10 Breathtaking Stained-Glass Windows

Rainbows of light

Photo: BIll Perry/ Shutterstock

Found in houses of worship, government buildings and sometimes just structures built with unique art elements, stained-glass windows often portray biblical scenes, geometric patterns or even random designs. Typically made from glass that has been colored with metallic salt, stained-glass windows appeared on the early churches during the 4th and 5th centuries. Some windows are more modern, like this rose window, completed in 1924 in Saint Peter and Paul Catholic Church in San Francisco, California. Here are some of the most gorgeous examples of stained glass from around the world.

Sainte-Chapelle: Paris, France

Photo: Jean-Christophe Benoist/Wikimedia Commons

The 15 huge stained-glass windows in this Gothic chapel on Paris’ central Ile de la Cité depict scenes from both the Old and New Testaments. The 6,458 square feet of mostly red and blue glass depict 1,130 biblical figures, reports The Guardian, and recently underwent a painstaking seven-year renovation. The chapel was built in the 1240s and included the 50-foot tall windows. A stained-glass rose window was added a century later.

Notre Dame Cathedral: Paris, France

Photo: Brandi/flickr

The famous Parisian cathedral has three rose windows. The south rose window, shown here, is made of 84 panes divided into four circles. It depicts various biblical images including apostles, bishops, angels and martyrs, as well as various scenes from both the Old and New Testaments. The window was constructed around 1260 and beautifully restored in the 18th century. Although Notre Dame Cathedral was severely damaged by a fire in April 2019, all three rose windows were reportedly saved.

Avery Coonley Estate: Riverside, Illinois

Photo: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Frank Lloyd Wright added more than 30 stained-glass windows to the playhouse of the Avery Coonley Estate in a suburb of Chicago, which he designed in 1907. Each was slightly different and all were geometric, featuring bright primary colors. That was a departure from Wright's earlier designs, which were primarily based in nature. These designs could have been inspired by a parade with the colored glass simulating balloons, flags and confetti.

Chapel of Thanks-Giving: Dallas, Texas

Photo: Alicia Lee/flickr

The Glory Window is in the Chapel of Thanks-Giving in downtown Dallas. The chapel is part of a three-acre complex that also includes a garden and museum, dedicated to how Thanksgiving is celebrated around the world. The chapel's spiral exterior was designed by world-famous architect Philip Johnson and the captivating interior spiral of 73 stained-glass panels was created by French artist Gabriel Loire.

Grossmünster Cathedra: Zurich, Switzerland

Photo: Graeme Churchard/flickr

German artist Sigmar Polke completed 12 modern stained-glass windows for this Zurich cathedral in 2009, just before he died. Although the windows look conventional, seven of them were created with thin slices of agate. Polke was nicknamed "the Alchemist" for his interest in working with and combining unconventional materials.

Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision: Hilversum

Photo: Hans Splinter/flickr

The building that houses the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision features a very modern take on stained glass. According to designers Neutelings Riedijk Architects, the building's facade is a screen of colored relief glass that depicts famous images from Dutch television. They are a composition by graphic designer Jaap Drupsteen.

Siena Cathedral: Siena, Italy

Photo: Johan Haggi/flickr

Created by Pastorino de Pastorini, the stained-glass round window high in the choir area of this medieval church was made in 1288 and depicts the Last Supper of Christ from the New Testament. The work is considered to be one of the earliest remaining examples of Italian stained glass.

Winchester Cathedral: Winchester, England

Photo: Tony Hisgett/flickr

The original huge west window in this church, one of the largest cathedrals in England, was deliberately smashed by troops during the English Civil War in 1642. When the monarchy was restored in 1660, the broken pieces were gathered up and put together randomly, with no attempt to recreate the original images.

Blue Mosque: Istanbul, Turkey

Photo: Quinn Dombrowski/flickr

The Sultan Ahmed Mosque in Istanbul is popularly known as the Blue Mosque for the blue tiles that cover its interior walls. In addition to the beautiful stained-glass windows, this mosque is special because it's one of only two in Turkey that has six minarets. Minarets are tall towers from which the faithful are called to prayer five times a day.

St. Nicolaaskerk Church: Amsterdam

Photo: Gary Ullah/flickr

This Amsterdam basilica has two towers with a gorgeous rose window in between. The baroque dome has a stained-glass inner shell that was recently restored. Built in the 1880s, the church is likely the best known of the "new" Amsterdam churches. Opposite the Amsterdam Central Railway Station, the church is named for St. Nicholas, the patron saint of the city.