During the 12th and 13th centuries, the solid symmetry of Romanesque architecture slowly gave way to the lofty Gothic style. The goal of Gothic building was to add height and light to the cathedral. As the vaults of churches across Europe lifted skyward, their skeletal frames of stone were designed to be ever more slender. The almost fantastic vaults and buttresses gave these houses of worship more upward lift and opened the walls for great expanses of glass that became the hallmark of this period.
Stained glass replaced the wall frescos of the Romanesque period as vehicles to illustrate and share the teachings of old and new testaments. Wealthy families donated windows to the cathedral as memorials, often with illustrations of the donors woven into the biblical stories – a practice that continued to modern times. The glazier became as important as the mason in the guilds of the day.
The religious wars and revolutions that raged across Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries created a period of major destruction to the stained glass monuments. Many windows of Catholic icons were destroyed during the Protestant era, and the glass studios themselves were often destroyed in religious protest.
Finally at the end of the nineteenth century a revival of interest in all things Gothic began in England and spread across Europe and to the United States. This movement, a reaction to the cheap machine made goods flooding the markets by the Industrial Revolution, held the individual craftsman in highest regard. A move towards naturalism and organic shapes found its voice in the Art Nouveau movement. Artists such as William Morris in England, and Louis Comfort Tiffany and John LaFarge in the United States again created masterworks in glass and lead.
Rochester is the home of many of these beautiful windows. Third Presbyterian Church is well known for fine examples of master stained glass windows from the late-nineteenth and twentieth centuries.