Raleigh's new cathedral gives old stained glass new life

Raleigh’s new Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral will not only feature a sound system designed for the best quality, it will also feature amazing stained glass windows. 

Fifty of those windows are newly created for the church. But 42 of the stained glass windows are finding a new life in the Diocese of Raleigh’s new cathedral. 

In December 2012, the Diocese of Raleigh acquired stained glass windows from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. The windows are being removed from Ascension of Our Lord Catholic Church in the Archdiocese that was closed several years ago. 

The Diocese paid $320,000 for the widows. It will take another $1 million to restore them. 

Paula Himmelsbach Balano created the majority of the windows in the late 1920s. Ms. Balano was the first woman in the U.S. to have her own stained glass studio, located in Philadelphia. James Melcher Kase created other windows a few years later, in his studio in Reading, Pennsylvania. 

The windows tell the story of Jesus’ life, from the angel’s visit, to Mary, to the resurrection and ascension. It’s all in vivid colored glass held together by lead. 

Beyer Studio, a Philadelphia company that specializes in stained glass restoration, is removing the windows from their former location. 

The artisans working on the windows say all of the glass appears to have been hand blown in Europe. Many of the panes with color patterns that separate particular scenes in each window were made in England. The glass is no longer available. The colorful glass that forms the backgrounds in scenes as well as the images was made in Germany and France. It is still made in the same way today, and is available. 

All of the painting on the glass is called vitreous glass painting. Vitreous paints are minerals or metals added into the recipe for glass. Glass, of course, is sand and potash fused at a high temperature. Glass is a liquid at 1,300 degrees Farenheight. Vitreous paint is supplied in powder form and added to the recipe. There are two paint categories: 1. Transparent glass colors, 2. Glass stain colors, which are opaque. 

Joe Beyer, the head of Beyer Studios, says the windows are in rough shape. 

“They suffer from what you could call 'metal fatigue,' which is common in stained glass windows,” says Beyer. “It’s because the colored glass and lead capture the sun’s heat and buckle over time.” 

The artisans are taking apart each window piece by piece and replacing the lead. It’s a tedious process. One 17 1/2-foot window will take 500 man-hours to restore. 

To commission new windows similar to the ones being restored would be cost prohibitive. Former Raleigh Bishop Michael Burbidge, who led the campaign to build the cathedral, knew about the windows from his service as an auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and asked about them when he heard the church was closing. 

The Holy Name of Jesus Cathedral, with restored stained glass windows in place, will be completed in Summer 2017. 

—Frank Graff

Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on North Carolina Science Now, a weekly science series that airs Wednesdays, beginning in August 2013, as part of North Carolina Now on UNC-TV. In addition to producing these special segments, Frank will provide additional information related to his stories through this North Carolina Science Now Reporter's Blog!


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