Originally, stained glass was restricted to churches, mosques, and religious shrines. So if you’re thinking of those colored glass designs of the Holy Virgin and similar scenes, you’re on the right track. But stained glass can be used in private homes as well, and motifs aren’t always ‘churchy’.
Designs can be practical or abstract. Some are amorphous mosaics while others imitate everyday objects. The glass is generally framed in lead, and the glass can be plain, textured, tinted, or tempered for safety. Let’s look at some stunning stained glass window ideas around the world.
1. Sainte-Chapelle, Paris
French windows (more commonly known as French doors) run from the floor to the ceiling. So it makes sense this French chapel would follow the same structure. This Gothic masterpiece fills every wall with colored glass. Each image displays a biblical story from the Old or New testaments, and there are over 1,000 individual scenes. (The official tally is 1,113.)
2. Cathedral of Brasilia, Brazil
While these stained glass windows are located in church, the images depicted aren’t specifically religious. The art was painted in 1990 by Marianne Peretti. The structure has a curious shape with 16 fiberglass frames holding the glass in place. The glass itself is mostly white, with wavy swathes of blue and teal. The stained glass forms the roof of the building, with concrete between.
3. Palau de la Musica Catalana, Barcelona
When colored light filters through stained glass windows, it can make any experience magical, mystical, and spiritual. And when this ambiance is tied to ethereal music, the effect is even greater. Palau de la Musica is used for opera and classical concerts. The window takes the form of a skylight, and mimics ‘a drop of honey and water’ filling the space with refreshing sweetness.
4. Gran Hotel Ciudad, Mexico
Mexico is a nation known for her strong religious roots. But one of her best stained glass windows is in a hotel, not a church. The glass domes are reinforced with irom rather than lead. They fill the roof of the main lobby and are made of Tiffany glass. It’s one of the four largest Tiffany works on the globe. This glad beauty has stood gorgeously in place since 1899.
5. Erawan Museum, Bangkok
Elphants are common in Asia … stained glass is not. And this magnificent building combines these two factors to create earth-stopping beauty. The museum covers three storeys, and the ceiling of the top-most floor or a colorful stained glass dome. You can access the dome by climbing the stairs, allowing a closer appreciation of the arresting colored glass.
6. Trinity United Church, Chicago
The colors of stained glass ramp up the spiritual mood of worshipers. But the images depicted on the glass sometimes tell stories about biblical lore and religious legend. The windows in trinity United Church are more linear, giving them a contemporary church. The images depicted are more socially aware, including displays that cover key matters in race, faith, and culture.
7. Nasir Al-Mulk Mosque, Shiraz
In Islam, key saints can’t be represented in art. That’s why it’s considered offensive to draw, paint, or display the Prophet Muhammad in any way. So unlike churches – which have images of saints on their stained glass windows – mosques don’t generally display spiritual avatars. Instead, the Pink Mosque in Iran is a literal Mosque of Colors, just as its nickname suggests.
8. Santuário Dom Bosco, Brasilia
This church was built for teens. Maybe that’s why there’s so much blue in it – blue is said to be a soothing color and might soothe the ardor and verve of these youngsters. The long, narrow stained glass flows from the floor to the ceiling. Their main colors are blue and purple. The church’s official patron saint is Saint John Bosco, who had a soft spot for adolescents.
9. Thanksgiving Square, Texas
In Texas, everything is larger than life, and that includes stained glass. The windows top the Chapel of Thanksgiving, which is just one of the many structures in this center for gratitude. The glass spirals in a concrete-coated coil that rises towards the ceiling 60 feet in the air. The center is multi-faith and multi-denominational, focusing on the American story rather than religion.
10. Aachen Cathedral, Germany
Have you heard of Charlemagne? He was one of the ancient world’s greatest conquerors. He’s also responsible for several religious feats. He was the first emperor of Rome and spread Christianity throughout the Western World. He built his grand cathedral in 805AD. The church burnt down at some point, but its 100-foot stained glass windows were restored in the 1950s.
11. Metropolitan Cathedral of Saint Sebastian, Rio de Janeiro
The beautiful Brazilian church uses imagery on multiple levels. Its design is impressively modern. The topmost tier of the church is a cross-shaped skylight. Each end of the cross extends into a stained glass column that stretches 200 feet down. Unlike other churches whose whole roofs are glass, this contemporary cathedral only has those four colorful columns.
12. Coventry Cathedral, England
There’s a broad range of stained glass window ideas around the world. The template is decorative panels of colored glass separated by narrow metal strips. The Coventry Cathedral appends that idea a little. Its stained glass window forms a welcoming curved wall at the hall entrance. Each narrow glass sheet is divided by concrete blocks and columns.
13. Iglesia El Rosario, San Salvador
Simplicity is the theme at this El Salvador church. It looks more like an industrial warehouse than a place of worship. But a semi-circular dome runs across the entire length of the building, creating a rainbow roof made of stained glass. Rubin Martinez built the church is 1971 and filled it with symbolic art, including a metallic indoor pergola that floats above the church altar.
14. Mary Baker Eddy Library, Boston
Many old buildings employ stained glass, so it makes sense that a library would have some. Especially since many libraries belong to the church. The Mary Baker library isn’t religious though, and neither are its stained glass windows. Instead, the glass leans towards the educational side of its purpose – the windows display color-coded world maps.
15. Notre Dame, Paris
The Cathedral at Notre Dame was recently in the news (April 2019). A fire damaged the upper walls and roof. But the stained glass Rose Window survived. The three windows contain deeply detailed artworks that celebrate the naturalism movement. While the glass is largely intact, the cathedral is scheduled for complete restoration by 2024, according to President Macaron.
16. La Sagrada Familia Cathedral, Barcelona
While the Sagrada Familia is clearly a spiritual center, its stained glass windows are a lot more inclusive. They’re shaped as small circles, elongated ellipses, and a ‘flower petal’ right at the top. Instead of religious figures, the windows are depict abstracts in red, blue, green, and yellow. Antoni Gaudi chose this path because he saw color as ‘the expression of life’.
17. St. Vitus Cathedral, Prague
The scenes depicted on church windows aren’t always bible stories. Sometimes, stained glass window ideas around the world take a tangent. The glass on this Czech Cathedral show scenes from the lives of St. Wenceslas and St. Lumidya, his grandma. Other saints appear of the glass tableau as well. These visions were brought to glass by Alphonse Mucha in 1929.
18. The Franciscan Church, Poland
At first glance, these stained glass images seem spooky. Especially their use of color, with Jesus largely in red and the saint in blue. But the art also contains bright flowers – geraniums, violets, and roses. The window pays homage to St. Francis, a famed love of peace and nature.
19. Chicago Cultural Centre, Chicago
Some have called this the largest Tiffany on the planet. It looks nothing like a church set-up. It actually appears contemporary, despite being erected in 1897. Rather than discernible images, the 38-foot dome is a pretty mosaic of yellows and greens. It has 30,000 individual pieces of glass. And while it originally filtered daylight, it has had artificial light fixtures since the 1930s.
20. Reims Cathedral, France
Colorful glass windows are pretty and emotive. But while some curators are anal about maintaining the original glass, some custodians are a little less finicky. The Reims Cathedral – for example – still has beautiful blue glass. But not all of it is medieval. Instead, Marc Chagall, his daughter Brigitte Simon-Marq, and Imi Knoebel have added new panels as needed.
21. St. Joseph’s Church, Le Havre
Many stained glass windows are memorials. They might depict a relevant saint, or honor an important church donor. The windows at St. Joseph’s are intended to hallow the towns survivors … and their lost. Five thousand citizens died in the Second World War, and this 1950s church celebrates their lives and their sacrifice. The glass covered spire is 350 feet tall.
22. King’s College Chapel, Cambridge
If you know anything about religion, you know about King Henry. Henry VI started this chapel in 1446 by laying the first cornerstone. Then Henry VIII had the glass windows installed more than 100 years later. The chapel cemented his role as Head of the (Anglican) Church of England.
23. National Gallery of Victoria
You may have noticed something stained glass window ideas around the world. A lot of the windows on this list are roofs and skylights. The National Gallery is no different. The shopping bazaar is topped by a colorful roof filled with geometric shapes. Wall hanging imitate the roof motifs in rainbow-colored abstracts. The roof took 5 years to complete.
24. Galeries Lafayette, Paris
The yawning arches and gilded light fixtures create a stereotypical vision of French architecture. This modern building may show off ancient style, but it’s a contemporary cash cow, raking in $1.5 billion in sales every year. The dome is 141 feet high, bulk of those sales are in the field of fashion. The dome was finished in 1912 by Jacques Gruber, a famous French glazier.
25. York Minster Chapter House, England
In more traditional gothic buildings, stained glass was mystical rather than structural. So the panes were set in boundaries of stone and concrete. The Chapter house has long glass windows that comprise 5 glass panels encased in arches that curve around a central dome. There are 8 sets in total. Some of the scenes on the windows include Thomas Beckett being martyred.
26. Melk Abbey, Austria
Does stained glass have to be colored? Not necessarily. If the windows are installed in an ornate building, they can be see-through for a better view. This Austrian Abbey is a good example. The detailed gold sculptures that line the walls are complemented by massive wooden pillars. And the murals on the colorful ceilings are lit by domes windows of stained glass.
27. Basilica della Santissima Annunziata del Vastato
Italian architecture is rarely rivalled. But in its churches, it’s often murals that hold your attention. This Genoan masterpiece follows the trend. Bright paintings of cherubs and saints fill the ceilings and walls, interspersed with stained glass and gilded trim. The windows let light in so worshippers and visitors can better see and enjoy the richly decorated walls.
28. Salzburg Cathedral, Austria
Let’s check out another example from Austria. Once again, it has clear munchin windows. These pleasantly counterpoint the sepia saints that adorn the cathedral walls. The central structure is an octagonal opening with layers all the way to the ceiling. Scalloped crown molding enhances the beauty of the church roof, with immense detail and intricate relief renditions.
29. Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, Hilversum
A lot of things are legal in Amsterdam. And some of those things can heighten your experience of the stained glass in Hilversum. It’s not quite sculptured glass, but the glass cube is painted an intoxicating mix of hues. It’s the ideal setting for the Sound and Vision Institute (Beeld en Geluid). The architect is sure to have held the symbolism in mind during construction.
30. Wafi Mall, Dubai
The United Arab Emirates are home to tons af geographical and architectural marvels. These include floating islands and indoor ski slopes in the desert. Wafi Mall nestles among these Dubai wonders, with its marble floor and stained glass roofs. The roofing domes are shaped like pyramids and are adorned with chariots and other elements from Ancient Egypt.
31. Cosmovitral Botanical Garden, Toluca
We’ll close our list outdoors. This botanical garden in Mexico is the perfect thing to tie off our stained glass window ideas around the world. The red and blue swirls on this pergola highlight the yellow and gold centerpiece. The themes on these walls (and roof) are all about life’s duality.