer can see and confirm the design of the finished project. The design stage is the most important: If something were to go wrong here, the finished window would not have the desired effect.

While glass may be colored with the addition of certain elements, stained glass windows may also be fashioned by painting fine details onto the glass and then firing the finished work. Each piece of a stained glass mural is first cut to size, then painted, fired, and gilded with lead. Special paints designed for glass are used in modern creations, while specific stains and chemical compounds (such as silver nitrate) were used to paint glass in earlier times. Painting stained glass windows is one of the most important steps for ensuring that the finished window has the look and design intended.

The assembly and mounting of each stained glass window piece is one of the most important steps. Each piece or pane must be soldered in a secure manner to ensure the window's longevity. Lead cames (divider bars) are used to secure and mount each piece of glass. This process is sometimes referred to as creating "leaded glass," but it is crucial for ensuring that the finished window can withstand natural elements and the test of time. Early methods often included the application of an iron rod to provide additional support to the window.
Article written by Lexi Westingate

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