A college town church is changing the way biblical characters are depicted in stained glass.
Mike Angell, pastor of Holy Communion Episcopal Church, felt there were too many images of white Jesus in his church for a 40 percent black congregation.
The integrated church in the 1960s. “But we didn’t integrate the art,” Angell said. “It becomes very important that people see themselves in sacred history. They see themselves in the biblical story. They see themselves represented in their church.
To that end, Holy Communion leaders enlisted the help of 124-year-old stained glass firm Emil Frei and Associates. The St. Louis Society has been creating art for over 7,000 churches worldwide, including St. Francis Xavier College Church in Grand Center and St. Francis de Sales off Gravois Road. He also helped design the mosaic designs for the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis.
Aaron Frei and Cbabi Bayoc talk about their new collaboration on “St. Louis on the Air”
“St. Louis has a wealth of churches that is the envy of any other city in the United States in terms of per capita and quality,” said Aaron Frei, president of the society and fifth-generation Frei.
Before signing a contract, Angell had one request for the company: he wanted a painter and muralist Cbabi Bayoc to design the window. At first, Frei was hesitant because Bayoc had never worked with stained glass before.
“Aaron has to put up with a lot of churches thinking, ‘You don’t want my uncle to work on that piece of stained glass?’ Angell said. “And he goes, ‘No, it’s a really complicated medium.'”
Frei explained: “There are all these little nuances that are best learned through the process of making a window. Many artists spend four or five years before even designing the first window.
For Bayoc, the process was different. Angell said: “The first time I heard of Aaron after Cbabi was in the studio, he was like, ‘Oh no, this guy knows what he’s doing. He picked it up right away. It will be funny.’ So it was fun to play matchmaker a bit.
“And it was fun to get it wrong,” Frei added.
Five years in the making, the collaboration was the company’s first time working with a black artist.
Growing up, Bayoc explained on Monday Saint Louis live, he rarely saw Jesus depicted in Black. “Only on Good time“, he joked.
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Cbabi Bayoc decided to position Marie-Madeleine with her fist raised in her first stained glass window.
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Holy Communion has in fact commissioned Emil Frei to create stained glass three times during its history.
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Emil Frei President Aaron Frei packs his bags after completing the installation of the Cbabi Bayoc Holy Communion stained glass window on June 7.
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Light shines through the new stained glass window in the Church of the Holy Communion on June 7.
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A depiction of Jesus in white is shown in a set of stained glass windows at the front of the Church of the Holy Communion, behind the altar.
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— munich studio mo hist1.jpg
Emil Frei Sr., originally from Germany, set up a studio in Munich to expand his business, but the Nazis took it over and turned it into a boot factory for soldiers during World War II. Allied forces bombarded the studio soon after.
In Bayoc’s window, Jesus has an afro that forms a halo around his head. His palms are extended outward. Marie-Madeleine has long braids that blend into a river of white water. His fist is raised. Bayoc said he decided to position them like this because he wanted to pay tribute to the Black Lives Matter movement.
“So many mothers have lost their sons,” Bayoc said.
The piece, installed last week, is the first of what the congregation hopes will be four windows in all, depicting the biblical road to salvation. Angell said this episode symbolizes the resurrection of Jesus. He sees Mary Magdalene’s raised fist as a posture of hope and power.
“We loved this idea that Mary would be the last figure you see, walking out with her fist in the air – the revolution continues, the work continues,” Angell said.
Angell said the windows are also meant to challenge recent efforts to whitewash history. He quoted something told to him by the church’s senior layman, Rudy Nickens.
“In a small way, in a small local church, we can implement something he called ‘a beautiful, loving contradiction’ to what may seem like difficult days for people who care about diversity and fairness,” Angell said.
Bayoc has succeeded in using timeless painting, glazing and soldering techniques to create a new vision of sacred art. It’s a take Frei said he hopes to inspire conversations between people and God.
“I have not seen [Mary Magdalene] represented like that before, and I’ve worked in thousands of churches,” Frei said.
Holy Communion now hopes to raise over $50,000 so Bayoc can complete the story.
“Saint Louis live” tells you the stories of Saint-Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenské and produced by Emily Woodbury, Kayla Drake, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The sound engineer is Aaron Dorr.