By Loretta Fulton
Photography by Beth Dukes
Brilliant colors and religious images illuminated by sunlight are familiar sights to church-goers everywhere. Abilene has an abundance of magnificent stained glass windows, some in historic church buildings or saved from demolition and installed in new worship spaces. The city’s three church-affiliated universities all feature stained glass windows in their chapels. But stained glass isn’t reserved just for holy spaces. It provides a decorative touch in homes, public buildings, even restaurants. Following are examples of uses of stained glass in Abilene. Some are familiar. Some are rarely seen.
NOT SO WELL-KNOWN
Students used to poke holes in the ceiling tiles of Caldwell Music Hall on the campus of Hardin-Simmons University. They knew something special was resting just above those tiles, recalled Lawson Hager, a Hardin-Simmons student in the 1960s and former dean of the School of Music. A 2003 restoration unveiled that “something special,” but it didn’t look so special at the time. After the grime was cleared away, however, a beautiful piece of stained glass was unveiled.
“It was just incredible seeing it cleaned up,” Hager said.
It had been framed and mounted in the ceiling of the top floor of the building, with a skylight illuminating it. During the restoration, the skylight was removed and now the decorative piece is backlit. It features an artist palette and music lyre to symbolize the school’s fine arts mission.
FROM A TENT TO BRICK, MORTAR, AND STAINED GLASS
The first Presbyterians who gathered in Abilene in February 1881 did so in a tent. Today, many Abilene Presbyterians worship at First Central Presbyterian Church, a historic downtown building that features various uses of stained glass or faceted glass. Worshipers gaze toward the Trinity Window at the front of the sanctuary, with God the Father in the center, flanked by God the Son and The Holy Spirit. Twelve additional windows filter brightly colored light into the worship space. The majesty and significance of the windows was captured in a book, “The Gospel in Glass: The Witness of the Windows in First Central Presbyterian Church, Abilene, Texas.”
A HEADBOARD, GATE TOPPING, AND, YES, A WINDOW
Go no farther than Sayles Landmark Bed and Breakfast on Sayles Boulevard to see some imaginative uses of stained glass. Owner Terry Browder topped an outside iron gate with stained glass, made a headboard from a church window, hung 1918 stained glass chandeliers that once graced First Baptist Church in Ballinger, and used smaller pieces throughout the historic Sayles house for decoration. Both the front and back doors feature East Lake-style insets. The front door was original to the house and maintains its originality, down to the odd piece on the lower right corner of the inset.
UNIVERSITY CHAPELS REFLECT RELIGIOUS HERITAGE
Larry McGraw has heard it before. When people see the stained glass window in Logsdon Chapel on the campus of Baptist-affiliated Hardin-Simmons University, they only have one thing to say.
“They always talk about how it’s the most beautiful window they’ve ever seen,” said McGraw, a professor in Logsdon School of Theology, where the chapel is located.
The window was a gift from Mrs. Charles Logsdon. Sixty individual panels in a metal framework form a single element that features a cross, an open Bible, and a dove. The chapel is a popular setting for weddings, particularly for couples who attended the university.
The Chapel on the Hill, a striking feature on the campus of Church of Christ-affiliated Abilene Christian University, was designed specifically for weddings, according to Ron Hadfield, editor of the university’s alumni magazine, ACU Today. Two stained glass windows grace the sides, each measuring 54 feet long and 24 feet tall. Each weighs eight tons. The windows feature 280 shades of faceted glass. The chapel was named for Robert S. and Katherine Bell and is located in the Onstead-Packer Biblical Studies Building, which was dedicated in 1989.
Bishop Alsie Carleton was so influential in getting a new campus center for United Methodist-affiliated McMurry University that when it was done, a chapel inside was named for him. The new facility was dedicated in 1979. The Alsie H. and Artha Blair Carleton Chapel features striking stained glass windows, given by the Lubbock District of the United Methodist Church. Five panels, each divided into three sections, stretch across the front of the chapel. The university’s weekly chapel service is held in Carleton Chapel, as are weddings, revivals, and other religious functions.