Medieval Stained Glass Science

  • By Susan K. Lewis
  • Posted 08.19.10
  • NOVA

Glassmaking dates back at least as far as the 16th century B.C. In this early epoch, the ancient Assyrians recorded the basic recipe for glass on clay tablets. But craftsmen of the Middle Ages raised the practice to a high art in the era of Gothic cathedral building (A.D. 1150-1500) and developed techniques still used by glassmakers today. In this slide show, see stunning examples of stained glass artistry, and learn about the chemistry behind it.

Launch Interactive

How did craftsmen of the Middle Ages make stained glass windows using little more than sand, wood, and fire?


Special Thanks:
Robert Brill, The Corning Museum of Glass


(interior of Saint Denis, stained glass at Amiens Cathedral, window at Chartres, window of the crucifixion at Chartres, rose window at Saint Denis)
Courtesy Mark Bussell/Providence Pictures
(drawing of glassblowing workshop)
from The Corning Museum of Glass, "The Science of Glassmaking: Eight Centuries of a Magical Art"
(sand grains)
© Andrea Gingerich/iStockphoto
(blowpipe in furnace)
© murat $en/iStockphoto
(stained glass of the Prophet Daniel from Ausburg Cathedral)
Public Domain
(glass blower)
© NOVA/WGBH Educational Foundation
(stained glass cartoon)
Public Domain

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