Where Is the World’s Largest Marian Stained-Glass Window? You Might Be Surprised…

Here’s a hint: It’s not in Europe

This large stained-glass window stands in St. Mary's Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington, Kentucky
This large stained-glass window stands in St. Mary's Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington, Kentucky (photo: Shutterstock)

The largest handmade stained glass church window in the world that depicts Mary, the Mother of God, is in [choose one]: (1) Cologne, Germany; (2) The Vatican; (3) Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris; or (4) Covington, Kentucky.

If you guessed the Vatican, you’re wrong. That distinction goes to a church right here on American soil, the Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption in Covington, Kentucky.

The cathedral’s north transept window, measuring 67 feet in length by 24 feet wide, includes two images: The upper portion depicts the Coronation of Mary, after she is assumed into heaven. The lower half depicts the Council of Ephesus, the ecumenical council which, in the early fifth century, proclaimed Mary as “Theotokos” — the God-bearer or the Mother of God.

This is no small potatoes! In the fifth century, some theologians — Nestorius prominent among them — began to teach that Mary was the Mother of Jesus, but not of God. Nestorius debated the unity of Christ’s natures, saying that Mary gave birth to his human nature but not his divine nature.

Pope Celestine disagreed, asserting that Jesus’ two natures — fully God and fully man — could not be divided. Supported in his teaching by St. Cyril of Alexandria, Pope Celestine convened an ecumenical council at Ephesus, Mary’s place of residence in her old age, to discuss the issue. The bishops, all 200 of them, agreed that Mary was indeed the Mother of God (called, in Greek, the Theotokos or “God-Bearer”).

According to Jewish custom, Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the Temple on the octave of his birth (celebrated on Jan. 1). As the new year begins, the Church honors Mary in her role as Mother of God.


Explaining Catholics’ Marian Devotion to Evangelicals

Some years ago, my husband and I attended a wedding in northern Kentucky. The following morning we awoke in our Covington hotel room, peered out the window and spotted the basilica’s steeple across the horizon. Hoping to find the church, we hopped in the car and set off to explore. As we arrived at the basilica, a busload of students from Wheaton College was unloading at the door, and we followed them into the church for what must have been a most unusual theology lesson for that group of evangelicals.

Ask a Protestant from the Reformed or Evangelical tradition what his greatest problem is with the Catholic Church, and chances are, he’ll answer “Mary.” Many, if not most, members of mainline Protestant denominations can quickly offer a laundry list of concerns about Catholic Marian dogmas: Mary’s perpetual virginity, her assumption into heaven, her immaculate conception (that is, that Mary herself, as the “ark” that held the nascent Christ Child, was preserved from all sin by God in order to be a worthy vessel for the Divine Presence). The idea of praying to Mary (who is venerated, not “worshipped,” by Catholics) is also a source of division.

But if pressed, the same Protestant is likely to admit that he has studied the Church’s teachings on Mary very little or not at all, and that he has not seriously explored the rich history of Marian devotion — back, even, to the earliest days of the Church.

It’s a little-known fact that Martin Luther to his death believed the Marian dogmas that are today considered to be “Catholic,” and he approved of Marian paintings and statues in the churches of his time. Throughout his life, Luther had a deep devotion to the Rosary and to Mary. In his sermon on Sept. 1, 1522, Luther said, “The veneration of Mary is inscribed in the very depths of the human heart.”

An article titled “Mother Mary and Martin Luther” on the InterfaithMary website confirms Luther’s devotion to Mary, and reveals how he put that devotion into practice:

Generally Luther was against any invocations of saints and against asking for their intercession. But Mother Mary, whom he was happy to call the Mother of God, was a case apart, unlike any other saint. This is probably because he recognized the Biblical precedent for Mary’s intercession. After all, at the wedding in Cana, she obtained help from Jesus for the party even though her son tried to resist her nudging. (John 2:1-11) So, no wonder that Catholics say, Jesus can’t refuse the requests of his mother.
In the resolutions of the 95 Theses Luther rejects every blasphemy against the Virgin and thinks that one should ask for pardon for any evil said or thought against her.” He preached on Mary on all her feast days, more so than most Catholic priests do today. This custom was continued for about a century after Luther’s death. He was also comfortable with keeping celebrated images of Mary in his churches where they remained until the time of ‘Enlightenment’ in the 18th century.