Light and Color

The influence of Light and Color

Throughout the world builders have utilized light and color to enhance the transformative power of sacred spaces. Candles, torches and various types of fuel-burning lamps were used in this way. Even today, with the near-universal use of electricity, it is not unusual to find hundreds or even thousands of candles lighting the dark interiors of Hindu, Buddhist and Christian pilgrimage shrines. The effect produced by such lighting can be truly enchanting. Clustered beneath golden statues of the gods and goddess, myriad flickering candle flames simultaneously shower radiance throughout the shrine and within the pilgrim's heart.

Another method of illumination was to guide the sun's light into the sacred spaces. Long before the development of glassmaking, builders created latticework screens that served as windows. Islamic architects in particular used this technique to fashion stone and wooden screens of the most exquisite beauty. With openings carved in geometric shapes and intricate designs, these screens brought dazzling beams of light into the dark interiors of the shrines. As the sun's angle changed with the passage of hours, shafts of light danced slowly across floors and walls, creating lovely patterns of light and shadow.

Colors were added to these magical displays by hanging long pieces of dyed silk and other diaphanous fabrics over the screens. Rays of sunlight then shown through the colored fabrics to bathe the shrines in rainbows of color. Especially delicate screens had jewels placed within their lattice openings, and the sun's light became a carrier for the particular vibration of each jewel it passed through. With the advent of glass making the lattice openings began to be filled in with small pieces of translucent, colored glass. With the further innovation of plate glass, entire windows of colored glass began to adorn the sacred places.  We find this technique developed to a sublime degree in the Romanesque and Gothic pilgrimage cathedrals of medieval Europe.

Builders at sacred sites have long used the colors of the spectrum. While the therapeutic and spiritual uses of colors are nearly unknown in modern times, various early cultures had a refined knowledge of the subject. The ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Chinese, Indians and Mayans all recognized that different colors were effective in treating both physiological and psychological ailments, as well as contributing to the awakening of spiritual insight. In esoteric Hinduism, for example, the seven psycho-spiritual energy centers of the human body, called chakras, are each associated with and stimulated by one of the seven colors of the rainbow.

These colors were extensively used within temples, particularly in the adornment of deities, according to precise combinations indicated in secret texts. Because each color held a certain vibration, the mixing of colors produced a visual symphony of vibrations in the same way that an orchestra combines the sounds of many instruments. Research indicates that the builders of Mayan pyramids and ceremonial structures made frequent use of this science of color combination. Centuries of time and the ravages of the elements may have stripped temple surfaces yet interior frescos reveal that many temples were once painted, both inside and out, in a range of splendid colors.

Stained Glass Windows Gallery

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Basilica of Our Lady of Sameiro, Braga

Basilica of Our Lady of Sameiro, Braga

Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England. Image showing the martyrdom of Thomas Becket in 1170.

Canterbury Cathedral, Canterbury, England. Image showing the martyrdom of Thomas Becket in 1170.

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres. Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres. Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres. Abraham prepares to sacrifice his son, Isaac, on Mount Moriah at the command of God. Genesis 22.

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres. Abraham prepares to sacrifice his son, Isaac, on Mount Moriah at the command of God. Genesis 22.

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres. Moses burning the golden calf. Exodus 32.

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres. Moses burning the golden calf. Exodus 32.

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres. The story of Moses and the Ten Commandments is set in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21.

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres. The story of Moses and the Ten Commandments is set in Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21.

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres. Image of David fighting Goliath, 1 Samuel 17

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres. Image of David fighting Goliath, 1 Samuel 17

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres. Image of Jonah and the whale from the Book of Jonah in the Hebrew Bible.

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres. Image of Jonah and the whale from the Book of Jonah in the Hebrew Bible.

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres. Image of Jesus expelling the money changers from the Temple. The narrative occurs near the end of the Synoptic Gospels (at Matthew 21:12-17, Mark 11:15-19, and Luke 19:45-48) and in the Gospel of John 2:13-16.

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres. Image of Jesus expelling the money changers from the Temple. The narrative occurs near the end of the Synoptic Gospels (at Matthew 21:12-17, Mark 11:15-19, and Luke 19:45-48) and in the Gospel of John 2:13-16.

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres. Three wise men presenting the baby Jesus with gifts on the night of his birth. Matthew 2:1-12.

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres. Three wise men presenting the baby Jesus with gifts on the night of his birth. Matthew 2:1-12.

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres. Image of Jesus washing his disciples feet, John 13:1-17.

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres. Image of Jesus washing his disciples feet, John 13:1-17.

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres. Image of Jesus and the miraculous catch of fish reported in the Gospel of John 21:1-14.

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres. Image of Jesus and the miraculous catch of fish reported in the Gospel of John 21:1-14.

Basilique Notre-Dame de la Délivrande, Douvres-la-Délivrande

Basilique Notre-Dame de la Délivrande, Douvres-la-Délivrande

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres. Image of Jesus at the Last Supper. The last meal that Jesus shared with his disciples is described in all four canonical Gospels (Mt. 26:17–30, Mk. 14:12–26, Lk. 22:7–39 and Jn. 13:1–17:26).

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres. Image of Jesus at the Last Supper. The last meal that Jesus shared with his disciples is described in all four canonical Gospels (Mt. 26:17–30, Mk. 14:12–26, Lk. 22:7–39 and Jn. 13:1–17:26).

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres

Church of Saint-Aignan, Chartres

Church of Saint Pierre, Chartres

Church of Saint Pierre, Chartres

Basilique Notre-Dame de la Délivrande, Douvres-la-Délivrande

Basilique Notre-Dame de la Délivrande, Douvres-la-Délivrande

Santuário De Nossa Senhora Dos Remédios, Lamego

Santuário De Nossa Senhora Dos Remédios, Lamego

Santuário De Nossa Senhora Dos Remédios, Lamego

Santuário De Nossa Senhora Dos Remédios, Lamego

Église Saint-Blaise, Le Couvent

Église Saint-Blaise, Le Couvent

Église Saint-Blaise, Le Couvent

Église Saint-Blaise, Le Couvent

Église Saint-Blaise, Le Couvent. The baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan by St. John the Baptist. Mark 1:11.

Église Saint-Blaise, Le Couvent. The baptism of Jesus in the river Jordan by St. John the Baptist. Mark 1:11.

Église Saint-Blaise, Le Couvent

Église Saint-Blaise, Le Couvent

Cathedral of Saint Julien, Le Mans

Cathedral of Saint Julien, Le Mans

Cathedral of Saint Julien, Le Mans

Cathedral of Saint Julien, Le Mans

Cathedral of Saint Julien, Le Mans

Cathedral of Saint Julien, Le Mans

Cathedral of Saint Julien, Le Mans

Cathedral of Saint Julien, Le Mans

Cathedral of Saint Julien, Le Mans

Cathedral of Saint Julien, Le Mans

Cathedral of Saint Julien, Le Mans

Cathedral of Saint Julien, Le Mans

Cathedral of Saint Julien, Le Mans

Cathedral of Saint Julien, Le Mans

Cathedral of Saint Julien, Le Mans

Cathedral of Saint Julien, Le Mans

Cathedral of Saint Julien, Le Mans

Cathedral of Saint Julien, Le Mans

Cathedral of Leon, Leon

Cathedral of Leon, Leon

Cathedral of Leon, Leon

Cathedral of Leon, Leon

Cathedral of Leon, Leon

Cathedral of Leon, Leon

Cathedral of Leon, Leon

Cathedral of Leon, Leon

Basilica of our Lady of Mariapocs, Mariapocs

Basilica of our Lady of Mariapocs, Mariapocs

Mary

Mary

Basilica of the Black Madonna, Montserrat

Basilica of the Black Madonna, Montserrat

Basilica of the Black Madonna, Montserrat

Basilica of the Black Madonna, Montserrat

Basilica of the Black Madonna, Montserrat

Basilica of the Black Madonna, Montserrat

Rennes Le Chateau, France. Mary Magdalene anointing the feet of Jesus. Matthew 26, Mark 14, and John 12.

Rennes Le Chateau, France. Mary Magdalene anointing the feet of Jesus. Matthew 26, Mark 14, and John 12.