Another symbol intended to help prepare us for the great beyond is the stained glass window. Does this come as a surprise? In the mid-1100s, Abbot Suger of the Abbey of St. Denis (the royal abbey of France) believed that the presence of beautiful objects would lift men’s’ souls closer to God. This medium for artistic religious expression arose when substantial church building began back in ninth century Europe. By the 10th century, depictions of Christ and biblical scenes were found in French and German churches and decorative designs were found in England. The images “BVM” and “Stained Glass” were made from mausoleums in a Queens, NY cemetery.
When I first began photographing in cemeteries, the workers were rather suspicious. At times, I had to show identification, sign papers, or was asked to leave! As I got into discussions with the caretakers I came to find out that “vandalism” didn’t just mean kids running through the grounds knocking over tombstones. Old historic cemeteries are on guard against something different. People have been known to photographic valuable sculptures or Tiffany stained glass in mausoleums, so that someone could come back at night and steal the item! Gives new meaning to the term “grave robber.” Tiffany windows were passe by the 1940’s and went unnoticed until the 1970’s. One sold at Christie’s Auction for $662,500 in 1999.
On March 10, 2000, Alastair Duncan, expert on Tiffany stained glass, was sentenced to 27 months in prison for conspiring with a Queens grave robber and antiques dealer to pilfer rare stained-glass windows from cemetery mausoleums and sell them overseas
The results of such crime can be seen in the two images to the left. Apparently the graffiti artist believes in an afterlife (we can only hope that at some point he’ll become intimately involved with these characters).
In another (more closely guarded) cemetery across town in Philadelphia, we can see a similar mausoleum in better repair. This is its window, photographed from the inside. A similarly shaped stained glass was no doubt stolen from the blocked-up one. The ornate bronze doors appear to be targets for theft as well.