The Stained-Glass Windows of Boston College: Finding God in All Things

by Margo Borders


The Alumni Association of Boston College hosted a tour of the stained glass windows of Bapst Library, called “The Stained-Glass Windows of Boston College: Finding God in All Things” on Sunday, Dec. 8. Patricia DeLeeuw, Vice Provost for Faculties and a scholar of medieval history, gave the tour, which took place in Bapst Library’s Gargan Hall and the Irish Room in Gasson Hall.


DeLeeuw focused first on Bapst Library in the context of the history of Boston College.

Boston College was founded in 1863 in the South End of Boston. When it was moved to Chestnut Hill, Fr. Thomas Gasson, SJ commissioned the architects McGuinness and Walsh to design the buildings of Boston College in the gothic style, which was the popular style in the mid to late 19th century.


The original plan was for 15 buildings, but only two, St. Mary’s and Gasson Hall were built immediately. In 1921, Devlin Hall and Bapst Library were built. Bapst was built slowly, stone by stone. It was finished in 1928, and there was a campaign started after its completion to meet the need for the large amount of books needed to fill the library.


Romans originally used glass in windows. Stained, or colored, glass was used in later medieval times, and is part of the gothic style. Part of the gothic style is to use jewel tones, which is seen in the windows in Bapst, which have stained glass centers surrounded by jewel-toned glass that let in light. Fr. William Devlin, SJ commissioned Earl Edward Sanborn, a student of Charles Connick, to design and create the stained glass windows for Bapst Library. Sanborn wanted to recreate medieval windows, and his windows were simpler in style and color than others at the time.


Fr. Devlin wanted the windows to focus on the 14 areas of Jesuit education: religion, oratory, poetry and drama, prose, fine arts, modern languages, history, education, natural sciences, political science, philosophy, theology, law, and medicine. The subjects go from more basic and foundational subjects to more sophisticated and complex areas of study. For example, the classic subjects for graduate study at that time were theology, law, and medicine, the last three areas of study depicted on the windows.


Some of the subjects shown on the windows are scenes from classical Greek literature, stories from the Bible, and historical moments and figures. There is a focus on both sacred and secular learning in the windows, which shows the Jesuit emphasis on the education of the whole person.


In the front of Gargan Hall, there is a window displaying the genesis of the book, starting from hieroglyphics and cuneiform and ending with the Vulgate. Also outside Gargan Hall are the famous Shakespeare windows, depicting scenes from the poet’s most famous plays, and windows on the sides displaying his most iconic heroes and heroines.


DeLeeuw calls Gasson 100, or the “Irish Room,” the heart of Boston College. Money was originally given to Boston College from the Irish people of Boston collected from a failed campaign to build an Irish hall in the center of Boston. There is a Gaelic inscription in the room signifying the gift from the Irish people, and there are coats of arms of various Irish Provinces throughout the room.


Thomas Murphy, also a student of Charles Connick, made the stained glass scene from the legend of St. Patrick in the center of the room. It depicts Patrick preaching to the king, and trying to convert him so he could preach to the Irish people. DeLeeuw emphasized Murphy’s use of intricate architectural detail, and he is famous for his use of color, which can be seen on St. Patrick’s green cloak in the window.


DeLeeuw stressed the importance of looking at the details in the windows as a reminder of the great history and art of Boston College.


“In the time of our sesquicentennial, it is good to think not only about our buildings, but also about our history,” DeLeeuw said.


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