One of the things I love most about Albany is the rich and storied religious architecture that peaks above more modern buildings in the downtown area.
While many of the churches are open only during Sunday mass, I stopped by five historic churches before service to snap photos of some world-famous stained glass windows.
St. Peter's Church
Built in 1859, St. Peter's is the second-oldest protestant church in the United States and a national historic landmark. The building has a Gothic revival style, with high ceilings, mosaic-tiled floors, an impressive altar and 12 magnificent stained glass windows flanking the church aisles.
The windows date from the mid-19th century to the 20th and each was designed by an eminent English artist. One of the windows is considered a church treasure -- it was designed by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, a British artist famous for reviving the use of stained glass in England. The 1880 window, which depicts three versions of Christ from the Old and New Testament, has vivid colors and was the first to use a new technique to make flesh tones more lively. The style was so well-received that it was later used in Westminster Abbey.
In the apse, which rises above the altar, there are six tall narrow windows or "lancets." Each lancet depicts two life-sized angels playing a musical instrument, hovering over a scene in the life of St. Peter.
At the rear of the church, the rose window above the organ shines deep blue and red. The beautiful window was designed and made by the Tiffany Company in 1890. Four of the inside panes were specially treated to shine less brightly, so as to resemble a cross when the light streams in.
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
After about 15 months of being closed for renovation, the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception reopened its doors about three weeks ago. The church, which is also on the National Register of Historic Places, was the tallest point in Albany went it opened 157 years ago. Now it serves as the mother church in the 14-county Albany Roman Catholic diocese and is famous for its haunting Gothic design and gorgeous interior decoration.
Inside, two stained glass windows remain from the time of the church's dedication. One, known as the "Lady window," depicts the main events from the Virgin's life. The other is the resplendent rose window above the organ loft, which stands out with its deep blue, gold, green and fuchsia jewel tones.
Most of the other windows, which line the aisles, were placed in the church in 1902 and were specially designed by the English Hardman & Co., one of the world's leading manufacturers of stained glass.
Cathedral of All Saints
Albany's other cathedral, All Saints was the first Episcopal cathedral built in the United States and ranks fifth in size in the nation. Construction of the immense, yet less ornamental, church began in 1884 and has not been completed.
The church is home to one of the world's most impressive collections of stained glass by Clayton and Bell, one of England's most prolific stained glass producers in the latter 19th century. Much of Clayton and Bell's work was destroyed during the World War II bombings in London.
Behind a wrought iron crown of thorns and above a golden mosaic-trimmed altar is the Great East Window, one of the largest stained glass windows in the world. It was recently dismantled and reinstalled in 2003 after the glass became weak and needed repair.
To the north and south of the altar are two large rose windows, both designed by the same Clayton and Bell artist. They measure about 20 feet in diameter and reflect what looks like jewel-toned paisley light.
One is a replica of the "Bishop's Eye" (above), a well-known window in England's Lincoln Cathedral. Also of note, the rose window above the South Swan entrance was the only one designed by an American -- New York's famed stained glass maker John LaFarge.
St. Mary's Church
Historic St. Mary's -- the second-oldest parish in the state -- has had three homes in Albany, the last of which was built in 1870. But its the unique blending of architectural styles that makes this church a one-of-a-kind.
The building's exterior is distinctly Italian Romanesque with its simple, geometrical forms and lack of ornamentation. But the interior is pure Italian Baroque with a rich use of sculptures and frescoes depicting icons and saints. Three white, almost life-sized angels blow trumpets over the altar and gold embellishments line the high ceiling.
But the eight large-paneled stained glass windows along the pews would never have appeared in an Italian church during the 17th or 18th century, making this stylistic addition one that draws from the 19th century Gothic revival. The glass colors are vivid and deep and depict classic Biblical scenes such as the crucifixion, the miracle of water turning into wine and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles.
Built in 1861, Westminster is a dark red church with distinctly Gothic inspiration, complete with a labyrinth below the church's sanctuary.
Though the stained glass windows are relatively new, compared to the other historic churches in the area, they are no less magnificent. Above the altar is a deep blue- and ruby-colored rose window, the colors representing heaven and love, respectively.
The ornamental lines envelop a veritable menagerie: six angels, a fish, a tulip and a butterfly are present to represent God's kingdom.
There are 10 tall stained glass windows that line the church aisles, designed between the 1930s until as recent as 2000, when the final window was added. The older windows were created by Wilbur H. Burham, a renowned Boston stained glass craftsman. You can easily identify the newer windows, as they use much lighter colors -- a trend in stained glass window production.
Sources: Historic Albany: Its Churches and Synagogues, ed. Anne Roberts and Marcia Cockrell, in addition to church-provided literature
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