Posted by: Brian | November 23, 2009

Windows From the Past

Small fragment of a stained glass window.

In archaeology, we often like to describe our finds as providing a ‘window into the past’. Our excavation at the Hamline Church site this week has literally given us a ‘window from the past’ – actually parts of two windows, both found within minutes of each other. The first window came from inside the church. It’s essentially a snarl of lead with a little stained glass. The second window came from the entryway. This one is in better shape, but is only a part of a window. Although much of the glass is missing, there is enough so we can document a bit of the pattern – red next to blue next to green. It’s a very cool find.

Stained glass window in entry (next to the trowel).

Hamline Methodist Church from a 1921 Postcard

I’ve always been fascinated with the church’s Rose windows. In the black and white photographs of the church, the Rose window’s are dramatic architectural features. They must have been beautiful, especially when lit by sunshine. One of the questions I’ve always had was about their colors and patterns, qualities that are difficult to determine from the existing documents. The stained glass shards we found in 2007 and again this year provide some insight about the colors. Finding actual windows, even if only as fragments, offer us an even better understanding of the church. I can’t say for sure that we’ve uncovered parts of a Rose window. Our finds could easily be from another of the church’s stained glass windows. Still, our excavations are slowly bringing color to the black and white photographs. The window fragments are giving us a glimpse of pattern. Even the clear window glass is of value. The ratio of clear to stained glass will help us determine the overall number of stained glass windows – especially for the unphotographed parts of the church.

The stained glass window fragment found inside the church's west entryway.

This year’s excavations have far exceeded my hopes for the class. We’ve battled through week’s of bad weather. We’ve moved several cubic meters of sand and gravel. We’ve answered questions about Old Main and neighborhood backyards. And now we’re digging through a rich layer of burned building. Each day we make new discoveries. Each day we find bits and pieces of the church from 85 years ago. Unfortunately we’re running out of time. I’ve never dug in December before, so I feel like our fieldwork could be brought to a halt at any moment now. We worked Saturday to try to get a bit more done. Few students joined me (Adam, Serri, Matt, and Forest) which meant that I actually dug and screened instead of supervising. I had a blast. I love doing fieldwork. I really love excavating. Even screening was fun. Every bucket of dirt was filled with dozens of colorful shards of stained glass. I found so much window glass on Saturday that when I went to sleep that night my dreams were filled with bright colors – bits of treasure seemingly without end. They were good dreams.

Cat displaying the result of screening the burned layer.

Lauren excavating the first window found.

Lauren excavating the first window we found.

Josh holding the first window

Gao and Shakira excavating the second window - the lead strips are barely visible inside the entryway.

Stained Glass Shards



  1. Brian – I love the way you are documenting your dig on a blog! I wish all archaeologists did this. It really makes your work far more accessible to the public. Keep it up!

    Also, I will add that I try and do the same thing and I have pasted a link to the Alutiiq Museum website where we documented our summer excavation.

    We got to put the pressure on our colleagues to do the same! Patrick

  2. Hey, Brian,

    I was wondering if you have any information on the artist who might have created or designed the stained glass window.


  3. No idea on the stained glass artist, but the architect who designed the church was Clarence Johnston.

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