What is the geometric structure of the tabernacle

St. Sebastian Roisdorf

The windows of St. Sebastian

1. Find a suitable glass painter

When the parish of St. Sebastian in Roisdorf set about equipping the newly built church building with glass windows in the mid-1970s, the task had to be approached with particular care, as the site was exposed to massive criticism of the architectural design of the new church. Many Roisdorfers, who had reluctantly said goodbye to the old, richly designed and furnished parish church, found the new church with its deliberately simple shapes to be crude and uninviting, less than the “tent of God among the people” than the architect Theo Scholten called it a "barn". The furnishings and especially the windows had to reconcile a lot here.

Many new churches in the area were visited to look for a suitable glass artist. Architect Scholten brought the name Wilhelm Buschulte into play and his works were convincing, above all because they did not appear to be designed according to a uniform scheme, but rather individually designed for each church. Buschulte evidently understood how to empathize with the respective church space. Talks were held with the artist who worked in Unna in Westphalia.

2. The life and work of Wilhelm Buschulte

Born in Unna in 1923, Wilhelm Buschulte studied from 1943 to 1950 - with interruptions due to the war - at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, including with Hans Gött, whose master class he was. Buschulte has been living freelance in his hometown since 1953. The artistic window design has been the focus of his work since 1951, at least that which is accessible to the general public. Not committed to any artistic technique, he strived for the unity and harmony of (church) space and window design, while doing without spectacular effects, rather he emphasized what he himself called “light simplicity”.

Back then, in the mid-1970s, Buschulte could already be regarded as a recognized artist, who had worked, for example, in Worms, Aachen, Saarbrücken, in the Cathedral of Essen, in the Ratzeburg Cathedral and in the Mönchengladbach Cathedral and during this time next to none other than Georg Meistermann designed the windows in the mezzanine floor of the rebuilt St. Gereon Church in Cologne, but also worked in the Patrokli Cathedral in Soest and in the Hildesheim Cathedral.

In the decades after the Roisdorf windows were made, Buschulte, he still lives in his hometown of Unna, has not been idle. Reference should be made to the addition of the old stained glass in Aachen Cathedral, to windows in the rebuilt Church of St. Maria in the Capitol, next to St. Gereon a highlight among the Romanesque churches of Cologne, to the windows of the Paulskirche in Frankfurt, the choir windows of the Marienstatt Abbey in the Westerwald and many others. He is now considered to be one of the most renowned and internationally respected glass painters in Germany. In 2005, a large retrospective was dedicated to his work in the Linnich Glass Museum. His style developed further, from figuration the focus shifted to abstraction, which never renounced the symbolic function of shapes and colors. "We don't have our eyes to see," says Buschulte, "but to recognize."

3. Design and manufacture of the windows

There were no specifications from the Roisdorf parish with regard to the form and content of the stained glass windows for St. Sebastian, rather this was developed in conversation. Buschulte suggested that only two of the five windows should be figurative, the others abstract, in order to avoid overloading them with figurative elements. So it was decided to keep the large gable window facing west, with glass as light as possible, purely geometrical. It was important for the lighting of the room and was also largely obscured by the large organ. The design of the two small or narrow windows that illuminate the altar area from the north and the tabernacle from the east should also be abstract.

The two windows on the south side, on the other hand, were to be provided with figurative scenes: the gable window of the aisle and the large window in the south wall of the main nave. The designs presented were convincing and so the Derix glass workshop in Kevelaer was commissioned with the execution, after having mostly worked with the Oidtmann company in Linnich, with Buschulte otherwise, regarding the materials and the execution could not be reached. The southern windows and the small windows of the altar area were completed in 1978, and the large western gable window was not finished until 1985, but this was due to the fact that several years had to be saved to make it.

4.1. Generally

The redemption cycle in the large window on the south wall of the main nave is formally linked to medieval cycles, as they are perhaps known from the Bible windows in the ambulatory of Cologne Cathedral. The scenes of salvation history are presented in their sequence in a medieval way, i.e. different from what we are used to reading from bottom to top today. However, the individual scenes are not strictly separated from each other by geometric structures, as is the case with the medieval models, but rather surrounded by colored surfaces and curved paths as if flowing. The result is not a static, but a free, dynamic composition.

The areas, which are only separated from one another by thin bars, are partly brightly colored in primary colors, but partly also in restrained colors. Both increase their effect. Strong blue tones appear as the background for the whole thing.

The representation of the individual scenes is limited to a few figures, whereby the concentration on the essentials is achieved. The figures are not worked out three-dimensionally, but only delicately indicated. They are inscribed in the colored areas with fine black streaks or they overlap them.

It is easy to see that the three central secrets of the event of redemption are discussed. The incarnation of Christ, his death on the cross and his resurrection. These are, but - and this is essential - not shown directly. So we find neither the child in the manger, nor the dying Jesus on the cross, nor the risen one. Rather, scenes are provided that comment on these mysteries of salvation. So the angel, the messenger of God, proclaims the coming of the Messiah, another angel proclaims the risen one. In the middle scene, Mary takes on the role of angel and points the weeping women to the crucified Christ. Buschulte likes to use this indirect, indicative mode of representation. Representations of angels are often used in order to avoid the direct representation of God.

4.2. The Annunciation

As is well known, we only find the promise of the birth of Jesus by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary, which we see depicted in the bottom scene, in Luke 1, 26-38. Mary is depicted in "Marian" blue, with her eyes closed and with a gesture of readiness to comply with God's will: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, it will be done to me according to your word."

The angel holds a flower in his hands - flowers, roses and lilies have been symbols of Mary since the Middle Ages. The white lily, for example, represents her virginity. It is significant that Mary is separated from the surrounding yellow and green structures by the angel, surrounded by them like a wall - a motif that Buschulte also used elsewhere, for example in the chapel of the German School of the Borromean Sisters in Cairo. Here the medieval image of Mary shines through as the "hortus conlusus", the closed garden, a picture taken from the Song of Songs: "A closed garden is my sister bride", with which the Immaculate Conception, her protection from original sin from the beginning is expressed.

The angel's statement is important for the presentation: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child will also be called holy and son of God. ”The bright red of the angel's wings is a clear indication of the work of the Holy Spirit.

4.3. The lamentation

The middle scene shows the lamentation of the body of Jesus removed from the cross by the women who were present at the crucifixion: the Mother of God Mary, Mary Magdalene and others. While the strong emotions of the two women - sadness and pain - appear in their strong colors, the figure of Maria is almost colorless, the facial expression rather submerged. She knows about the necessity of the redemption sacrifice of her son and probably also about the imminent resurrection.

The body of Jesus appears relaxed. The pains of death on the cross have been overcome. The head of the corpse lies in the lap of the mother, who bends over it. But this does not just represent a lamentation, but the so-called Pieta: The representation of Mary with the body of Jesus removed from the cross on her lap. This scene is well known to us as the penultimate station of the Stations of the Cross, but: It is not a biblically attested scene, but a medieval invention of images. The synoptics only speak of the presence of Mary Magdalene and other women at the Descent from the Cross and Entombment, not mentioning Mary, the Mother of God.

The image tradition of the Pieta, from Italian piety, pity, in German also Vespers, has been documented since the 14th century. The most important sculptures are the wooden figure of Pieta Röttgen in the Bonn State Museum with pronounced late medieval expressiveness and Michelangelo's famous marble sculpture of Pieta in St. Peter's Basilica. The representation of the Pieta arises from an increased focus on the redeeming suffering of Christ on the cross and the idea of ​​the compassio (compassion) or conredemptio (co-redemption) of his mother.

The image of the Pieta is primarily used for personal devotion. However, and this is more important in our context, it harbors another layer of meaning. It is about the idea of ​​the "sacrifice of Christ crucified by the Church", represented by Mary and in our case by the other women depicted. This is a eucharistic sense: it corresponds to the prayer during the preparation of the gifts of Holy Mass: “Pray, brothers and sisters, that my sacrifice and yours may please God, the Almighty Father.” Answer: “The Lord accept the sacrifice from your hands , to the praise and glory of his name, a blessing for us and his whole holy Church. ”The scene of the Pieta thus establishes a reference to the Eucharistic event in the church.

This is interpreted as the visualization of Christ's redeeming sacrifice: Mary points to the heart wound of Jesus, which is located exactly in the middle of the window, around which the entire composition revolves. The whole event of redemption therefore finds its center in the wound of the heart of Jesus, which has been venerated since time immemorial as a symbol of his love of redemption.

4.4. The women at the grave

The top scene is that of the resurrection of Christ, or more precisely that of the proclamation of the resurrection to the women who want to go to the grave with their ointment vessels on Easter morning, as described by Matthew, Mark and Luke. "His - the angel's - figure shone like lightning and his robe was white as snow," said Matthew. The shining gold of the angel's wings corresponds to this and, compared to the red of the angel in the lower scene, it points to the completion of the redemption event. The figures of the women are separated from the angel by a curved dark path, which can be interpreted as a grave cave.

“Do not be afraid. I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here because he is resurrected as he said. Come here and see the place where he lay. ”The angel shows the three women the empty shroud. But only two of the women turn to him. The third one, shown in dark, turns away: Sign of fright? “So they left the grave and fled, because horror and horror seized them,” said Markus. But maybe also signs of incomprehension or even doubt. The turning away woman with whom the cycle ends is disturbed, she shows that belief in salvation cannot be taken for granted.

The message of the window could therefore be summarized as follows: The redemption event carried by the love of God for mankind takes place in the mysteries of the Incarnation, the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ and it takes place in the celebration of the Eucharist, which in this Church space is completed, always present in an new way. However, to become and remain aware of our salvation is always a difficult task.

5. The storm on the lake

The second large figural glass window in the gable wall of the side aisle is formally comparable to the window of the Redemption Cycle, but shows only a single scene, the "Storm on the Lake", according to Matth. 8, 23-27.

Under a sky filled with wildly moving yellow, green and blue clouds, the waves of the storm-lashed sea threaten to devour the little ship with Jesus and the disciples. The ship's red sail flutters in tatters on the breaking mast. The disciples, gesticulating wildly, with frightened faces, their number is reduced to three, they try to wake the quietly sleeping Jesus: "Lord, save us, we perish!" Jesus' answer: “Why are you so afraid, you of little faith?” Then he stood up, threatened the winds and the lake and there was complete silence.

It makes sense to relate the little ship of the disciples to the church or, more specifically, to the congregation that gathers in our church. An image that should convey confidence. Buschulte understood it expressly as a reaction to the pessimistic zeitgeist that had spread in the 1970s after the time of the euphoric awakening after the Second Vatican Council. Against the prophecies of doom “The church is going under”, he demonstrated with the glass picture his trust in Christ, who will always stand by his church.

6. The abstract windows

Reference has already been made to the geometrically abstract design of the large gable window. The rectangular fields are structured with restrained colors using cross-shaped structures that have been consistently developed from the rectangle. One would hardly believe that both the free, brightly colored and lively composition of the two figurative windows and the strictly geometric, almost colorless ornamentation of the gable window come from the same artist. But that's the way it is and the windows represent two opposing but always common directions in Buschulte's work from the very beginning.

The narrow windows in the altar area are also abstract compositions, albeit less strongly geometrical, but by no means meaningless: for example the window in the tabernacle niche (left picture), which is supposed to intensify the eternal light. Below you can see the color sequence of the rainbow: No coincidence, after all, the rainbow is the symbol of the old covenant that God made with the people after the flood. It is contrasted here with the New Covenant through the redeeming sacrifice of Christ present in the tabernacle.

The view from the narrow window to the left of the sanctuary (right picture) is not to be seen merely as an abstraction of a landscape. Rather, an Old Testament symbol is the image of the clouds that shape the window: the cloud, the sign of the presence of God since the people of Israel left Egypt, in the New Testament the sign of God the Father, who testifies to his Son Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit .

© Text: E. Gierlich (edited version of the lecture on the occasion of the Tour des églises on September 16, 2007); © Photos: Th. Bremm