When I went to see Reims cathedral last summer, I didn’t expect to find Marc Chagall’s stained glass windows in the centuries old church. Fascinated by this fusion of tradition and modernity, I decided to investigate Chagall’s work even more, and to my surprise, I found many more wonderful windows all over the world!
In 1970 Chagall offered to the Art Institute of Chicago a set of stained-glass windows to express his gratitude for the support that the Chicagoans showed when Chagall stayed in the city. The windows were completed in 1977 and they celebrated the bicentennial of the creation of the States. The six panels render America as the country of freedom and culture, and this subject made them famous as America Windows.
Chagall was born to a Lithuanian Jewish family near Vitebsk (today Belarus) and always remembered his Jewish heritage. He made 12 windows, which represent 12 Jewish tribes described in the Bible, and called them a gift to all Semitic people who lived in Jerusalem in the past. He also said “All the time I was working, I felt my mother and father looking over my shoulder; and behind them were Jews, millions of other vanished Jews — of yesterday and a thousand years ago.”
As it turns out, not only the Reims cathedral, but also the church in Metz has its own Chagall windows. He worked on them for two years, from 1958 to 1960 and was then over 70 years old. The Saint Stephen Cathedral is also called “Good Lord’s Lantern”, as it has the largest expanse of stained glass in the world. Similarly to Reims, the church hosts coloured windows from the thirteenth, fourteenth and twentieth centuries.
When the Nazis occupied France, Chagall had to flee. With an aid from Alfred Barr from the Museum of Modern Art, he managed to escape to the States. Many years after the war, he decided to execute a set of windows for a church in Mainz, Germany, to advocate Jewish-German reconciliation. He started in 1978 and completed his luminous work shortly before death at the age of 97.
You can find other Chagall’s stained glass windows in Switzerland, UK and at the UN in New York. Have you seen any of them? Let us know in the comments!