Church Buildings with Light

One of the main architectural features of churches, and one that I believe really defines the church atmosphere, is the way they incorporate natural light into their structure through windows. In Seattle, when I went to church with my host family, the walls on each side of the pews were lined with multi-colored stained glass windows. The light entered into the church in a soft array of colors, which produced a calming, happy, and relatively quiet atmosphere. Other churches I’ve been to use stained glass windows or other types of windows to create this same effect, which is why I now associate that atmosphere with churches. From my experience, the atmosphere created is very functional in the church, putting people in an appropriate mood for a church service or religious gathering.

While most churches that I’ve been to are very similar to what I just described, some churches use natural light in much more unique ways. Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Seattle incorporates windows that alternate in stripes of colorful glass, lining the entire church. The light that comes through the windows is then shown in a pattern of colors on the floor. The floor itself very plain, which I believe is on purpose, as the colorful patterns of light appear like artwork on the floor. The same atmosphere is achieved as in other churches, but this church’s design manages to create something more unique.


The Chapel of St. Basil in Houston does not have colored glass windows, but it has a different approach at incorporating natural light. This chapel draws light in from a slanted window in the ceiling, which shines light on a figure of Jesus, crucified on a across. Another window is also used to shine a cross of light on the adjoining wall. The light on the walls stands out from the rest of the building, which is made in very dark tones, incorporating dark furniture and dark flooring. The contrast draws attention to the figure of Jesus on the wall, again, creating a calming, quiet atmosphere. The way this church uses light is similar to that of The Church of light in Osaka, Japan, which incorporates a clear, cross-shaped window on the front wall, displaying the image of a cross made of light on the floor of the church. The cross of light runs the length of the church and is positioned perfectly in the center of the pews.


The way that churches incorporate light with windows creates the distinctive sacred and religious atmosphere of churches. This is quite different from Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines in Japan, because the insides of these buildings are comparatively dark to create a dignified, quiet, and humble atmosphere.



One comment

  1. Glass and the interpretation of light within a church has been an interest of mine from a young age sitting in the pews every Sunday with my parents. The way that light can just flow seamlessly into a church is something of a masterpiece in my mind. Stained glass windows are also the most common windows in many of the churches that I did attend in my younger years of life. Stained glass windows have also fascinated me within the church for the way that they create this almost always-beautiful mosaic depicting many of the major moments in the bible. Not only do they portray those images though, but they also still let light enter in the church in a less direct intensity compared to a normal double glazed window.

    The two main examples of churches that are brought up in this blog also begin to create a very interesting argument to the style and architecture of what a church should be. When many people are asked in the United States what a church should look like the answers would probably revolve around vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows, and wooden pews.

    The Chapel of St. Basil that is mentioned in this blog brings up a interesting new stance on what architecture in a church should resemble. Concrete is the dominating material and natural light with no fancy colors creates a much different atmosphere than the church described above.

    These two types of churches bring upon us the question of what constitutes a church and is either right or wrong? I believe that neither one is more right than the other, and each one has traits that make it applicable to the church setting. The question may be what kind of light do you want to portray?

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