Sparkle and shine in the sunshine, light from within

“Awe-inspiring” describes Mindekirken’s stained-glass windows

stained-glass

The church architect invited Thomas Gaytee to tell the story of Christ’s ministry in glass art, as well as the history and theology of the Norwegian Lutheran Church. The windows cost $6,000, $108,000 in today’s currency, but could they be made for that today?

Leslee Lane Hoyum
Rockford, Minn.

It’s summer, and you find yourself thinking about vacations and staycations. Perhaps you are thinking thematically? If so, why not visit the Twin Cities to seek out your Nordic roots? There’s Norway House, the American Swedish Institute, Minnesota’s State Capitol statues, the Danish American Center, Luther Seminary and, of course, Mindekirken, the Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church, which offers tours of its building. Its stained-glass windows are its greatest artistic calling card.

Stained-glass windows date to the ancient Egyptians, but it was builders during the Middle Ages who figured out how to create extraordinarily strong roofs and high walls while keeping them just thick enough to support large, beautiful stained-glass windows. Even today, they are considered architectural wonders. Now fast forward to 1929 when Mindekirken contracted with Gaytee Company of Minneapolis through its architect, Engebret Sund, to depict the ministry of Christ in artistic glass.

Thomas Gaytee, a native of England, studied stained-glass design under Louis Comfort Tiffany in New York and moved to Minneapolis in 1918. Although originally Gaytee was to work for Tiffany, Tiffany missed a customer’s deadline, and Gaytee was out of work. As a result he opened his own company and specialized in religiously themed windows.

Still in business today, Gaytee Company’s stained-glass applications appear in thousands of churches, businesses, and homes throughout the United States and Canada. You may be familiar with some of them, including Boys Town Chapel, Omaha, Neb., Central Lutheran Church and the Basilica of St. Mary, both in Minneapolis, and, of course, Mindekirken.

As you approach the church, you barely see the glass pictures, but in daylight and inside the sanctuary, you will experience captivating works of art. There are nine towering windows in the church. The four on the west side and three on the east relate the story of the gospel from the Annunciation through the Ascension.

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Hans Nielsen Hauge is depicted in the blue jacket on the left side of the window.

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The Good Shepherd is a beloved image in the Bible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Golden lights shine down like stars or light directed by heaven as the angels sing.

The north window, behind the altar, speaks to major images of Christianity, such as scripture and the Greek letters Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, which depict Christ. A baptismal font features symbols of new life. Finally, a chalice with a cluster of grapes and a sheaf of wheat leads you to the Last Supper.

The south window, situated behind the balcony, is quite unusual, since it addresses Norwegian Lutheranism. Atop the window is King Olav Haraldsson (993-1028) who Christianized Norway. You may know him as St. Olav. Also represented is Martin Luther, considered the most influential figure of the Protestant Reformation. Finally, you find the likeness of Hans Nielsen Hauge, who had a profound influence on both secular and religious history in Norway, which followed Norwegian emigrants to the United States.

The window art is awe-inspiring and full of fascinating portrayals and symbolism. You immediately notice that Mary and Jesus are blond and blue-eyed. Remember that Mindekirken was founded by Norwegian immigrants. Throughout history artists have portrayed Jesus and other Biblical characters as people who looked like themselves and/or their audience.

Colors also are prominent symbols in the windows. Blue symbolizes purity and truth, for example, as seen in Mary’s clothing. Red represents passion and Jesus’ blood, a color prominent in Jesus’ robe. And white depicts eternity and heaven, as seen in the ascension. Throughout the windows you will see a variety of repeat designs, such as the white lily, a symbol of Jesus and the purity of his life and work. The more you study the windows, the more symbols you will discover.

The stained-glass windows may affect you on many levels. They may stimulate contemplation, illuminate your soul, or instill a great appreciation for astonishing art. Swiss-American psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross felt there is a strong similarity between people and stained-glass windows: “They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”

Please take time to tour Mindekirken during your summer vacation—or anytime. However, be sure to call first to gain entry and arrange for a guide.

Note: I wish to thank Gracia Grindal and the late Paul Ofstedal, who wrote a stunning booklet on Mindekirken’s stained-glass windows from which I gleaned the facts. The booklet is available for $10 plus shipping and handling from the Mindekirken website  (mindekirken.org), or call the office at (612) 874-0716.

Photos courtesy of Mindekirken

See also “A place of worship and  work of art” by Mary Jo Thorsheim, The Norwegian American, Jan. 7, 2022.

This article originally appeared in the June 2024 issue of The Norwegian American.

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Leslee Lane Hoyum

Born and raised in Minnesota, Leslee Lane Hoyum attended the University of Minnesota and University of Oslo. Leslee is or has been involved with almost every Norwegian-American organization, including Sons of Norway, Sons of Norway Foundation, Ski For Light, NAHA, Leif Eriksson International Festival and Mindekirken. Leslee is a co-founder of Lakselaget and a founding member of Norway House, and has been decorated by His Majesty King Harald with the St. Olav Medal.