As Bishop Lawrence Scanlan planned the design of the Cathedral of the Madeleine, the building was to be surrounded on three sides by five windows each, representing the Mysteries of the Rosary. In the west nave were the Joyful Mysteries, in the apse (north) were the Sorrowful Mysteries, and in the east nave were the Glorious Mysteries. The Joyful and Glorious Mysteries are depicted in proper order from left to right just as one says the rosary. The Sorrowful Mysteries, though, had to be slightly rearranged so that the Crucifixion, the culmination of the Passion drama, would be situated in the center over the main altar, rather than on the far right where it appears on the rosary. Thus, the order from left to right was: The Agony in the Garden, The Scourging at the Pillar, The Crucifixion, The Crowning With Thorns, and The Carrying of the Cross.
As we see the Cathedral today, the windows on both sides of the nave are still there, but the apse windows were removed during World War I by Bishop Joseph S. Glass and replaced by two more abstract windows and a huge mural by artist Felix Lieftuchter depicting the Crucifixion flanked on each side by figures from the Old and New Testaments (other decorations were added as well). Those alterations have given rise to two knotty problems that have vexed Cathedral historians ever since: what happened to the removed windows, and what did the windows depict? On the latter problem, we know, as indicated above, what the subjects of the windows were, but there are no surviving photographs that show how the artists rendered them.
The first problem remains unresolved. Some have speculated that the three central windows are still there, having only been encased in plaster. But not only do we have a document in Bishop Glass's hand recording their removal, but also during the Cathedral renovation in the 1970s, the plaster was drilled to see if anything was inside, and the spaces were empty. Archbishop Robert J. Dwyer of Portland, Oregon, who grew up in the Cathedral parish and in fact served as its rector, wrote to Msgr. William H. McDougall in the 1960s that the windows had been taken to Boise, whose cathedral was built during the First World War. Subsequent investigation, though, has disclosed that the Boise windows were made from scratch at the time and that our windows did not go there. So where did they go? One can hardly imagine destruction of such magnificent works of art, nor can one imagine reinstallation in any other structure than a church. But which church? We simply do not know.
The other problem-what the windows looked like-we can happily announce has been in recent weeks at least partly solved. Last fall, Msgr. Joseph M. Mayo, Cathedral rector, received a surprise gift in the form of a book from the firm Franz Mayer of Munich (which after 1862 included the F. X. Zettler firm which built our windows) giving the history of the company and advertising some of their creations-including the rose window in our Cathedral. Neither Msgr. Mayo nor I were aware that the firm even still existed, so we were astonished to learn that it not only exists but thrives, employing over 600 people in their shop! Prompted by that knowledge, I wrote to Dr. Gabriel Mayer, the current president, to ask if their archive might include illustrations of our missing windows. In his reply, he indicated that although most of their archive had been destroyed during World War II, he found illustrations of two of the missing windows: The Crowning With Thorns and The Scourging at the Pillar. I include them with this article.
Is this the end of the search? Not necessarily. Although Dr. Mayer indicates that their damaged archive probably contains no illustrations of the other windows, we cannot close the door on that possibility. Also, there is always the tantalizing possibility that the windows themselves may yet turn up. What a find that would be!