Full Bloom

I’ve been covering the design, production and installation of the new stained glass windows for Shanghai’s St. Ignatius Cathedral for nearly five years, now (this 2006 story for the LA Times Sunday Magazine is my lengthiest piece on the subject), and I’ve been witness to some very interesting moments along the way, but today – by far – was the most interesting and moving of all. Two weeks ago, designer Wo Ye, and her crew, began installing the cathedral’s twenty, third-level nave windows (roughly 60 feet above the floor); today they finished the process and thereby transformed an austere building, into a warm one bathed in yellows and golds. Below, an image of the left side of the nave, and the reflections cast by five of the seven new, six-foot windows that line it (click for an enlargement).

The white light on the vaults at the far end is unflitered sunlight coming through the last of the three windows yet to be installed. After the jump, some portraits of the completed windows, and a few extras … [note: the photos are posted at a slightly higher resolution that I typically use, so they may load sluggishly on a slower connection]

Occupying the highest level of the church, the new windows are a distinctly Chinese take on the Garden of Paradise. So, as it happens, this Shanghai Paradise is lined with bamboo stalks, lilies, magnolias, and roses. Let’s start with an example of the three lily windows (a photo of one of these windows in assembly can be found here). All photos that follow can be clicked for an enlargement:

Next, an example of one of the two magnolia windows:

And an example of one of the two rose windows:

And finally, one of the thirteen bamboo windows:

Another image of the effect that the new windows have on the cathedral. However, please note that the large rose window in the back of the cathedral is not filled with stained glass at the moment. Instead, it’s occupied by plastic place holders until the new panels are completed and ready for installation (in the spring of 2009).

A word of advice: Go and see for yourself. These photos only hint at the depth of color now washing over the cathedral. It’s open to the public, daily, except for special events, so you shouldn’t have any problem making a visit.

And if you’re not in Shanghai, no worries. Ariana Lindquist, a real photographer (and a very good friend), spent the day shooting the installation and its glowing after-effects.

Finally, no post about Chinese cathedral window installations would be complete without at least one scaffolding photo. So, without further ado, a little image I’d like to call Launch Pad


  1. The design of the stained glass work is very difficult, because although done in sections at a time the windows in the cathedral regardless of theme or allegory must complement each other yet comprise a whole, like chapters in a book, but unlike a book the entire work is immediately encompassed by the eye. As more and more of the windows are put in place this difficult, large-scale work will perhaps be recognized for what it is, one of the finest expressions of art in modern China.

  2. The photos are very good. All I can think is that photos of the windows are going to be THE coffee table book when finished! BTW, Semper must be a new reader.

  3. Very beautiful photos. During expo2010 Wo Ye will get recognize for being important international artist in Shanghai. Many people already know her.

  4. Thanks for posting these lovely windows. If you also post the windows on the lower floor (perhaps you have?) then the negative comment about the lack of a Catholic or biblical dimension to the windows would be answered.

  5. Narelle – Thanks for the comment, and you’re right: the lower level nave windows are quite Catholic, indeed. Over the course of forty-four panels, they recount the gospels. It’s no ordinary re-telling, either. Chinese iconography plays an important and complementary role in the cycle, providing a distinctly Chinese character to these extraordinary images. I’m going to hold off posting photos of those windows for the time being (I have them), as they will be republished in another format in the not-so-distant future. Thanks much for the comment.

  6. During mid 2003 I had the pleasure to visit the Shanghai Cathedral where my wife and I were privileged to spend about an hour or so with Theresa Wo Ye, the designer artist who was trained in traditional Chinese painting and at the liturgical art school in Milan. We watched her at work on the stained glass panels assisted ny her team of assistants, all nuns, and we were truly amazed at her skill and craftsmanship. We praise and thank God for the gift of Theresa Wo Ye who is the only woman, and a Chinese at that, ever to be commissioned by a Catholic Cathedral for such a stupendous task to create some hundreds, I believe, of stained glass panels for the entire Cathedral.

Comments are closed.