The Stained Glass Windows
Records are vague, but it appears that work on the stained glass windows began in the 1890s under Bishop Jeremiah O'Sullivan. Final installation was completed in 1910 under the fifth Bishop of Mobile, Edward P. Allen. The windows were built in Munich, Germany by the Franz Mayer Company. Twelve towering windows surround the sanctuary, each approximately 30 feet tall and 12 feet wide. The windows were designed based on themes from the New Testament with scenes referencing the role of Mary in the life of Jesus. Massive cream-colored columns rise from the richly marbled floor. Four smaller stained glass windows are arrayed across the back of the sanctuary.
The windows have a powerful impact upon the viewer. The Annunciation is rich with intricate detail, with both angel and dove represented. Emotion is strong in The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth. The two holy women speak, their faces lit by God's love and beneficence. The robes in this window have particularly beautiful draping and detailing.
The Birth of Jesus lacks the brilliant blue and red impact of some of the windows. Instead, rich velvety tones in umber are used to bring out the animal warmth of the stable. You imagine the hot breath of the inhabitants making steam in the cold night air. Marriage Feast of Cana brings the divinity of Jesus into the lives of his friends. Mary quietly watches as the miracle of plain Judean water turning into wine is performed. The bride, in pink silks, watches from across the table with a haughty look. The table itself is laid with plentiful food. The stream of flowing wine glows. In the Pentecost window, Mary and the twelve disciples pose prayerfully as the Holy Spirit comes down to them in the form of a dove.
Several windows deal specifically with the events in the life of Mary as epitomized by the Catholic faith. The Presentation of Mary in the Temple by Anna and Joachim is rich in detail. Waving green palm branches give the evocative flavor of the east, recalling Jerusalem. The grandeur of the as-of-yet undestroyed Temple is shown by the rich archways and detailed tracery. The Temple's rich blue vaulted ceiling copied the cathedral's heavenly ceiling [The cathedral's ceiling was blue prior to the 2004 restoration]. The High Priest, with his title in Hebrew lettered on his headpiece, blesses Mary, and Biblical detail shows forth in his garment.
In The Assumption of Mary into Heaven, lavish, winged cherub heads surround her in a rich panoply of blue and gold. Her face radiates a mature beauty. The Coronation of Mary gracefully portrays her with rays of light descending upon her from the dove and the crown being placed upon her head by Jesus. His red robe glows like a burning ember. Glowing blue glass jewels adorn her crown as she bows piously before him.He looks on her with compassion as cherubs attend them.
The Reconciliation Room at the back of the church hides one of the most stunning windows of the cathedral: The Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.The colors leap forward at the viewer; water seems to flow across Jesus' feet. Glass jewels gleam from the topmost border of the scene.
From the altar, one looks back at the row of four smaller windows in the doors, representing Our Lady of Mount Carmel; St. Louis, King of France; St. Augustine; and another Presentation of Mary in the Temple. Although various subjects, they are executed in a manner that unites them in color and appeal. Above them is a gorgeous half-round window filled with beautiful images of the Holy Spirt as a dove, and cherubs.
Once the stained glass was in place, renovations continued on the cathedral. A new altar of imported Italianmarble and modern tiles to pave the aisles were added. During World War II, an extraordinary accident befell the cathedral when a low-flying plane struck the towers. Both of those towers had to be completely rebuilt.
Disaster struck again in March of 1954 on the Feast of St. Joseph. Fire destroyed the sanctuary. Smoke and water from the fire trucks completed the devastation of the sanctuary interior. Amazingly, the structure still stood, and the cathedral was completely rebuilt. The stained glass windows were carefully taken apart and sent back to their creators in Germany. The original drawings aided the artists in their efforts to successfully restore the beauty of the windows.
--Sharon V. Buck
Photos courtesy of Michael Mastro