Mount St. Joseph University

A Divine Mosaic of Symbolism: Mater Dei Chapel Stained-Glass Window Reflection for Advent

Academics, Mission & Ministry

By: Amanda Gratsch

File Under: mater dei chapel, stained-glass windows

Stained-Glass Window in Mater Dei Chapel
Photo credits: Amanda Gratsch, Mater Dei Chapel window.

The sun illuminates the colored glass, and the serene and sacred space of the Mater Dei Chapel exudes a holy radiance, embedded with beautiful hidden symbolism to reflect upon this Christmas season.

Worn with many years of tradition and eloquence, the artistic mosaic of the stained-glass windows stand tall in the Mater Dei Chapel. When gazed upon a bit closer, the abstracted colored-glass reveals hidden symbolic imagery from the Catholic faith. 

Marlene Hoffman ’61, an alumna of the art program at the Mount, designed the 28 windows under the guidance of Sr. Augusta Zimmer. 

Each window has been carefully designed to offer some prayerful reflection on Catholic teachings, and can offer reflective imagery to explore during Advent.

Window Imagery: Christmas Rose and Morning Star

One window in particular relevant to this winter season is window number 21. To find it, face the left side of the Chapel, and it is the eighth window moving left from the entrance toward the altar.

A depiction of a flower rests at the bottom left of the piece, symbolizing the Mystical Rose from the Litany to Mary. In the reading, the Christmas rose survived the cold and snow of winter and bloomed at Christmas. “… despite wars which shake the whole earth, there still exists a mighty power which can shape a rose or lead shepherds to a king.” The Christmas rose represents the nativity and Messianic prophesy.

Another symbolic element supporting this reading is the tower depiction sitting toward the upper right, also from the Litany of Mary, as Mary is often referred to as the “Tower of David.”

In addition, three windows down towards the entrance from window 24, rests window 21, the Morning Star. Also taken from the Litany to Mary and representing our Lord's Ephiphany, is a five-pointed symbol for the Star of Bethelem. In its creation, the emblem is meant to portray "divinity, supremacy, and the eternal. "The star is suggestive of a man, arms outstretched and standing, who is both true God and true man in one person." (*Clark, Jackson, Torbeck, Wichman, 1990)

*The symbolism of the windows was researched by students Vanessa Torbeck, Robert Wichman, Danette Clark, and Jeannette Jackson during the 1989-1990 academic year. They were guided by Professor William Schutzius, longtime
faculty member and colleague to Sr. Augusta Zimmer. Visit https://www.msj.edu/uploads/related_files/Mater_Dei_Chapel_window_symbols.pdf for a complete guide to symbols and explanations of the stained glass windows in Mater Dei Chapel.

Self-Guided Reflections

Each and every window tells a story about the scriptures through beautiful symbolic imagery that we can use to help us reflect in prayer. 

For more self-guided reflections on the stained-glass windows, click here.