Stories in Light: The Narthex – The Vestibule of the Basilica

The Basilica of the Sacred Heart at the University of Notre Dame contains one of the largest collections of late nineteenth-century French stained glass outside of France. Stories in Light by Cecilia Davis Cunningham and Nancy Cavadini describes the windows according to their location in the building, from the narthex at the entrance to the Lady Chapel behind the altar. More than 100,000 visitors tour the basilica each year to admire its architecture. Today, the Notre Dame Press brings the Basilica to you.

In celebration of the Advent season, the Press brings you a seven-part series to tell the unique story of the stained-glass windows – the improbable creation of a glassworks by cloistered Carmelite nuns in LeMans, France.


When visitors open the central southern doors of the basilica, they enter a vestibule called the narthex, which leads into the main body of the church. In many church buildings, murals in the narthex or sculpture above the outer central doors often depicted the Last Judgment, reminding those who entered of the final realities of life. The first set of stained glass windows in Notre Dame’s basilica, in keeping with this traditional focus, offer a brief reflection on Purgatory and the Last Judgment. (Chapter 2)


The first set of stained glass windows in Notre Dame’s basilica, in keeping with this traditional focus, offer a brief reflection on Purgatory and the Last Judgment. The first window, Purgatory, is an east window, where the first light of day shines (Window 44, installed 1876). Purifying flames surround a group of naked adults and gather them into a community. An angel hovers above them, holding aloft the Eucharist. (Chapter 2)


In the western window of the narthex, where the last light of day shines, is the second window, The Last Judgment (Window 43, installed 1876). A clothed and disparate group of adults gather. An angel, again midway up the window, is pulling on the hand of someone outside the window. The trumpet has sounded, and the angel has set the trumpet down on the body of a writer who has a quill pen perched on his ear. A hand reaches up into the window, grasps the white undone tie around the writer’s neck, and pulls him down into the flames. (Chapter 2)