Window tour embodies various styles, periods

Photo provided by Pame Tanner -- This stained-glass window  at St. Katharine Drexel Chapel at Xavier University in New Orleans depicts the station of the cross where Jesus falls for the third time.
Photo provided by Pame Tanner -- This stained-glass window at St. Katharine Drexel Chapel at Xavier University in New Orleans depicts the station of the cross where Jesus falls for the third time.

With its spring Stained Glass Art in Sacred Places tour, the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans is offering a look at “Ladies of Grace.”

Windows on the April 21 tour will feature Mary, the Blessed Mother; fourth century Christian martyr St. Agnes; and 20th century religious sister St. Katharine Drexel, patroness of racial justice.

Focusing on “women saints who lived at widely separated times,” the tour will show off three buildings with markedly different architectural and stained-glass styles: Mater Dolorosa Church, St. Agnes Catholic Church in Jefferson and the St. Katharine Drexel Chapel at Xavier University

This spring’s itinerary happens to include three Catholic churches, but in years past, the society, which offers fall and spring tours, has visited various houses of Christian worship, a Jewish synagogue and secular buildings outfitted with stained-glass art. Tours have included former churches sitting empty and little chapels, such as the former Holy Angels Academy Chapel, which was once converted into a library.

“This tour is not necessarily religious in nature, in that we don’t advocate any particular religion,” said Pame Tanner, historian and member of the Stained Glass Art in Sacred Places Committee. “The majority of the stained-glass windows in the New Orleans area are in Catholic and Episcopal churches, because they have traditionally devoted the money to do it, but we are there for appreciation of the artistry and the history.”

The group has traveled as far as Bay St. Louis, Miss., and Donaldsonville, but this year’s tour will remain in Orleans and Jefferson parishes, which means a relaxed itinerary with plenty of time to soak in the details. Tanner considers that ideal.

“So often, you walk into these big churches and are overwhelmed by the overall effect of all the different architectural and design elements,” she said. “Rarely do you have someone explaining each piece for you. We are here to focus on the details.”

The variety of architectural styles and windows on display will offer plenty of details to focus upon, she said.

“We go from the traditional early 20th century style of Mater Dolorosa, which is extremely elaborate and filled with architectural details, people, flowers, symbolism, you name it,” Tanner said, “to the St. Katharine Drexel Chapel, which mainly just uses the three primary colors, yellow, blue and red, to embody Drexel’s modesty and simplicity.”

Mater Dolorosa’s interior is ornate, with ceiling paintings, geometric mosaic trim, columns with gilt Corinthian capitals and Munich-style detailed, brightly colored stained glass, all painted, and attributed to Emil Frei.

At the next stop, the windows of St. Agnes Church depict basic tenets of the faith and retell the story of St. Agnes’ martyrdom. Notably, there is also a full-sized stained-glass image of Our Lady of Prompt Succor at the Battle of New Orleans and several unique pieces of statuary constructed using white marble and translucent onyx heads.

The windows adorning the main walls of the church incorporate English translation of the Te Deum, the hymn purportedly chanted by La Salle and his men as they claimed the Mississippi for Louis XIV and France in 1682.

On the last stop, St. Katharine Drexel Chapel, visitors will notice the simplicity of the whole building and unique interior canopy which makes the windows highly responsive to natural lighting. Architectural art glass artist Laurel Pocari will explain the inspiration behind the stained glass installed within, designed by Cuban artist José Bedia, and point out the architectural details that went into the chapel, designed by Cesar Pelli.