Stained glass was used in European Christian churches by the third or fourth century a.d. The art of stained glass flowered in the 12th century with the rise of the Gothic cathedral. Today only 10% of all stained glass is used in churches and other religious buildings; the rest are used in residential and industrial architecture. Though stained glass has traditionally been used in windows, its use has expanded to lamp shades, Christmas ornaments, and even simple suncatchers a hobbyist can make.
Stained glass has had various levels of popularity throughout history. The 12th and 13th centuries in Europe have been designated as the Golden Age of Stained Glass. However, during the Renaissance period, stained glass was replaced with painted glass, and by the 18th century it was rarely, if ever, used or made according to medieval methods. During the second half of the 19th century, European artists rediscovered how to design and work glass according to medieval principles, and large quantities of stained glass windows were made.
In America, the stained glass movement began with William Jay Bolton, who made his first window for a church in New York in 1843. But he was to be in the business for only six or seven years before returning to his native England. No other American practiced the art professionally until Louis Comfort Tiffany and John La Farge began working with stained glass near the end of the 19th century. In fact, the art of stained glass in the United States languished until the 1870s, and did not undergo a true revival until the turn of the century. At this time, American architects and glassmen journeyed to Europe to study medieval glass windows, returning to create similar art forms and new designs in their own studios.
A leaded stained glass window or other object is made of pieces of glass, held together by lead. The pieces of glass are about 1/8-inch (3.2 mm) thick and bound together by strips, called “cames” of grooved lead, then soldered at the joints (or in hobby glass copper foiled wrapping thin copper around the edge of each piece then soldered along the edges). The entire window is secured in the opening at regular intervals by metal saddle bars tied with wire and soldered to the leads and reinforced at greater intervals by tee-bars fitted into the masonry. A faceted glass panel differs slightly from traditional leaded stained glass in that it is made up of pieces of slab (dalle) glass approximately 8 inches square, or in large rectangular sizes, varying in thickness from 1-2 inches (2.5-5 cm). These slabs are not held together with lead; rather they are embedded in a matrix of concrete, epoxy, or plastic.