Painstakingly assembled from more than 600 tiny pieces of hand-painted glass, “Veritas,’’ the newest stained-glass window at Wellesley College’s Houghton Memorial Chapel, shows the Goddess of Truth holding a glowing yellow lantern, her face serene and bright against the deep blues and reds that surround her.
Flanked by her sisters Wisdom and Loyalty, this goddess is different: She’s not white. And she stands above a world tree ringed by the symbols of 14 religions and belief systems.
“Our whole program was all about how do we represent truth and beauty that we each share a piece of, and that we can only discover together,” said Victor Kazanjian Jr., dean of Intercultural Education and Religious and Spiritual Life, who helped design the window.
The window, a gift from a Wellesley alumna, was installed at the multifaith chapel early this month. It is the first stained-glass window at Wellesley to represent a nonwhite figure and multiple religions, and is one of very few in the country, according to Kazanjian.
A quote from past Wellesley president Mildred McAfee Horton at the bottom of the window reads, “The day we learn that differences do not necessarily involve discriminatory evaluations, vast problems of human relations will be solvable.”
The wide range of beliefs represented by the window run the gamut from atheist to Christian to Zoroastrian, and are all represented in the school’s Multifaith Council, which meets in the Multifaith Center on the ground floor of the chapel.
“We’ve done a multifaith experience in this space, but the iconography stood in sharp contrast to the actual experiences that we were trying to create,” said Kazanjian.
The face of the Goddess of Truth, Kazanjian said, was inspired by the increasingly diverse faces of Wellesley students — more than half of whom do not identify as white, according to the college.
“It started with pictures of our students,” Kazanjian said, gesturing to the goddess. “This person emerged.”
For some students, the figure in the window is the first time they’ve seen an image that looks like them smiling out across a house of worship.
“For me, it feels really personal to see someone like this represented in stained glass,” said senior Lindsay Barnes, outgoing multicultural affairs coordinator of college government.
“A big reason I came to Wellesley is because my mom came here; she was class of ’78. She passed away a few months before I enrolled. This image actually looks a lot like her,” said Barnes. “I know that when my grandparents come here for graduation, they’re definitely going to cry when they see this.”
Dominique Hazzard, president of Ethos, Wellesley’s support group for students of African descent, said that the installation of the window was one of the most amazing moments of her time at Wellesley.
“As a woman of color at a predominantly white institution, you move around this space and you know — even though I’m in Wellesley in the year 2012 — I know this space wasn’t created for me,” she said. “To have this as a physical representation of Wellesley’s commitment to change and inclusion, and making it a different place than when it was founded, is really meaningful for me.”
Mari Wright, class of 1960, who donated “Veritas” in memory of her grandmother and great-aunt, said the window is a symbol of the open and inclusive place Wellesley should be.
“You just don’t realize what a huge impact that would have for someone to never see an image of themselves, or a person like them, in a place of worship,” said Wright.
Wright said she’s received e-mails from old classmates telling her about their own experiences feeling excluded on campus, and thanking her for the window.
“It’s not just for the future,” said Wright. “It’s also for the past. To make that right.”
The chapel itself was built in 1899. Light streams in through traditional Tiffany, La Farge, and Reynolds, Francis and Rohnstock stained-glass windows that sit high in the walls and depict Jesus, Christian saints, stories of virtue, and scenes from the Bible.
But the chapel was never finished. Amber builders’ glass filled six of the chapel’s windows, place-holders for stained-glass windows that were never completed.
In 2007, Kazanjian said, the college began a complete $7 million renovation of the building, which included refurbishing the existing stained-glass windows and redoing the floors, lighting, pipes, and electricity. It also included turning the dusty chapel basement into a Multifaith Center that now bustles with students.
The college replaced two of the unfinished windows in 2010 with Tiffany-style stained-glass windows showing trees, mountains, flowers, and a river, called “The Tree and River of Life.” They were designed by Yaroslav Slavin and Natalya Slavina and fabricated and installed by Serpentino Stained Glass Studio of Needham, which also designed and created “Veritas” with consultant Arthur Femenella of Femenella and Associates Inc.
“Veritas,” said Roberto Rosa, vice president of Serpentino, took more than a year to complete.
Simply getting the drawing right took five or six months, he said. Six hundred and seven pieces of glass were hand-cut and hand-painted. Each one was fired in a kiln at temperatures between 900 and 1,200 degrees.
The glass was pieced together like a puzzle at Serpentino Studio.
The process of making a stained-glass window, he said, hasn’t changed much since medieval days. Electricity makes it easier, but the methods and tools are largely the same.
“It truly is an ancient art form,” he said.
There are three windows still unfinished in the chapel. Karzanjian said that those windows will be designed with input from the community.
For now, Karzanjian and his students are still marveling at “Veritas.”
“I was here last night as the sun set,” said Kazanjian, “and even as the whole window got dark, that lantern stayed lit until the very last breath of light was gone.”
Evan Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.