The Chapel at Massachusetts General Hospital
'Whoever Will, May Enter Here'
About the windows
The stained glass windows of this Chapel are an outstanding example of the work of Charles J. Connick and Associates of Boston (1912-1986).The impetus for their design and installation came from the Rt. Rev. William A. Lawrence, retired Episcopal Bishop of Massachusetts, who oversaw their design and placement in the original Chapel.
These windows are remarkable for their keen shading, particularly the blues and greens; a solution to the many shadows caused by interior walls of the original Chapel. The jewel-like effect of the glass, particuarly the smaller nuggets, was inspired by the LaFarge windows in the gallery of Trinity Church, Boston.
Begin the tour by glancing around at all the windows
If you sense that they are somehow connected, you are on the right track. Patterns of growing forms, called foliation, wind around the bottom and top figures in each window, forming a figure eight design and linking all the windows with a common motif. The growing form suggests the Parable of the Vine in Christian Scripture and the Tree of Life of Isaiah's Vision found in the Hebrew Scriptures. The Tree of Life is particularly apt for windows in this Hospital Chapel; it suggests the spiritual relationship between all souls throughout the ages. The Tree of Life also figures prominently in the west windows of Chartres Cathedral, here adapted by Mr Connick for these windows by replacing prophets and kings with universal symbols of human kindness and service.
As you entered the Chapel, your eyes were perhaps drawn up to the rose window, so-called because its sections of glass between the stone tracery suggest the petals of a rose. Rose windows, no matter how large, are the prima donnas of stained glass. This rose links the color scheme of all the windows in the Chapel, serving as the dominant note of color with its rich, smouldering blues and greens, and its brilliant touches of reds, oranges, golds and whites. The brilliant golden nuggets of glass have often been called candle flames, although they serve equally well as symbols of flowers or of fruit. The golden color is a symbol of the good life and of spiritual treasure, while the oranges and reds recall the warmth of divine love, of courage, and self-sacrifice. These colors are made more significant and resplendent by the developing areas of blue, the color of divine wisdom, of contemplation, of the heavenly reaches, of eternity. Green brings a reminder of springtime, youth, hope and victory, smiles and good humor. Finally, there are traces and flicks of white, the color of serenity, peace and of enduring faith.
As you face the rose window, turn left toward the four nave (floor level) windows. These windows bear symbols, in pairs, of the Beatitudes from Luke 6:20-21 and Matthew 5:3-12. Angelic figures in the bottom and top panels hold symbols denoting a specific verse, and the panels are numbered with Roman Numerals in the lower edge of the scene. Begin with the window in the corner, closest to the front. In the bottom, a wandering beggar holds a cage with two doves, "Blessed are the poor in spirit," and in the top, a veiled mourner grasps an inverted torch, symbol of death, "Blessed are they that mourn."
Move to the next window on your left. Here you will see in the bottom panel a seated shepherd with a lamb, "Blessed are the meek," and in the top, a judge holding scales and sword, "Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness." In the bottom of the next window on your left an enthroned king grips a broken sword, "Blessed are the merciful," and in the top, a child holds a lily, "Blessed are the pure in heart." The last window on the nave level shows in the bottom two figures together clasping an olive branch, "Blessed are the peacemakers," and in the top a kneeling figure beneath the palm branch and crown, "Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness' sake."
Move now to the doors of the Chapel and look up on the wall over the table. This window contains symbols of Matthew and Luke, in whose gospels the Beatitudes are recorded. Originally first in the series of windows, it was moved to this last position in the new Chapel so that the windows containing the verses would not be interrupted. In the bottom panel is a young man, symbol of Matthew, and in the top, the winged ox, symbol of Luke.
Now look up at the three windows directly over the doors. This higher level is the clere-story, from Middle English, "clear story." These windows, together with the four on the wall to your left, are devoted to the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy. The Works, or charitable acts, are part of many religious traditions, and they embody basic acts of caring and responsibility that all people are called to share.
The windows are again divided into two panels. Angelic figures in the top hold symbols of each Work, while in the bottom the Tree of Life, here elaborated as the Burning Bush of Moses, denotes the number of each Work by the number of flames on the Bush. Begin with the right window of the group of three. This is the Seventh Work, to bury the dead, and the figure holds a spade. The center window is the Sixth Work, to visit the imprisoned, and the figure wears shackles at the wrists. The left-hand window of the three is the Fifth Work, to visit the sick, the figure bearing a bouquet of flowers.
Turn now to your left and face the four final clerestory windows. Beginning with the right-hand window, you will see the Fourth Work, to shelter the homeless, and its symbol, a home. The next window to the left is the Third Work, to clothe the naked, and its symbol of a garment. Move left again to the Second Work, to give drink to the thirsty, and the symbol of a pitcher of water. Finally (with only one flame on the Bush!) is the first Work, to feed the hungry, and the figure holds a basket of bread.
You are now back where this tour began, at the magnificent rose window. Take a moment now to rest in the quiet of the Chapel and its windows. We hope that their beauty and artistry will bring you light and life, and that you will find peace here in this special place.