Though it may seem at times that symbolism is used to the detriment of clarity, symbolism is the life blood of the artist’s effort to depict a Christian truth. The artist using a media, be it painting. Sculpture, or glass work, must portray in a visual manner something that cannot easily be defined.
The clerestory window at the front of the church is a good example of this dilemma confronting the artist. The window is made of thick, colored faceted glass interlaced with supporting trusses. Its theme is Pentecost. It might have been simpler to have shown the Twelve Apostles with the tongues of fire on their heads, but this does not show what Pentecost should mean to the parishioner living in Bethel Park.
How did the artist putting this glass together convey his thoughts on the Pentecostal event? The only method open to him was through symbolism. The parishioner looking closely will see figures representing people confined in an ichthus or fish, symbolic of Christianity, and a crown, a fire, doves and a cross. As the artist saw it, the Holy Spirit working in our midst helps us to attain a better spiritual life. The seven doves are representatives of His gifts to man and they point out the gifts of the Holy Spirit that are given in the sacraments. The fire signifies the fire of His love which envelopes those who respond to the Holy Spirit’s graces and become completely inflamed with zeal for the Kingdom of God. The crown which is at the top signifies the glory of God which is to be shared by the people of God.
As the sunlight strikes the clerestory window, the cross glows with the holocaust of redemption. The cross, an instrument of death, will bring to us eternal life – those who follow the way of the cross find death to sin and the path to life everlasting. The cross glowing in the holocaust of redemption is like metal purified in fire with a radiance like those who accept the graces of the Holy Spirit and become fortified enough to follow Him. Those who persevere to the end find that it is really the beginning of a new life.
The Holy Spirit is made known by the action of men, while the actions of men are made fruitful by His internal workings. To the artist then, the symbolism he put into the window means that the movement of the graces of the Holy Spirit in men through the new covenant of Christ and through the birth of the Church at Pentecost helps the people of God to attain the Kingdom of God.
Stained glass windows such as the sixteen in the nave of Saint Valentine Church are ready subjects for expression of Christian symbolism through an enduring art that dates back to the ancient Greeks. A parishioner standing in front of the baptistery has eight beautiful stained glass windows on his right and eight on his left. The symbolism behind the image on each window follows a central theme of Christ giving himself to all mankind.
The windows on the right, from the rear toward the altar, have several images and meanings. The staff signifies that Christ is our shepherd who feeds His flock. A boat shows that Christ is with us on our journey toward the shores of eternity where His Father dwells. An olive branch symbolizes the peace with which Christ fills us, a peace no man can take from us. The harp symbolizes the song of joy that sings in our hearts over the resurrection of Christ. The grapes mean that Christ is our vine and we are the branches who are to bring forth the good fruit. A Eucharistic cup signifies that Christ is the food of our life at the spiritual banquets held within these walls. Calvary shows us the love of Christ who gave His life so that we may have life everlasting with Him and His Father. A shield symbolizes that Christ is our shield of faith and that we must carry this shield as a protection against the enemies of faith.
The windows on the left, starting from the rear, follow the same theme. The censer symbolizes Christ as our prayer, burning within us constantly and lifting us toward the perfection of God. The sword signifies that Christ is the sword of truth in the battle for everlasting life, and it also signifies that He has brought us a sword in the form of Christianity, an increasingly difficult religion to live as it should be. The wisdom lamp shows that He fulfills our growth before God and man. The crown means that Christ is our king and source of glory in the Kingdom of His Father. The fountain signifies that Christ fulfills our thirst for the graces which are the life-giving waters for our souls. The wheat symbolizes that He is our life which is stored in His barn, and that He is the bread of Heaven. The candle recalls to us that Christ is the light to be seen by all and followed into eternal happiness, and the anchor means that He is our hope, a safe harbor in the troubled seas of life.