Sweet Auburn: The Magazine of the Friends of Mount Auburn Connecting the Present with the Past - Page 15
sweet auburn | 2019 volume i
The Rose Window.
A rose window, sometimes called a wheel window, is a series of smaller windows radiating out from the center panel like flower petals or spokes of a wheel.
Rose windows developed from a more ancient window type, small and round, called an oculus. With new building techniques, windows became more expansive,
leading to what we now know as rose windows. The symbolism of a rose window lies in the geometry, which unifies many separate parts into one cohesive design.
are in turn adapted from Islamic patterns in imitation of
nature. The deep jewel tones of the glass—cobalt blues, ruby
reds, greens, and purples—were selected to enhance the sun’s
rays from the south and create a bright, dazzling effect. The
glass is hand-painted with iron oxide paints, a process that
has changed little since medieval times. Radiating out from
the central panel (42 inches in diameter) are 12 lobed petals
and 12 smaller rose panels, with 12 triangular windows called
kites making up the border. The number 12 is rich with
symbolism, recalling the 12 apostles and 12 months of the year.
Traditionally, frames holding the panels of glass are made of
stone or wood. According to stained glass consultant Julie
Sloan, what is most unique about the Great Rose Window is
that its frame is of cast-iron painted to look like stone.
While these windows were made to last centuries,
problems inevitably occur over time. The Great Rose
Window was first surveyed by the Cummings Studio in
1998; at that time it was beginning to bow but it remained
sound. By 2017, however, it was clearly in need of restoration.
Conservator Roberto Rosa affirmed that it was a “very well
put-together window,” but that the thin glass was broken in
many places. In addition to built-up layers of silicone, epoxy,
and waterproofing, the window was threatened by dirty,
deteriorating replacement leads that obscured the original
On September 6, 2017, Rosa and the skilled conservators
from Serpentino Stained and Leaded Glass in Needham, MA,
began removing the glass panels from their cast-iron frames.
Remarkably, the process took only one day, even though
exceptional care was required to handle the brittle cast-
iron frames. Once the glass arrived at the studio, full-sized
rubbings were made of each panel on acid-free vellum, and the
windows were thoroughly documented. Conservators washed
the windows, repaired them with copper foil, and re-leaded
them with thin lead strips (cames) matching the original lead
profile used by Ballantine and Allan. Thoughtful decisions
were made among conservator Roberto Rosa, stained-glass
consultant Julie Sloan, and Mount Auburn’s curator and
preservation staff. “Each panel must be addressed individually
as subtly unique,” said Rosa. “The restoration is the same
process used in the Middle Ages—it is painstaking, tedious,
In September 2018 the Great Rose Window was reinstalled
in the chapel. The clear glass borders around each panel
are visible once again, and the new, thinner leads reveal
the original painted designs. More than 4,268 pieces of
handpainted sparkling glass are safely back in place. The play
of light inside the chapel has dramatically transformed our
experience of the chapel’s interior and made it possible once
again to appreciate the beauty and elegance of Ballantine and
Allan’s artistic expression.