THE GRAND LODGE OFFICERS JEWELS IN STAINED GLASS

 

The exquisite wall of Grand Lodge Officers Jewels in Stained Glass which forms one of the walls of the Grand Officers Robing Room was formerly part of the dome in the beautiful No. 1 Lodge Room in the now demolished Masonic Temple in Castlereagh Street.

When the old building was about to be demolished a firm of glass artisans was engaged to remove the glass panels and store them pending their installation in the new Masonic Centre.

Before telling the story of these particular stained glass panels it may be profitable to all to know something of the art of making stained glass windows, an art which was particularly identified with the Middle-Ages and Gothic architecture.

A rainbow can make one breathless with emotion. A rose window in a Gothic Cathedral has made men incoherent with enthusiasm. Colour, the essence of both, is the joyous gift of God to his children, the stained glass windows of the soul; a cathedral without stained glass would be as depressing as a world without colour.

The making of stained glass windows belongs wholly to the Christian era. The demand for gorgeous windows was, in fact, one reason for the development of Gothic architecture. To get away from the narrow lancet windows necessitated by the massive walls of the Romanesque style, the Operative Masons transferred the thrust of the stone vaulting to buttresses outside the walls. Thus relieved, the walls could be opened up for large windows through which a flood of light bathed the interior in a radiant glow.

So wholeheartedly did the cathedral builders grasp their opportunity of fitting these window spaces with jewelled creations that men have never been able to surpass them in beauty. Some contend that the art has been lost forever. In these days of speed, when the majority of people are too concerned at getting nowhere in the shortest possible time, the art of creating and making stained glass windows is too slow and exacting.

So perfectly were the windows wrought that they have withstood the tests of time, the fury of the Puritan, and the sinister energies of 19th Century restorers.

Stained glass windows have been created for, and installed in, churches of practically every denomination. Some Masonic Lodges in different parts of the world have incorporated stained glass windows to increase the beauty of their Temples, but really one must go to the cathedral for the true setting. Stained glass windows were indeed an inspired and divine creation of the masons and builders of the Middle Ages.

What drear places, how lacking in joyousness, were the interiors of the temples erected to God before the Gothic era. Man's natural love of colour led him to lavish pigmentation upon the stone exteriors. The gilt on Solomon's Temple is said to have reflected the sunlight in a glorious flash of colour. The beauty of the Parthenon lay in its exterior. The interiors of the temples, usually mere cells for the storage of some shrine or figure, were secondary to the exterior in expressive beauty. Not so with the Gothic.

Glass was used in windows in the Byzantine and Romanesque churches, but the possibilities of stained glass were not realized until the Middle Ages when Gothic provided an appropriate setting for this ecclesiastical jewel. Then the northern countries made it a feature of their cathedrals.

Stained glass windows must serve a variety of purposes First, they must provide lighting for the interior. Then the colours must be so blended that a fitting emotional reaction is produced. Finally, they must tell a story of religion in a religious as well as in an artistic manner. In all their purposes they must be subordinated to the architecture itself.

Interior lighting in a Gothic cathedral is produced by a series of windows, the largest of which are the rose windows, the clerestory windows, the apse windows, and the outer aisle windows, "Let there be light" was the cry of the Operative Masons who created Gothic architecture.

The blending colours seem to be as much a matter of intuition as of scientific knowledge. Years of experience taught the workers of the Middle Ages secrets that still evade modern artisans.

In telling the story of Christianity, the glass‑maker of the Middle-Ages gave the windows a symbolic treatment in such intimate and infinite detail that one can only marvel at the patience of the builders. Such work required faith in religion. A pagan touch would have revealed and manifested itself as distinctly then as it does today.

In speaking of stained glass it is essential to know that there are two opposite ways of arriving at the same result. Glass staining and glass painting are two quite different processes. One method is to build up a mosaic with pieces of coloured glass, each separate tint cut out of a separate piece of "pot‑metal". The other method is to paint the design upon white or coloured glass. The two processes are usually grouped under one title because from the very early days the two were used together. The very first windows were in all probability mosaics of unpainted glass.

The schools of glassmaking of the 13th Century were the schools of Saint Denis, Chartres, and Paris. The artist of the Middle Ages toiled like a jeweller setting diamonds and rubies to increase the splendour of the coloured glass he used. His rose windows were a delirium of coloured light, a cluster of jewels. The generally accepted ideal today, after centuries of experiment, is not a pretty picture made transparent but a window made beautiful.

At the Special Communication of The United Grand Lodge, held on 24th June, 1915, the Grand Master, M.W. Bro. William Thompson, assisted by the Deputy Grand Master R.W. Bro. Sir Thomas Anderson Stuart; the Senior Grand Warden, R.W. Bro. W.R * Crane; the Junior Grand Warden, R.W. Bro. C.C. Paterson and other Grand Lodge Officers solemnly dedicated the new Lodge Rooms of the riot,., demolished Masonic Temple in Castlereagh Street.

In his address following the dedication the Grand Master said . ............... 

the glorious dome under which we are now assembled, whereon the Heavens are delineated from a plan supplied by a President of the Royal Astronomical Society, and depicted for the 24th June, will form an enduring record of his skill in the architectural art, and his keen sense of beauty of design as applied to Freemasonry. The Grand Master was referring to the skill , unremitting care and attention of the then Grand Architect, V.W. Bro. B. Hadley, who designed the beautiful dome of the No. 1 Lodge Room, including the unique and spectacular stained glass panels of Grand Officers jewels.

It will be noted from the above statement that the upper portion of the dome delineated the celestial canopy over this part of the southern hemisphere on Saint John the Baptist's Day, 24th June. The Grand Officers jewels formed the base of the heavenly sphere depicted in stained glass. Bro. Rabbi Cohen, in an address delivered at the Sydney lodge of Research, No. 290, on 19th May, 1925, said, The spangled vault of the room in which The United Grand Lodge of New South Wales meets is a deliberate picture of the Southern Heavens on the Eve of St John.

It is not known when, and by whom, the stained glass panels of Grand Officers jewels were manufactured. Further research, it is hoped, will unravel the mystery and throw light on the subject.

The panels were removed from the old building, stored, refurbished, and later installed in their present position by Mr MAJ. little, of Arncliffe.