Through the Custody’s stained-glass windows

This is the second time this year that we see them walking through he halls and churches of the Custody. Father and son, Calogero and Vincenzo Zuppardo are Sicilian glassblowers from the Opificio delle arti (www.opificiodellearti.com) and they have undertaken an inventory of all of the Custody’s stained-glass windows. “This inventory is essential in order to better locate any necessary repairs and to see whether certain measures can be taken to prevent the windows’ deterioration. These are architectural elements that are difficult to monitor due to their location. They require specialized interventions that the Custody would like to be able to provide to each sanctuary in an organized, coordinated and professional manner,” said Maria Desi Durbano, architect at the Technical Office of the Custody and conservation project coordinator for the sanctuaries.

Equipped with a camera, a pole and a laptop, Calogero and Vincenzo Zuppardo began by taking pictures of stained glass. Since they are so high up, they are inaccessible. For this first inventory, there is no need for scaffolding, since instead they fixed the camera to the end of the pole and so the pictures were of sufficient quality in order to notice any problems. They then went on the roof outside, which allowed them to complete the diagnosis. “From the inside, the glass can be seen better, whereas from the outside we can see the lead structure and framework better,” said Vincenzo. The photos of the stained-glass windows of St. Savior’s in Jerusalem reveal certain things about the paint. “We do not know what it is linked to at this time. But we will carefully monitor how it evolves over the next few years in order to understand how to intervene.”

They prepare a summary file for each church, including the date of construction, the climate, the exposure, the status of each stained glass window with supporting photographs and materials… They also specify what to look for and if any restoration is needed urgently. The main problems can be linked to four components: paint, glass, the lead and the frame. Since the windows are protected by other windows on the outside, the climate has little influence on their conservation status. If this is not the case, the climate can damage the glass, as is the case at the the Jaffa church located by the sea that is affected by wind and salt. The brightness of full southern exposure also alters the lead much more quickly.

Most of the stained-glass windows belonging to the Custody were installed between 1850 and 1950. Limited accessibility [to them] and the lack of skilled glass artisans have led the windows to become damaged. Some emergency repairs have sometimes even damaged the windows further. “The oldest are of higher quality than the newer ones,” said Calogero. “This can be noticed in the finishing touches and it reflects the evolution of our time. Previously, men were working for God, so that their works could pay homage to Him up to the smallest detail. With the secularization of European society, men work primarily so as to be seen by other men. Since the windows are placed up high, few people could see them up close and that allowed for less precise level of work. The result can be seen in level of conservation.”

Vincenzo and Calogero Zuppardo first learned about the Custody when they were commissioned to make a stained-glass window for the Custody’s Library, funded by Sicilian benefactors. They also carried out the restoration of stained-glass windows at the Mount Tabor shrine. This year they came twice for 15 days each and they were able to inspect almost all of the Custody’s churches with stained-glass windows. In the coming months, they will compile the information gathered and plan the most urgent interventions, the objective for 2016 being to carry out these jobs and to complete the inventory.

A recognized stained-glass window

The windows bring light to the church, and by their designs or their history, they are witnesses of the life of the sanctuaries and the Custody. Thus, the windows of Emmaus Qubeibeh tell the Gospel story of Emmaus. In Bethlehem, the large stained-glass window located in the central apse of Saint Catherine’s Church was offered by Belgium in 1926. It portrays the nativity of Christ, and it bears the arms of the Kingdom of Belgium as well as the medallion of Cardinal Mercier, an important Belgian figure who died that year. This work demonstrates the historical and religious ties between that country with the Holy Land and the Custody. Restored in 2004 by master glassmakers from the city of Ghent, this window was selected as the winner of Belgian Heritage Abroad Prize in November 2015. Awarded by the the Belgian Foreign Affairs Ministry and the King Baudouin Foundation, the prize honors and encourages the conservation initiatives of Belgian heritage abroad. With Christmas around the corner, everyone can admire it at the traditional midnight mass, and appreciate it as an aid to prayer and as a means of understanding the mystery of the Incarnation.

Hélène Morlet

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