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New windows let light shine through on Bowen Island

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The back sanctuary wall of St. Gerard's Church on Bowen Island has a new triptych of stained-glass windows. Photo by Josie Farrell / Special to The B.C. Catholic.Present and former parishioners rallied to replace glass
By Jim Wright
Special to The B.C. Catholic

VANCOUVER--Not long ago, when St. Gerard's Church on Bowen Island had to replace its sanctuary wall, simple but distinctive windows were added.

Where there was just a square window, there is now a trio of windows that are arched and much larger. The four panes of the central window are joined together by a full-height cross.

The lancet-arch shape of the new windows is like that of not only the church itself, but also the rectory, which is visible from the church through the windows. The panes are clear glass, but stained glass and slats of wood have been overlaid on parts of them.

Judith McBride conceived the abstract design for the overlay. Michel ParÇ and others developed the concept with her and gave it form.

"The design," Judith said, "is rooted in our Christian understanding of the great truths of the death and resurrection of Jesus as depicted by artists through the centuries."

Particular inspiration came from a Station of the Cross in an ultra-modern church in Umbria, Italy, and a stained-glass window by Arcabas, a contemporary French artist, in a chapel near Grenoble, France.

The centre-window mosaic of coloured blocks suggests the hill of Golgotha, with smaller crosses of the two thieves beside the central cross of Jesus.

A strong line begins at the base of the left window and angles up past the crossbar of the centre window. It prompts thoughts of the reed that held a sponge filled with sour wine in response to Jesus's "I thirst," the spear used to wound Jesus's side to prove He was dead, and a ladder to take the body of Jesus down from the cross.

At the bottom, a circular shape connects the centre and right windows, giving the perception that a whole circle is there, though it is largely unseen. "It anchors us in the reality of the empty tomb, the resurrection, and the Eucharistic Body of Christ," said ParÇ.

The main crucifix used to be on the sanctuary wall. It is now suspended above the altar and illuminated by a spotlight. Although the crucifix is eight feet in front of the windows, there is a sense of oneness.

That unity also brings the community's new sacred art together with the old. The crucifix was sculpted by a St. Gerard's founder, Harry Wright, when the church was going up in 1971. He carved it, entirely in one piece, from a cedar driftwood log from the Bowen shore.

Below the new windows is a wooden tabernacle crafted by the church's first priest, Father GÇrard Beauregard.

The Stations of the Cross were painted by another early member of the St. Gerard's community, Camilla Roberts, and new cedar frames bring out their quality.

The pioneers who produced the church's first art have died, but the stained-glass triptych is a reminder that the community involves them too.

Besides a strong core of Bowen residents, it also involves seasonal islanders and members who have moved away. The windows project exemplified that; a key donation came from a couple who now live in Ontario.

The people of St. Gerard's invite visitors to join them for Sunday Mass at 10:30 a.m. and a chat over free coffee and cookies afterwards.

St. Gerard's, a chapel on the edge of a forest, is easy to spot at the corner of Miller and Melmore Roads. As well, one can drop in online at, which draws visits from most continents each month.
Jim Wright is a seasonal Bowen Islander and long-time member of the St. Gerard's community.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 April 2011 08:43  

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