|In Your Midst||
Angels Accompanied Us
Remembering Hans Gottfried von Stockhausen, 1920-2010
On January 8, an important member of our community passed away. Though he lived far away in the small town of Buoch near Stuttgart in Germany, and visited St. James Cathedral only twice, Hans Gottfried von Stockhausen knew and loved this Cathedral parish, and expressed that love in the wonderful stained glass windows he created for the Cathedral.
Stockhausen—whose work in stained-glass spanned six decades, with major works in churches and public spaces throughout Germany and beyond—got his start as an artist in the aftermath of World War II. As a young POW in the British camp at Tumilad in the Egyptian desert, Stockhausen began to draw: pen and ink sketches of memories from childhood, and of his immediate surroundings: the camp with his fellow prisoners and guards, the arid landscape. Back in Germany, his work came to the attention of Rudolf Yelin, a teacher of stained glass at the State Academy of Fine Arts in Stuttgart. Yelin offered to take Stockhausen on as a student in 1947. In the years following World War II, a great number of churches in Germany were being rebuilt or restored, and this influenced Stockhausen’s decision to work in the field of stained glass.
Stockhausen’s connection with St. James Cathedral began in 1993. Father Ryan was in search of a stained glass artist to complete the Cathedral’s east apse windows. The removal of the old high altar at the time of the renovation revealed that the 1918 windows by Charles Connick filled only the upper half of each of the three east apse windows—the bottom half of each window had simply been plastered in. New glass would be needed to complete the windows, and Stockhausen was surely the right artist for the job.
But Stockhausen did not accept the commission right away. He
wanted to visit the Cathedral and experience the community before saying
yes. He wrote to Father Ryan in November, 1993: “For me it
is most important to have my personal impression of the Cathedral—the
atmosphere—the light, etc, and above all to have the dialog with you.”
“When I asked him what made him so sure that this was the story the
windows should tell, he told me that during his few days here at St.
James he had watched people acting out this parable all day long—at the
Family Kitchen, the overnight shelter, in the care of the sick and
elderly and imprisoned. Then he said, ‘I would like the windows to
remind everyone who comes here of where Jesus waits to be found—in the
least of our brothers and sisters—in the love we give them.’”
In August, he was finally able to see the windows assembled and displayed at the Mayer Studio. The new roundels had to be incorporated into the existing field glass. (“You see it’s all a long process—also of teamwork between the Mayer Studio and me,” Stockhausen explained.) He commented on the central East Apse window, the Baptism window: “I think this window is the high point—special in the composition—the moving from the top to the ground, and the growing from the seed. I heard a lot of friendly compliments, especially from the workers out of the studio.”
That evening, he remained alone in the studio with windows as the last of the evening light faded from the sky. “These windows are a bit like a dream—if you think just one year ago we didn’t know one another,” he wrote to Father Ryan. “But I hope that the windows now speak their own language, do a service in the Cathedral—the windows could be a thankful remembering of a happy dialog, in the spirit of Soli Deo Gloria—to God alone be the glory.”
Stockhausen was able to be present for the rededication of the Cathedral and the blessing of the new windows in December, 1994. Home again, he reflected on the grace of those days. “The few days at Seattle had a such high weight in my remembering. This ‘old year’ was one of the richest in my life. It seems angels accompanied us. The light of the Cathedral—the happiness of the days of Blessing—Dedication—the music—all the people who are pleased about the new-old room… It was a great thing for me to be invited for these days—to see the result of all the work. Such a warm reaction—so much people with kindly words—and to feel that behind all this was more—the common feeling—we all need the blessing of God.”
In the years following the renovation, Father Ryan remained closed to Stockhausen and to his wife, Ada Isensee (a noted artist in her own right). In 1998, another beautiful work by Stockhausen came to bless the Cathedral—the beloved “Seattle Madonna,” which has its home in the Cathedral’s south sacristy. This past October, Father Ryan once again visited Stockhausen at his home. “The visit was a bitter-sweet,” Father Ryan remembers. “I joined Hans and his wife, Ada, for dinner at a nearby restaurant and then we returned home and talked long into the evening, reminiscing about how we first met and how what could have been no more than a business relationship grew into a wonderful friendship. I reminded him of visits we had made together to German villages and towns, always stopping to see windows he had done in the local church. He spoke of his love for Seattle and St. James and of the wonderful people he met here. And woven into his words were unspoken ones that told me he was preparing to make the great journey Home.” As he bid goodbye to Stockhausen at the train station in Buoch, they both knew it was for the last time.
Stockhausen never described himself as a ‘church artist,’ but he saw his art as part of “the tradition of dialogue with the Bible in which Western art had engaged for centuries.” The windows he created for St. James Cathedral are not just beautiful artifacts—they are themselves an invitation to dialogue. They challenge us to come to terms with our baptismal identity, to find ourselves in the Gospel, and to find Jesus in those we serve. In a certain sense, these windows challenge us to become windows: to let the light of Christ shine in our lives.
May perpetual light shine upon him!
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