Light has filtered through the stained-glass adorning Boe Chapel for around 60 years now. The multi-colored windows have shone gently down on worshippers, visitors, and passersby alike, illuminating them for a brief moment before watching as they slip quietly out into the world. Although they have a timeless quality about them, the windows are not yet very old in the grand scheme of things — nor are they free of the fingerprints of those who brought them to life.
Conceived and designed by a committee of religion faculty and other college luminaries including then-President Clemens M. Granskou ’17, the designing of the windows was a highly involved, years-long process stretching from roughly 1953-1961, with intermittent revision even after the windows had been installed. The project involved a delicate balance of technical, artistic, and theological concerns and was infused with a sense of the College’s religious spirit. This spirit expressed itself both in a high-minded concern for scholarly accuracy and in a simpler, gentler piety. The interplay between the two is reflected in the contrast between an architect’s reverent enquiry as to whether “some indication of our Lord’s wounds would be appropriate” in a certain window and Granskou’s decision to omit writing on Moses’s stone tablets because of “a divergence of opinion among scholars as to the division of the ten commandments.”
Looming above these smaller details is the grander story of the expansion of the Church and the progress of global evangelism — in Granskou’s words the role of “divine guidance in the development of the christian church” — which stretches across the west wall of the Chapel and culminates in St. Olaf’s founding. In a fashion somewhat unusual for the time, colored glass was used to portray varying skin tones, reportedly a self-conscious effort to avoid an artificially all-white vision of history. Randolph E. Haugen, the manager of a Minneapolis publishing house and advisor to Granskou, emphasized that the the native representatives of India, China, and Africa should be the “chief character[s]” in the window portraying the global spread of the church, placed conspicuously above the noted missionaries with which they share the panel.
These details are however only apparent upon a closer inspection of the Chapel’s windows. The position of the congregant between the two swaths of history, the biblical and the modern, and beneath the looming figure of Christ resurrected in the north and transfigured in the south, expresses something which is perhaps closer to the broader message the windows’ creators wished to convey. Granskou calls this vision the “Story of Salvation” — an ordered and purposeful vision of history, building towards the ultimate triumph of the Christian faith. Although this vision has receded from prominence in the modern life of the College, it speaks to a perpetual human desire to imagine one’s life as a part of a grander universal history. At the very least the jewel-like windows of Boe offer a comforting reminder that we need not resign ourselves to an unknowable, featureless future. We can, as those who came before us did, dream beyond ourselves and our own time, bequeathing our hopes and aspirations to those who follow after.