Wellesley College's Houghton Memorial Chapel was completed in 1899, but not all of the chapel's stained glass windows were finished at that time. Last week, one of six new windows created as part of the final phase of the chapel restoration and renovation project was installed. I had the pleasure of watching the historic installation -- which, as it turns out, was historically significant for many reasons.
“It’s historic and exciting in its own right to have new windows created for a 100-plus year old building, but it’s the subject matter of this window that makes this a remarkable moment for Wellesley and higher education,” said Victor Kazanjian, Dean of Intercultural Education and Religious and Spiritual Life at Wellesley College.
“This is Wellesley's first truly multicultural and multireligious window, and it is one of the very few images of a non-white figure and also of multifaith symbols portrayed in stained glass on any college or university campus,” Kazanjian said.
The new window, called "Veritas" ("Truth"), was installed along side "Fidelitas" ("Loyalty"), which was dedicated in 1925, and "Sapientia" ("Wisdom"), dedicated in 1939. The figure in the upper portion of “Veritas” holds “the light of truth” styled as one of Wellesley's iconic lanterns. The window also depicts the three keys to the college, which are given to Wellesley presidents during their inauguration. The keys were identified by Wellesley College President Mildred McAfee Horton (1939-1949) at her inauguration in 1936 as the keys to the Library, College Hall and the Chapel, and are symbolic of the means of "opening the doors of higher intellectual, spiritual and community life."
The lower section of “Veritas” is a depiction of the circle of symbols representing different religious, spiritual and humanistic beliefs set around the "world tree of knowledge." The quote beneath is from President McAfee Horton and reads, "The day we learn that differences do not necessarily involve discriminatory evaluations vast problems of human relations will be solvable."
The symbols from the middle top and moving clockwise represent Buddhist, Jewish, Muslim, Jain, Zoroastrian, Pagan, African Spiritual Traditions, Baha’i, Native American and Indigenous Peoples' Spiritual Traditions, Unitarian Universalist, Hindu, Humanist/Secular/Agnostic/Atheist, Sikh, and Christian traditions.
Mari E. Wright '60 of St. Petersburg, Florida, donated the window in memory of her aunt, Ruth Peck Noone, class of 1915, and her grandmother, Margaret Peck Wright, who would have graduated with the class of 1912 but left college before graduating to get married.
“She wanted someone to finish for her," Wright said about her grandmother. "From the day I was born, my grandmother talked to me about my responsibility to go to Wellesley,” Wright continued. “What Victor [Kazanjian] is doing here really touches my heart.”
The window was designed by a committee that included Kazanjian, members of Wellesley's facilities management & planning and philanthropic giving teams, Adjunct Assistant Professor of Art and Professor Emeritus John Rhodes, and Assistant Professor of Art Daniela Rivera.
Veritas has 607 pieces of glass, each one of them hand painted and fired in a kiln at temperatures between 900º and 1200º Fahrenheit. The overall dimensions are 37 inches wide by 129 inches tall. It was fabricated and installed by Serpentino Stained Glass, Inc., of Needham.
Roberto Rosa of Serpentino Stained Glass says the installation process has stayed the same for hundreds of years. “Nothing has changed since Medieval times,” Rosa said. “The glass is the same, the lead is the same, it’s the same tools – today we just have electricity.”
Houghton Chapel window repair and renovation projects have been underway for several decades. The generous support of Wellesley Alumnae Marilee Wheeler '55, Patricia Kopf Colaguiri '55, Mari E. Wright '60, Sally Mauger-Veil '61, and Bunny Winter '70, have made the last phase of the installation and renovation project possible over the last 12 years.
Now only three of the placeholder windows, which still sport yellow builders’ glass, have yet to be completed. The committee is working on the final windows.