By H.M. Cauley
The first Sunday of the month is always a special one at The Cathedral of St. Philip in Buckhead — particularly if the sun is shining.
That’s the day church volunteer Ken Brownlee takes visitors and members on a tour of the building’s stained glass windows. The rich, deep jewel tones of blues, reds, golds, tans, greens, oranges and more are always a captivating sight, but with the natural light illuminating them, they become historical works of art.
Brownlee, who lives in Sandy Springs, has made the cathedral’s windows a personal specialty. He’s been giving tours for about 15 years. Several years ago, he wrote a detailed account of each window’s history and symbolism as a Lenten project. The detailed missive, complete with illustrations, highlights the art of the windows created by the Willet Stained Glass Studios of Philadelphia.
But it’s much more fun to listen to Brownlee tell the windows’ stories in person. He highlights his tales with humorous anecdotes told in a variety of accents.
“There are so many stories in them that you can see the windows many times and not take it all in,” said Brownlee.
Throughout the main part of the cathedral, visitors are surrounded by colored glass, from the enormous rose window looking down from the loft area to the rows of five windows on either side of the main aisle. Twelve windows, one for each apostle, wrap around the altar and two gigantic windows are recessed to the right and left.
Tours on first Sundays
Ken Brownlee offers tours of the stained glass windows in the Cathedral of St. Philip on the first Sunday of each month immediately after the 8:45 and 11:15 a.m. services, or by request. For more information, contact the cathedral 404-365-1000, or visit stphilipscathedral.org.
Each window boasts myriad images, symbols, faces and signs that connect to the history of the Episcopal Church and to the cathedral itself. Finding the horned Moses, the chalice of snakes and several Indians is a sort of treasure hunt.
“There is so much to find in the designs that it is almost like a hunt,” said Brownlee, who uses a laser pointer to pick out individual highlights in each window.
His tours aren’t limited to just the main cathedral. There is also plenty to see in the St. Francis chapel and in the Mikell chapel, where 10 windows depict stories from Biblical parables. There’s also a display of three windows taken from one of the church’s first structures. They date from the 1860s.
Keeping the windows’ colors in pristine condition is no small undertaking. “We have a perpetual window fund that pays for having them taken out and thoroughly cleaned every few years,” said Brownlee.
With seven services taking place in the main sanctuary and one of the three chapels every Sunday, many don’t take the time to linger in appreciation of the intricacy and beauty the windows reflect.
“They really are spectacular,” said Brownlee, who has been a cathedral member since 1984. “I’m always ready to show them off.”