Love Them Starry Skies

Stained Glass at Night

Or: “Daddy, why is it ever dark?”

It’s a wonderful, heart-lifting sight to espy a church at night, its windows glowing from the light within.

But you must be outside with darkness all around you for this to work.

Otherwise of course the stained glass windows are dull and lifeless.

I say “of course”.

But it still upsets my friend, a successful novelist, who now knows better.

In an early book she wrote, it’s the night before Christmas …

The winter sun has long since set.

Her hero steps inside a church.

But somehow – somehow! – her editor did not think it strange that inside the church (inside!) the hero is enchanted (yes, I bet he was) by the stained glass windows which “glowed like rubies” and cast their coloured light along the length of the aisle.

A miracle indeed.

Or maybe a nearby power plant in meltdown.

But – it is an interesting question:

Why ‘should’ stained glass windows glow at night?

Why do they stand out like this?

Why – and here is the heart of it – why is the night-sky black?

It is not a stupid question. As you know, space contains an infinity of stars, many as bright as our sun, many of them far brighter …

So why is there any darkness at all – “in between” the stars?

This is important.

Because if there weren’t darkness, your windows wouldn’t glow at night. And nor would mine.

Stained glas at night

I don’t glow because I’m lit behind and all around is darkest night ..

Very sad, I’m sure.

So tell me: why do you think the sky is dark at night?

I have an 8-year old daughter: that’s why the question was on my mind.

(Trickier questions will come, I’m sure.)

Do you know the answer?

You see, the answer is: it isn’t.

I mean, the night sky isn’t dark at all. Not even in the wildest, furthest, blackest countryside.

It’s not black or even ‘really’ dark at all.


It’s red.


Yes, and our eyes can’t see it.

Here’s the science – but I’m sorry, it happens so fast that even native English speakers will sometimes struggle to keep up.

All the same, this is wonderful.

It’s the reason why your stained glass glows at night:

Thank goodness we can’t see infra-red.



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11 thoughts on “Love Them Starry Skies

  1. Interesting article. I like it. I never could understand why, just because someone’s an artist, they shouldn’t also get to grips with science.


    • I agree about science. Even now I’m putting together a post about – wait for it – probability and glass painting. It is so relevant. You know how, when you loose socks, you mostly loose them from different pairs (rather than losing two from a single pair): this is pure statistics. And it’s important. The reason it’s important to glass painters is, the moment one thing goes wrong on your palette, then lots of other things will also go wrong … like with your brush, and then with the lines you paint, and so on. Inter-dependence: science and glass painting: relevant!


  2. When I “think” of infinity, really try hard, my brain (apparently) finite, short circuits. I love science, but I can’t stand scientists who blithely go on about an infinite universe or the ” big bang” theory (THEORY) as if these things are a no-brainer that everbody gets. Just like the flat earth (duh). The only infinity I really get is the infinite knowledge and insight that we humans have yet to acquire.

    • The only way I can ‘understand’ infinity with regard to numbers is to see that for any number, I can always add 1 to it. But infinity with regard to space: I am lost. And speaking of space, though this time very close to Earth, did you see this?

  3. Fascinating! I never thought about it, perhaps because I’ve always found ‘infinite’ a little ‘scary’. My daughter just got a degree in physics and a masters in astronomy. I’ll show her the video and ask her to expand on the subject.

    Thanks, and I’m looking forward to the subject on probability and glass painting!

  4. Intruiging video. My background is science (geology, chemistry, meteorology), but we weren’t taught this. Of course, ahem, my studies were a few years ago, and now my work is totally removed from it. Nevertheless, fascinating stuff. Thanks!

    I also think that works of art contain things that are “unseen” that are necessary to make them appear as we want them to appear. (oddly written, but you know what I mean?)

  5. Now this is a refreshing post and video. When I had my NJ gallery, I would actually take customers by the hand outside at night to properly view my glass. Art and science (as in the studies) of Da Vinci, historically go hand-in-hand. And so much more is being understood every day!

    Now that I live away from light pollution, I have an even bigger interest in the stars and have been including them in my glass work by way of etching flashed cobalt glass.

    Thank you!

    P.S. Check out the iPhone App, “Night Sky”.

    • If I drank, I would “raise a toast” to artists’ becoming ever more knowledgeable about the Sciences. Since I don’t, I shall find some other way – certainly a more practical one – of encouraging this development.

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