Gargan Hall Stained Glass Windows Demystified

By Adeane Bregman

Language Alcove

Language Alcove
Photo by Gary Wayne Gilbert

A student once said, "I like to study Math and Biology in O'Neill, but there's nothing like Bapst, when it comes to History and English." Earl Edward Sanborn, the stained glass artist who created the windows in the Bapst Library, the original library of Boston College, might not have agreed. He designed windows for the fourteen alcoves in Gargan Hall, to include all courses in the curriculum of study found in Jesuit colleges and universities at the time the library was built.

Correspondence between Sanborn and then president, Father James H. Dolan dated in the 1920s and found in the University Archives of the John J. Burns Library, included the ongoing discussions of the subjects of the alcoves, but Sanborn had the last word on the execution of the themes, events and figures of the 168 windows, comprising 3500 square feet of glass. The twelve windows or lancets in each alcove follow the same outline or arrangement of four windows across and three windows down. Two windows, in the middle of every top row, display figures bearing shields with the title and subject of the alcove. Three windows on each side are filled with famous figures and the four windows underneath contain illustrative events and important milestones.

So on the College Road side of Gargan Hall, students studying Religion, can sit under the figures of Adam and Eve, those studying Communication (then known as Oratory) can be inspired by Daniel Webster, English majors (Poetry and Drama) can view The Frogs by Aristophanes, and DaVinci's The Last Supper graces the Fine Arts alcove.

Last Supper

The Last Supper
Photo by Gary Wayne Gilbert

On the St. Mary's side of the Hall students majoring in the "Useful Arts" can spread their laptops under the watchful eye of Archimedes. Abraham Lincoln can be seen signing the Emancipation Proclamation for the political science folks. Pre-med majors are encouraged by the first use of ether as an anesthesia at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston in 1846 by Dr. William G. Morton.

As a matter of fact, after the Thomas P. O'Neill Library opened in 1984, the Bapst Library was renovated, and when it reopened in 1986, Gargan Hall housed all the reserve readings and "the Most Used Books Collection," shelved according to Alcove number. Today, no matter what your major, there is a place for you in one of the 220 seats in Gargan Hall 24 hours a day, five days a week and on weekends.

Further information about the stained glass can be found in the new book, Transforming Light: The Stained Glass Windows of Boston College by Virginia Raguin and Gary Wayne Gilbert available for loan at the Bapst Library or for sale at the BC Bookstore. A slide show of some of the windows can be seen at

Adeane Bregman, Bapst Art Librarian, Bapst Library