The Archivist’s Nook: Historic Stained Glass of Caldwell Chapel

Page from the original 1888 contract between Rt. Rev. John J. Keane and the Benzinger Brothers with the proposed window layout. [source: Office of the President/Rector Papers, ACUA]
Page from the original 1888 contract between Rt. Rev. John J. Keane and the Benzinger Brothers with the proposed window layout. [source: Office of the President/Rector Papers, ACUA]
On the 2nd of October, 1888, the first rector of the Catholic University of America signed a contract to purchase seventeen stained glass windows from the Benzinger Brothers, acting as agents of the Royal Bavarian Art Institute, F.X. Zettler of Munich, for $4,950, payable at installation. The agreement signed by the Rt. Rev. John J. Keane explicitly requested “the drawing of the figures to show in every line boldness of design and beauty and majesty of feature and form,” with the central Pentecost window to be “especially a masterpiece.” Before signing the agreement, Keane added—in his own slightly messy hand—the stipulation that the Royal Bavarian Art Institute would continually revise their cartoons, or large format drawings of the proposed windows, until he found the results satisfactory.

Saint Paul
Saint Paul

This purchase was one common to many Christian communities at the time, as the art of stained glass was experiencing a revival in mid to late 19th century Munich under the patronage of both King Ludwig I and King Ludwig II of Bavaria. Franz Xavier Zettler, the creator of the Caldwell stained glass windows, established his company in the 1870s. F.X. Zettler’s “Munich Style” windows became popular across the United States and can be found in St. Martin of Tours Church of Louisville, Kentucky and the Cathedral of Saint Andrew of Grand Rapids, Michigan, as well as at Catholic University. Windows like these would have been seen by the most well-known of American stained glass artisans, Louis Comfort Tiffany, and could have encouraged his own experiments in the medium. The Royal Bavarian Art Institute of F.X. Zettler still exists today in Germany as Franz Mayer of Munich, Inc. Check out Gail Tierney’s 1999 article “Franz Mayer and Company and Zettler Studios” for more information on the company’s history.

The windows of Caldwell Chapel consist of five group windows in the sanctuary and twelve full length, single figure windows along either side of the nave. Nestled within Caldwell Hall (formerly “Divinity Hall,” the oldest building on campus) the chapel itself was made possible by a $50,000 gift from Mary Elizabeth “Lina” Caldwell, while the larger building was funded by her older sister, Mary Gwendolen. Lina would later be married in Caldwell Chapel.

Saint Vincent de Paul
Saint Vincent de Paul

At a little over ten feet tall, these windows and the light streaming through them illuminate and enliven this sacred space, where members of the Catholic University community have worshipped for over a century. Their light, however, dimmed under a century of grime. Beginning in 2006, five of the windows were restored by Daniel Wolkoff, of Adams Morgan Stained Glass, requiring over two and a half years to complete. Visit the restorer’s website for several impressive before and after pictures. The Archives also hold several of Wolkoff’s detailed charcoal rubbings of the windows, as part of the museum collection.

These luminous stained glass windows have graced Catholic University since its inception. In 2011, they survived Hurricane Irene, after being carefully boarded up for their protection. Next time you’re in Caldwell Chapel, pause to glance up at these beautiful, handcrafted windows, now in the second century of their residence with us, read the names of the saints lining the nave, and consider all the Catholic University history they have witnessed from their lofty perch.

To orient you on your visit: as you walk into the chapel, the windows starting on your left and continuing around the nave and sanctuary are as follows: Saint Francis Xavier, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Saint Leo Magnus, Saint John the Baptist, Saint Peter, Our Lady of Lourdes, Sermon on the Mount, Resurrection, Pentecost, Ascension, Giving the Keys to Saint Peter, Saint Joseph, Saint Paul, Saint John the Evangelist, Saint Augustine, Saint Francis de Sales, and Saint Vincent de Paul.

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