Shanghai’s Cathedral Windows Begin to Bloom – (Updated, Day 3)

[Day 2, Day3 Updates … at the end of the post.]

I’ve written several times, and at length, about the project to restore/replace the stained glass windows destroyed in Shanghai’s St. Ignatius Cathedral at the onset of the Cultural Revolution (in most detail, here). So, for this reason, and the fact that I have another essay on this very topic about to go into print, I’ll avoid going into much detail now. Suffice it to say that Wo Ye, the Beijing-born artist whom Bishop Jin Luxian commissioned to design the windows, has spent the last eight years creating Catholic stained glass windows that are avowedly Chinese, incorporating traditional design elements and iconography to create something entirely unique and contemporary in both Chinese, and Western liturgical, art.

So far, the cathedral’s first level nave chapels have been completed, as well as one side of the transept and the very top-level apse windows. That is to say, Wo Ye’s artistic presence is felt within the building. But over the next two weeks that presence will be expanded into a very definite footprint as the large, top-level windows that line the nave and the remainder of the transept are transformed into a golden bamboo garden complete with magnolias, lillies, and roses. By mid-December, this grand old building will have become much more colorful, Chinese, and – it must be said – feminine (so far as anyone knows, Wo Ye is the first woman – not to mention, Chinese – to ever receive a complete Catholic cathedral commision). Above, an image, taken this afternoon, of a panel about to be installed.

One side of the cathedral will be installed over the next several days; the other side will be completed before mid-December. The transformation of this great church is going to be dramatic, and notable. Make no mistake: these windows are not only important works of religious art, they are major works of Chinese art.

And I’ll leave it mostly at that. Below, a selection of photos that I took during today’s installation. I’ll add a caption where necessary. One final note: though he was not able to be in Shanghai for the installation, Fr. Thomas Lucas, S.J., Associate Professor of art at the University of San Francisco, has played a key role in this restoration, both as a technical and liturgical adviser.

The view from the scaffolding, a harrowing 60 feet above the ground …

The artist checks a support rod …

The “magnolia window” just after the final panel was nailed into place. Click for an enlargement:

Stay tuned for additional photos over the course of the next couple of weeks. Or, better yet, stop down to the cathedral and have a look for yourself.

UPDATE 11/26: A few additional photos from day 2 of the install. The left side of the nave is now complete; the left side of the transept will be finished off tomorrow. Timing of the right side depends on just how quickly the scaffolding can be erected, but it should be next week. No reason not to stop down and have a look … the cathedral is open during the days, so you can take a seat in the pews and watch the panels as they’re installed. Anyway, some extras …

Here, workers are carrying the individual window panels up the scaffolding. One word: rickety. Definitely not OSHA-approved.

A window installer’s tool bucket:

Oil and perspiration attract dust, and since the new windows are unlikely to be dusted for many, many years, workers wipe them down, constantly, right up to the moment they are placed in their frames:

I’ve received quite a few requests to show the new windows themselves, and so – with some reluctance – a couple of additional images. But please keep in mind two things: first, scaffolding is erected behind the windows, and thus blocks out much of the light that will come through when it’s removed; and second, it’s not yet possible to obtain an image across from the windows – until next week, when the scaffolding is erected for the parallel windows.

Anyway, an image of the lovely “lily window,” followed by an image of the “rose window.” In both cases, click for an enlargement:

[Updated 11/27] A total of nine banks of windows were installed over the course of the last three days. It’s a marvelous privilege to be allowed to get close to this process. But it is also, I must admit, a repetitive process. So, at the end of this third day, Thanksgiving Day, which was marked by the completion of the left side of the transept, just a handful of photos to fill in the gaps.

I’ll start, once again, with the scaffolding. Both of these shots speak for themselves, I think:

The next two images show the installation of the very last of the transept bamboo windows. I include them because, if you look through the open frames, you can see two of the three bamboo windows that were installed last year, on the opposite side. The new ones have very similar designs, but with some variation in the patterns. Click for enlargements:

And finally, the last panel as it was gently nudged into its frame. With that, the left side of the cathedral’s upper register is complete.

The right side installation will begin next week – though the date is a bit murky. I’ll definitely post some images, as well as some higher-quality photos of the windows that were installed this week. Stay tuned …


  1. Great pictures! I don’t know if I would have been so brave to get up there myself, regardless of how cool it would have been.

    Have any decisions been made about the Rose Window? Or has that been finished?

    And though you were up there to photograph the window installation, did you get any more of the gargoyles? We love gargoyles šŸ™‚

  2. My hubbie recalls attending mass on a business trip 10 years ago, with his US Catholic colleague, and is intrigued! Are the spitoons at the ends of the pews still in use? He tells me that so many residents of the city heated their abodes with flue-less coal ovens they’d be constantly coughing up the phlegm from their irritated lungs? Truely a Breath of Heaven if the air quality is as improved as the lighting impressions we get from your great snapshots!

  3. Claire –

    No spitoons that I’ve ever seen … but I’m going to ask about that. Great detail.

    The flue-less coal ovens aren’t so common in the city, anymore, though you’ll definitely find them in the outskirts and in other parts of China (especially coal mining regions).

  4. I am very impressed with these photos and I wonder if you could tell me something about the cameras that you use. If you prefer you can send the info to me at the email address I used for this post. Cheers! Dan.

  5. Dan – Thanks for the kind words. Except for a very small handful of exceptions, every photo taken on this site was shot with a Sony DSC-P200. A great little camera for someone like me who knows nothing – nothing – about photography.

  6. During mid June 2003, I had the privilege to visit this beautiful Cathedral in Shanghai when my wife and I had the pleasure in spending about an hour with Theresa Wo Ye watching how she worked on the stained glass panels for the windows together with her able team of Catholic nuns. She is truly an accomplished artist and skilled craftsman in whatever she was trained to do. For sure, she must be much inspired by divine assistance judging by what she has already accomplished. I understand from Adam Minter’s comments that her tasks are near completion and we praise and thank the Lord for the gift of Theresa Wo Ye!

  7. Now I have a very vlid reason to visit Shanghai due to your
    inspiring photos n article, may know how can I contact Ms Teresa and her magnificiant team who is now creating works of art.

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