Stories in Light: The Transept – The Body of the Edifice

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.

The transept arms, set at right angles to the nave, make the basilica cruciform, or cross-shaped. The transept windows are to be read following the advance of light throughout the day, beginning at the east end with the large Pentecost window and then proceeding to the four windows that line the transept. They conclude at the west end with the large Dormition of the Virgin window. (Chapter 4)

The Pentecost (Window 30) illustrates the manifestation of the Holy Spirit that began the age of the visible Church in the world: “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:1–3). (Chapter 4)

The Dormition of the Virgin (Window 29) is modeled on a 1540 stained glass window in the church L’Assomption de Notre-Dame, in Éve, France. The Éve window is based on the design of Francesco Primaticcio (1504–1570), a Renaissance painter and architect. The Carmel du Mans restored the Primaticcio window and must have made a serviceable drawing of the window at that time. The figures in the Notre Dame execution have halos, which are absent in the French window, but which were thought necessary in the missionary territory of Indiana. (Chapter 4)