The Saints in the Stained-Glass Windows

Text by Lou McMahon
Photographs by Dan Morgan
Design by Meg Sattler All Saints Day, 2021

The church of St. Luke the Evangelist, Lakewood, Ohio, is graced with 17 major stained-glass windows.  These windows bathe the church in a rich spectrum of colors on sunny day and the windows are a beacon to the outside world when the church is lit on dark evenings.  Each of the windows is not just aesthetically pleasing but tells stories that provide enduring teachings.

This article tells some of the story of the windows at St. Luke, and of the saints and iconography depicted.  It is an invitation to know more fully the enduring teachings that the windows convey.

As part of the St. Luke Parish Centennial, St. Luke is raising funds for the restoration and preservation of these stained-glass windows.  Please see the parish website for more details.

History and General Design

(Source: Catholic Universe Bulletin)

St. Luke Church and its windows were principally designed by Fr. Peter Cherniss.  Fr. Cherniss spent nearly his entire ordained career assigned to St. Luke Parish.  Fr. Cherniss had studied architecture and design before entering the seminary.  In addition to being instrumental in the design, he also reportedly took a several month trip to Europe to find and acquire the finish materials for the new church.

As for the large stained- glass windows, there are the twelve tall windows, six on each side.  These depict the Twelve Apostles (with St. Paul subbed for Judas Iscariot).  Two of the four Evangelists, St. Luke (east) and St. Mark (west), are placed above the two side doors at the front of the church.  The large windows of St. Matthew and St. John are of Evangelists and Apostles.  All of the windows of the Apostles include a book, which is a symbol of their preaching the Gospel.

Note that St. Luke, St. Peter, St. John and St. James are all on the east side of the church. These windows get the most direct morning sunlight.  This position is befitting the parish patron and the three most prominent of the Twelve Apostles, who the Gospels report were with Jesus for many significant events, including the Transfiguration.  When this church was built, the school building was already standing on the west side, which tends to block direct sunlight during much of the year.

In the choir loft, the window to the west depicts St. Matthias, elected to fill the open spot as the Twelfth Apostle.  Across from St. Matthias on the east choir loft is 19th Century St. John Vianney.

The largest window in the church is the grand rose window facing north, which has the ancient symbol of Christ as a pelican in its center.  There are other, smaller stained-glass windows in the church.  The depiction of the Eucharist in the sacristy facing east is especially brilliant in the morning sunlight.

Saints and Iconography

It is important to remember that conventions in iconography and heraldry have developed over many centuries to relate stories, scriptural and traditional, about the saints, their lives and their works from the very earliest years of the church.  Iconographic images have their own history and language.  For example, many of the Apostles are depicted holding a book, because their mandate was to proclaim the Gospel.  Nearly all of the Twelve Apostles were ultimately martyred in the course of fulfilling the Great Commission.  To distinguish among the Twelve, certain aspects associated with their life, mission, martyrdom or sainthood have developed into traditional, heraldic symbols.  Two examples illustrate the point. St. Andrew’s cross, in the form of an “X,” recalls his martyrdom by crucifixion on a cross of that shape. The image of a late medieval windmill associated with St. James the Less has its own intricate history.  See below.

There are several good sources to help in the learning the language of the saints and their iconography. A quick review of a Wikipedia entry or the venerable Catholic Encyclopedia often can make a good start, with references to other sources.  These two sources have been invaluable in compiling this article and offer an excellent entrée into our many centuries of Christian art from around the world:

1.     Saints, Sign and Symbols, 3rd Ed., Hilarie and James Cornwell (2008).  This is an update of a classic handbook by W. Ellwood Post first published in 1962.

2.     Saints and their Symbols, Fernando and Gioia Lanzi, (translated by Matthew J. O’Connell)(2003).   Richly adorned with beautiful artwork, this is a striking visual collection that includes detailed descriptions of the stories of the saints as relating to their iconography.

Each of the seventeen large windows is discussed in more detail below.

 North Wall, facing Clifton Blvd

Rose Window, featuring Pelican

The grand rose window on the north wall features at its center a pelican.  In the ancient world, it was thought that the pelican plucked its breast to provide flesh and blood to its young.  The early church readily saw this as a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice of his Precious Body and Blood for our Salvation.

The alter of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Cleveland has a pelican on it.

The “petals” of the rose window appear to be stylized lilies, a symbol of purity, associated with Easter.


 East Wall, from South to North

St. Luke (above east door)

St. Luke the Evangelist, our patron saint, has a critical role in church history and a deep tradition of rich iconography.  He is noted as the author of over 25% of the New Testament. His Gospel has details found nowhere else in Scripture, particularly relating to Blessed Virgin Mary.  Tradition holds he was a physician.  He is long depicted as a painter.

Compare the depiction in this window with the statue at the peak of the church outside on the north wall, the statue in the church and the painter statue outside facing Bunts Rd.  As an Evangelist, St. Luke is often shown as an ox, because his Gospel includes the scene of the Nativity including the manger.

St. Peter

Named by Christ as the Rock (Peter) upon which He will build His church, and known as Cephas, the leader of the Apostles, Peter is depicted as holding the keys to the Kingdom.  As the first bishop of Rome, from whom all popes claim authority by succession, Peter also is depicted with symbols of Rome, such as the Vatican (top image).  The Vatican promenade’s famous stone obelisk stands at the spot where Peter was martyred in approximately 64 AD.

Peter is very prominently featured in the Gospels, including receiving direct challenges from Jesus.  When he keeps his vision directly on Jesus, Peter is able to walk on water.  He was the first Apostle to see the Risen Jesus in the Garden, and first to recognize Him on the shore at Galilee. At the Last Supper, Jesus foretold that Peter would deny Christ three times before the cock crowed, which he did hours later during the Lord’s Passion. So Peter, as here, is often depicted with a rooster.

St. John

The window for the Apostle John, the “apostle Jesus loved,” also depicts him as John the Evangelist.  The Gospel of John in Chapter 6 includes the Eucharistic “Bread of Life Discourse.”   Correspondingly, the window at the top depicts the Blessed Sacrament in Body and Blood, and at the bottom the image of the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world, as recorded in John’s Gospel.  John, 1:29.

As the Evangelist, John’s Gospel is usually depicted by an eagle, because it begins with Jesus’s divine nature as the Word, seen as like an eagle in flight.

St. James the Less

James the Less, meaning ‘shorter’ of the two James, was considered part of Jesus’s inner circle of three with Peter and John.  He is understood as having been the first bishop of Jerusalem.

The iconography for James has its own fascinating history.  Why is a medieval windmill depicting this first century martyr?  James was martyred in Jerusalem by first being stoned (see the top image of three stones), then being thrown from the parapet of the Temple, which did not kill him.  On the ground, a crowd using “fullers clubs” beat him to death.  A fuller was one who took raw wool and, by beating with a club or stomping on it, and applying washes to it, broke down the wool fibers to make them smooth and white.  (See Mark 9:3, re the Transfiguration, where Jesus’s clothes “became whiter than any fuller could make them.”)  By the early middle ages, the fulling process was used by mills turned by wind or water power, and so windmills became a heraldic convention for depicting St. James’ martyrdom by fuller’s clubs.

St. Thomas

St. Thomas is most known as ‘Doubting Thomas’ for his incredulity at the disciples’ report of the Resurrection, and then himself meeting the Risen Lord in the upper room the next week.  Ancient tradition holds that St. Thomas traveled and preached east into India.  A Christian community venerating St. Thomas was found in India by the Portuguese when they arrived in the 16th Century.

The tradition of St. Thomas in India is reflected in this window.  Note the construction tools at the top.  This reflects the story of a king in India who asked Thomas to build him a magnificent palace; Thomas then preached about the Father’s house in the Kingdom of God and converted the king.  He is the patron saint of architects and stonemasons.  The lower heraldic device, three stones around the omega, derives from the story of an attempted murder of St. Thomas by pagan priests.  When the first tried to throw his stone, his hand was paralyzed.  St. Thomas then healed the paralyzed hand, and the priests were converted.

St. Jude

Not much of St. Jude is known. He is revered as patron of lost and impossible causes.  St. Jude Thaddeus is considered brother of James and Simon, cousins of Jesus.  He is often depicted looking much like Jesus. His coat of arms is a ship under sail (for some unknown reason).

St. Jude is shown with the club and spear crossed over a long inverted cross, to reflect his martyrdom by beating.

St. Matthew

Matthew was a tax collector in Capernum.  In his position, he was likely very wealthy.  Jesus called Matthew by name, and he gave up all and followed as a disciple.  So Matthew is depicted with a money chest at the top, and often by bags of money.

Matthew’s heraldry includes an axe (bottom image), as one tradition holds that he was beheaded in Ethiopia after successfully evangelizing one king but martyred by his successor.

As one of the four Evangelists, Matthew is usually shown as an angel, because his Gospel begins with the Angel Gabriel with the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation.

St. John Vianney (choir loft)

St. John Vianney lived in 19th Century France.  He is revered for rebuilding the faithful after the terrors and persecution of the Catholic Church during the French Revolution.  He worked tirelessly to effect a radical spiritual transformation among his flock. It was noted that he would spend 16-18 hour sessions hearing confessions of parishioners and the thousands of international pilgrims who sought him out.  Therefore, he is pictured with a purple stoll.

St. John Vianney was canonized in 1925 and later recognized as the patron saint of parish priests.



West Wall, from South to North

St. Mark (above west door)

Mark the Evangelist’s is considered the earliest of the four Gospels and relies on eye-witness reports from Peter.  Mark became the first bishop of Alexandria, where he was martyred.

In 828, with Alexandria under Islamic control, two Venetian merchants stole the remains of St. Mark and brought them to Venice, where they are in the famous cathedral that bears his name. The symbol for Mark is a winged and haloed lion, because his Gospel begins with the ‘voice crying out in the wilderness.’

St. Paul

St. Paul is often depicted with a sword, by which he is understood to have been executed.  After his dramatic conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul became the Apostle to the Gentiles, making extensive journeys spreading the Gospel and founding churches throughout the ancient world.  St. Luke captured much of Paul’s travels in the Acts of the Apostles.

Paul was not one of the original Twelve but call by Christ in his dramatic conversion “as if one born abnormally.”  Fourteen of the 27 books in the New Testament are letters by or connected to St. Paul. Paul’s letters in the New Testament show the continuity of the faith from its earliest days.  The top image includes a book of scripture overlaying a sword. The book bears the word “Spiritus Gladius” or “Sword of the Spirit.”  Paul was martyred by the sword in Rome in approximately 65 AD.

St. Andrew  

St. Andrew in the Orthodox churches is revered as the First Disciple. Andrew with his brother Peter and their associates James the Greater and John and perhaps Simon, were fishermen in Galilee.  Andrew had been a disciple of St. John the Baptist.  His depiction includes caught fish.

The St. Andrew “X” cross is a recognized symbol from the story of his martyrdom.  Tradition holds that Andrew was crucified on such a cross in Athens.  During the two days he hung on the cross Andrew preached the Good News and converted thousands.  St. Andrew is the Patron saint of Scotland and the X cross is in both the Scottish national flag and blended into the British Union Jack.

An interesting facet:  on display in the Cleveland Museum of Art is a painting by Caravaggio, one of the greatest of the Renaissance painters, that portrays the dramatic crucifixion of St. Andrew.  It is a powerful masterpiece, and in recent years was the subject of a special exhibit.  Curiously, Caravaggio showed a “T” shaped cross, and not the “X” of tradition.

St. Bartholomew

Also known as Nathaniel, Bartholomew was brought by Phillip to Jesus.  Jesus said “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”  Jesus explained that he had seen Bartholomew sitting under a fig tree before Phillip called him. This caused him to exclaim that Jesus was Son of God.  Jesus replied that he will see greater things than these. (John 1:43-50).  The window at the bottom includes the image of a fig branch.

Bartholomew was martyred by being flayed alive, so knives are one of his symbols.  The top image appears to be a book representing the Gospel overlying two knives.

St. James the Greater

St. James the Greater, with John his brother, is one of the sons of Zebedee and “the sons of Thunder”.  St. James iconography connects with the ancient tradition of the pilgrimage to his shrine at Compostela in modern northern Spain.  He is depicted with a traveler’s bag and staff (bottom image) and the three cockles or scallop shells (top image) are the symbol that mark the pilgrimage routes.

The Tradition of the Camino to Compostela is very ancient. In the middle ages, with Jerusalem and Rome it was considered one of three great pilgrimages.  The tradition of venerating St. James rests on the story that St. James may have visited Spain, but later when he was martyred in Jerusalem, his body was set adrift, and the boat came to rest at the shore near Compostela, covered in scallops.

St. Philip

Before Jesus’s Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, Phillip speaks to Jesus about the need to feed the crowd, and Jesus asks Philip why he and the Twelve can’t do it.  Accordingly, Philip is often identified with a basket, used to collect the fragments of that miraculous meal.  Here, the top image includes slices of bread on either side of a cross.

The other heraldic device combines two traditions of how Phillip was martyred, by crucifixion or by spear.

Philip is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 8, for converting and baptizing the Ethiopian court official who was in his chariot on the road to Gaza, in the south.  The Ethiopian was reading the Book of Isaiah, Chapter 53, about the Suffering Servant as the Sacrificial Lamb.  Immediately after the baptism, Philip was then taken by the Holy Spirit– like Jesus on the road to Emmaus– and appeared preaching farther north. This expansive preaching may be why Philip is depicted holding what looks like a globe, fulfilling the Great Commission “to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to all creation.” (Mark 16:15).

St. Simon

Not much is known of St. Simon the Canaanite or Zealot.  He may have succeeded James the Less as bishop of Jerusalem.  He was one of the fishermen at Jesus’s direction who put out to deep waters after a night a fruitless fishing, and captured an enormous haul, and became a fisher of me.  So he is depicted with a fish on top of a book (top image). 

He is also shown with a saw and an oar, because he was a fisherman who was martyred by being sawn in half.  He shares his feast day of October 28 with St. Jude, as by tradition the two evangelized and were martyred together.

St. Matthias (choir loft)

Matthias was a follower of Jesus who, at Peter’s direction, was the one selected by lot to replace Judas Iscariot as one of the Twelve. In St. Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, Mattias is noted as having been a disciple of Jesus from the time of his baptism in the Jordan by John the Baptist.  Hence, he also is pictured with the book of the Gospels.

Mattias was selected to be an Apostle after Jesus Ascended but before the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. His feast day in the liturgical calendars of the West is May 14, which typically falls between the Ascension and Pentecost.