The largest Gothic cathedral in the Western Hemisphere has the strangest stained-glass windows in the world
TO A CASUAL OBSERVER , the first window on the north face of New York City’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine looks as traditional and reverent as stainedglass windows the world over. But viewed up close, the fourteen thousand pieces of glass reveal scenes of baseball, fishing, and golf—almost as if to remind worshipers of the fun they might be having if they weren’t in church. Much of the credit for the window’s unconventional design belongs to Elizabeth Manning, daughter of William T. Manning, Bishop of New York from 1921 to 1946. Miss Manning attended the 1924 Olympics in Paris and was so moved by the proceedings that she persuaded her father and Ralph Adams Cram, the architect of the cathedral, to devote one of its fourteen windows to the glory of sport. The two men promptly appointed a fundraising committee to come up with the more than $150,000 needed to build the window. Fund raising, however, proved more difficult than expected, and it was not until 1951 that the window was installed and dedicated. The eloquence of some of the appeals sent to prospective donors in the intervening years suggests that there may have been initial resistance to the idea of a window consecrating sport. The sportswriter Crantland Rice began one such appeal: “In this modern age, Sport and Religion are not often looked upon as companions traveling the same road, headed for the same goal. Yet in their human, everyday application they are much alike. One of the main objects back of both is to build up the spirit of fair play, square dealing, and clean living.” Bishop Manning concurred. “A well-played game of polo or football,” he explained, “is in its own place and in its own way as beautiful to God as a service of worship in the Cathedral.”
Possibly as a compromise measure, the original drawing for the window, entirely composed of sporting events, was considerably modified to include eight central medallions depicting biblical characters engaged in feats of strength. Surrounding these medallions are twenty-eight views of purely secular sport, from which the selection on these pages has been drawn. The entire window draws its religious legitimacy from its dedication to St. Hubert, the patron saint of hunting.