Rooms With A View

Bapst Library's stained glass windows are part decoration, part encyclopedia

By Mark Sullivan
Staff Writer

Bapst Library was designed as a cathedral to learning, and thus the stained-glass windows that color the 71-year-old Gothic jewel of a building appear part church decoration, part encyclopedia.

But few in the Boston College community realize that Theodore Roosevelt, Lady Macbeth and Mark Twain are portrayed in the library's stained glass, let alone popes, painters, volcanoes and tidal waves.

Now, visitors to the Bapst Library World Wide Web site at http://www.bc.edu/bc_org/avp/ulib/bap/bapst.html can read an extensive guide to the remarkable stained-glass windows that, to the staff who work in Bapst each day, are as familiar as old friends.

In the grand second-floor reading room, Gargan Hall, where the windows represent the Jesuit curriculum of arts and sciences, sunlight glows red and blue through panes depicting the inventions of Leonardo da Vinci, the opening of Japan by Commodore Perry, and Lincoln freeing the slaves. One recent morning, a weary scholar dozed under a pane illustrating the first surgical use of ether, at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1846.

"My favorite comment about Gargan Hall came from a student," said Bapst Librarian Adeane Bregman. "She said, 'When I come here, I feel so smart.'"

"They always have life to them," said Bronwyn Lamont, administrative secretary in the chancellor's office on the second floor, whose desk sits under a window bearing totem-pole-like portraits of noted American political and literary figures. "Any time of day, in any type of weather, they're lit up and very pleasant to look at."
Lonergan Center Administrative/Editorial Assistant Kerry Cronin at her desk beneath the "Canterbury Tales" window in Bapst. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

In the nearby Lonergan Center, Administrative Assistant Kerry Cronin goes about her duties in the company of 29 stained-glass figures from Chaucer's Canterbury Tales , among them a Wife of Bath, a Sergeant of Law and a Doctor of Physick.

"People come in to look at them all the time," Cronin said. "In the late afternoon in early fall, with the sun streaming in, it's beautiful."

The imagery in the stained glass of Bapst Library - the University's main library for 56 years, named for the first president of Boston College, John Bapst, SJ - reflects a celebration of literacy, academic achievement and culture.

In a small room off Bregman's office on the first floor are housed the striking "Irish Windows" done by Irish artist Richard King and donated by library benefactors in 1952. Shimmering like Art Deco Christmas baubles, the windows feature intricately detailed renderings of Irish saints and Celtic deities vanquishing the forces of evil.

"I think they're a hidden treasure," said Bregman. "You can really meditate on these windows. Every time you look at them, there's something else you notice."

Above the broad twin staircases leading to Gargan Hall on the second floor are windows depicting scenes from Shakespeare's plays, including Antony & Cleopatra , The Merry Wives of Windsor and The Merchant of Venice .

On the north side of the building, in the Burns Library's British Catholic Authors Room, are windows bearing the crests of 54 Jesuit colleges and universities in the Americas.

Particularly notable are the windows by the Boston studio of Earl Sanborn that line the 14 study alcoves in Gargan Hall and form what has been called a Jesuit "syllabus in stained glass."

Bregman gave a recent visitor a tour of some of Gargan Hall's more distinctive panes, among them the astronomy panel with its "lovely" rendering of the zodiac; a panel of the modern language window bearing a tiny detail of a Gutenberg press, and the seismology pane depicting a volcano, a tidal wave and an earthquake.

She said her favorite is the meteorology pane that shows a sailing ship weathering a storm at sea while the god Neptune rides a dolphin.

"Each of these panels is just beautiful," she said. "I like discovering them all."

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