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Nativity stained glass window, St. John Cantius Church, Chicago

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A work of uplifting sacred art, The Nativity stained glass window of St. John Cantius Church, Chicago…

Luminous stained glass frames the Navity video of the St. John Cantius Church Chicago . (Be sure your volume's on, so you can also enjoy the St. John Cantius choir.)
The Adoration of the Magi stained glass window rises from eye level to the very top of the aisle vault of St. John Cantius Catholic Church, Chicago. (The double window at the bottom was open to let in the breeze, but I closed it in Photoshop so that you could enjoy an uninterrupted view.)
If you're using a slow connection, please allow all the images to draw on your page first. Then playing of the video will be much smoother.

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It's only 21 miles from Schaumburg to the Chicago Loop, but distance can be relative when you're talking about the Windy City's legendary traffic jams.

So, in order to be sure and make it to the 11:00 o'clock St. John Cantius Mass on Sunday morning, I get up early and am on I-90 by 8:00 a.m. Rev. C. Frank Phillips, C.R., Pastor of St. John Cantius Church, told me I could record the choir for my videos, and I'm on the road, my digital recorder by my side.

But I'm not just on the look out for toll booth signs—so I can have time to pull over to cash lanes at the extreme right of the highway—in what often is bumper-to-bumper traffic. I'm also wondering if I just might bump into my friend Celso Rosa.

Celso, who lives in Brazil, and who creates the most remarkable diorama settings for his collection of carved nativities, has been on my mind while shooting the St. John Cantius Neapolitan Praesepio.

I found a message from hims last night, telling me that he was flyiing to O'Hare this morning. You don't suppose…

I reach St. John Cantius Church, sans Celso, who, it turns out, is on his way to Peoria on business. The church is almost full, and it's not quite 10:30 yet. Time to pick just the right spot for my recording session.

I sit at the end of a pew, in front of the Wit Stwosz Altar Replica, and, knowing I'd be lost in admiration with all the beautiful sacred art all around me, I turn on my tape recorder. Besides, you never know when the pipe organ will start playing, and I don't want to miss a note.

Sure enough, it's a few minutes before eleven when the organ sounds, St. John Cantius reverberates with divine melody, and I'm getting it down for my Wit Stwosz Altar Replica, Neapoltian Praesepio, and The Nativity stained glass window videos.

Including, it turns out, a very loud baby crying! It's a hot, humid day, and the industrial fans arrayed around the church do create a nice breeze, but perhaps the little tyke may not be close enough to benefit.

No matter, I think to myself, the opening prelude may be ruined, but there will be other beautiful pieces to follow. After all, the St. John Cantius choir is singing, and it attracts church goers from far and wide.

The choir now starts to sing, and my hearts skips a beat. It is said that, when the emissaries of the Czar traveled to Constantiinople and entered the Hagia Sophia, they returned saying they did not know if they were in heaven or on earth. My sentiments exactly.

But the loud noise brings me out of my reverie—and ruins another beautiful audio segment. A family has arrived late for church, and the patter of feet on inlaid wood is louder than one would have expected.

I realize, of course, that this is a church, not a recording studio. People come, people sit down, people cough, people kneel, people stand up. All duly noted by my tape recorder. Clearly, I would have to seek a more quite vantage point if I am to share the choir with you.

As discreetly as I can, I get up and walk down the side aisle towards the back of the church, and, remembering the long stairs I had climbed the day before to see the Presepio, I do so again.

To the right of the museum a door leads to an empty balcony, enclosed by a carved, curved, wood balustrade. In front of me unfolds the inspiration that is St. John Cantius Church, and above me, on a second balcony just like this one, the choir sounds as if I'm sitting there myself. I place my tape recorder on a table, and immerse myself in the Liturgy.

The Saint John Cantius Nativity

Saint John Cantius is filled with sacred art, but what attract the eyes on this sunlit day are the stained glass windows. Reaching from the eye level on the nave to the very vault of the left aisle of St. John Cantius, The Ressurection, The Annunciation, and, set between them, The Nativity fill the church with light.

A semi-circular five-foil fan in stained glass, decorated by golden flower motifs and a Cherubim, tops the window, and just below it are found church domes and steeples crowned with golden crosses. Stained glass trefoils in rich reds and violets give way a triple arch supported by twin Corinthian columns with golden bases and capitals (see images at left and below).

This marble-like arch contrasts with the earth-tones of the manger. Heavy beams support a loft filled with hay, and other wooden enclosures tied with rope are stuffed full of golden barley.

The Nativity, or rather, The Adoration of the Magi, is divided in two length-wise by a heavy support beam that is rendered almost invisible by the surrounding darkness of the manger.

And on the left, set against dark columns and a dark-gray sky, the Three Kings—with one of their camels looking on—adore the Christ Child.

At the front, Balthazar, in ermine robe and on bended knee, holds his open golden box of Frankincense with both hands. His long white beard cascades down, as do his gold, green, royal purple damask robes reach the floor, and clouds of sweet perfume rise from his thurible.

Caspar, the younger of the Three Wise Men, offers myrrh, his head wrapped in a multi-colored turban.

Melchior, King of Arabia, offers gold, he's bearded face turned towards The Nativity.

Joseph, in dark brown tunic and purple dress looks on, his head framed by a gold-trimmed halo.

The Baby Jesus is in His Mother's arms, and the Virgin Mary, right hand raised, holds the newborn's blanket as if to wrap the Babe against the chill of the winter night.

When in Chicago, you won't want to miss seeing the St. John Cantius Church Neapolitan Praesepio: 825 N. Carpenter St., Chicago, Illinois 60642-5499; Rectory: 312-243-7373. Until then, you'll enjoy browsing the St. John Cantius Churchwebsite.

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The Kings of the East adore the Christ Child—The Nativity stained glass window, St. John Cantius Church, Chicago.

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