Stained-glass angels welcome light into Holy Spirit

The Fresno BeeAugust 9, 2013 

The Adoration Chapel at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in northeast Fresno has a new sense of inspiration — stained glass on three big chapel windows.

Three sets of stained glass artwork — installed over the old windows — depict white-robed angels. One plays a harp. Another sounds a horn. The other ascends to heaven. Light shining through creates a sense of brilliance and majesty.

The artwork was designed, created and installed by Charley Carlson, owner of Carlson Glass, a custom leaded-glass business in Fresno. The last set was installed July 3.

"I see peace, tranquillity, well-being — just peace," says a parishioner, Penny Poage. "I come in here — and everything falls away. I leave it all out there. I feel four inches off the ground."

Carlson has created stained glass for Holy Spirit since 2007. The artwork includes choir windows on each side of the altar, the transom windows 40 feet above the sanctuary floor and the round dove window at the sanctuary entrance.

The artwork continues a long tradition in the Roman Catholic Church for depicting historical events that are important to Catholicism. Holy Spirit serves more than 4,000 registered families, one of the largest Catholic parishes in the central San Joaquin Valley.

Tomas Tafolla, director of religious education for children and adults at Holy Spirit, says the stained glass tradition traces to the Catholic Church's beginnings.

"For the Church and Catholicism, stained glass has told the biblical stories," he says. "Stained glass took off in the Middle Ages."

Tafolla says stained glass over the years continues to play a significant role for parishioners, serving to educate and inspire them.

"Stained glass gives us that comfort," he says. "Not only is it beautiful to look at, the stained glass also is a constant reminder of what faith is, what the Church teaches."

Tafolla says stained glass also has evolved from generic forms to the artistic value.

Carlson's latest artwork, for example, is stylized, but also borders on contemporary in design to match the overall environment at Holy Spirit.

The chapel project began more than two years ago. Holy Spirit commissioned Carlson to create stained glass in the chapel that wouldn't make parishioners feel they were enclosed.

There's a constant vigil of people coming into the chapel and praying. The chapel houses the Tabernacle. Catholicism teaches that parishioners unite themselves with Christ not only in prayer, but also with their heart, soul and mind.

Carlson met with a committee. The first thought was stained glass depicting the Garden of Gethsemane, the scene of the agony of Jesus in the account of Matthew 26:36-46. Outside the chapel is the church's Garden of Innocents.

Instead, the church's pastor, the Rev. Eric Swearingen, suggested angels.

"From the Book of Revelation, there are angels around the throne of God," Tafolla says. "There also are angels sounding trumpets on what events will happen next."

Carlson did a scale drawing but without angel faces.

"Where are the faces?" Swearingen asked.

Carlson redesigned the drawings with faces — and hands — that he would hand-paint.

That led to some comic relief. The ascending angel's chin dropped too low.

"She has a Jay Leno chin," Swearingen said.

Face-lift made.

Carlson's sense of artistry, however, made the final depictions work. He used seedy/reamy German glass with air bubbles and swirls in three sets of 12 feet-by-15-feet windows with five panels each.

The opacity added to the clear portions in the glass allowed just enough visual elements from the outside to be seen from inside the chapel.

"With the clear glass, you bring (in) the garden from the outside; you bring the trees, the sky," says Bob Loutherback, facilities manager at Holy Spirit who helped with the installation. "If it's raining, foggy, you get that outside feeling in here."

Carlson says he is just pleased that Holy Spirit and others enjoy the finished work.

"When you're commissioned to do something, you're taking an idea that someone else has and bringing it to fruition," he says. "When it's done and everyone likes it, I'm in seventh heaven."

One of Carlson's friends, Kathy O'Neill, recently visited Holy Spirit to see the artwork.

She says, "God is light and his light removes all darkness; that's why I especially find peace in looking at these windows, with God's light shining through, and seeing images of angels heralding what I interpret as good news, praise and glory."


The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6304 or

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