How Love Starts: Knox United Church

Knox United Church in Calgary, Alberta **

** all images of Knox United Church come from their website

The stained glass windows of Knox United Church, in Calgary, Alberta, represent a wonderful marriage of our medieval human vision & skill with earth’s beautiful glass & wood — the whole, as well as every detail, illuminated by the sun’s glory.

My love for stained glass began here, when I attended Knox with my family — the 3rd generation to do so.

I was christened in this church; I attended Sunday School along with our brood of younger siblings; I sang in the Children & “world-famous” Adult Choirs; I sat in the huge wooden pews on the main floor with my family; I sat in the little balconies when I was a young teenager — everywhere the intricate stained glass windows dominated.

Slivers of sparkling light touch most of the church.  There are huge arches of stained glass depicting biblical scenes over the two main doors & the choral area.

There is a line of small, but oh so intricate, stained glass windows along both side walls.  There are tall twin stained glass windows on each wall of the bell tower which stretches above the second floor.

Inset windows of every size & shape cover the Neo-Gothic exterior — inside, richly-coloured stained glass surrounds you no matter where you sit in the large church.  And no matter the weather outside, the windows glow to disclose their many facets.

I was mesmerized by all these windows every Sunday — each year noticing more than I did before.  They became an excuse to return during the week.

I was amazed by how all the little, irregular glass pieces formed larger shapes — complex biblical scenes with all their pain & joy intricately painted on their faces. Thousands & thousands of pieces.

Through the harsh winters & hot summers experienced in southern Alberta, these delicate panels, encased in decorative oak, form sturdy windows that have stood the test of time — the beauty of the coloured glass still shines through like it did almost a century ago.

Knox United is steeped in western Canadian history — it was unofficially named “The Cathedral of the West”. Almost 100 years old, the historic sandstone church was built in 1912, during a year when cowtown Calgary burgeoned to become a city & also start the infamous Calgary Stampede.

🙂  My family’s history is intertwined with Knox — my Nana, who would later be married here, was born in Scotland the same year the church was completed — all the stained glass windows, wood beams, wood pews, organ, . . .

The Presbyterian congregation split from the church in 1925 leaving Knox Church to the United congregation — my great-grandparents immigrated from Scotland to the Alberta Rocky Mountains [Nordegg] around the same time in 1924. My Scottish predecesers also split & some went to Drumheller — most went to Calgary, & Knox.

Starting well before my time, we have had numerous baptisms, weddings, and funerals under these stained glass windows.  One of our family’s most precious moments happened at Knox –> It was 1964 & my middle brother, Mom & Dad’s 5th child, was 3 months old.  I was 8 years old & singing Noel as a solo in our Christmas manger scene but no-one could find the doll to play baby Jesus.

So, my sleeping brother, Robin, was laid in the manger & I sang to him.  I’m sure my Mom & Nana had tears in their eyes but their children, the oldest & the youngest, did not notice.  I simply remember singing with a deep feeling that my little body had never felt before & my little brother knew his part well — he slept the whole time.

Surrounded by skyscrapers, I believe it is the largest sandstone church remaining in the Calgary downtown area — its bells still toll at midday.  I was thrilled one year, while visiting my family during Easter, when my eldest niece [in her early 20s then] asked to join me at Sunday service.

Since Knox was so far from where she lived [& parking in downtown is now hard to find & expensive!], the church was simply a spark of a dream from her childhood.  I guess my continual raving about it’s beauty intrigued my niece.

I’m sure she was a little bored during the little-longer-than-usual service but like me, she was more interested in the historic architecture, beautiful stained glass windows, & the gorgeous wooden pews.

Music plays an important part in any church service — with Knox being so big, it needed a big organ & a big choir to fill the beautiful expanse.    The opus 529 organ installed in 1912 by Casavant Freres was refurbished & expanded in both 1956 & 2002.

😛  These photos, additional information [like there are 5,018 total pipes], & detailed specifications about the Casavant opus 2336 organ can be found online at Knox Music Ministry.

I loved singing in the raised pews behind the huge organ.  The adult choir almost filled the whole section of double rows — sometimes overflowing at Christmas time.  The acoustics are so good that microphones are not needed.  Those of us honoured to sing a solo simply stepped down to the front row beside the organ & sang strong for the whole church to hear.

With its wonderful acoustics, the church is the perfect arena for hearing music — during church service, as well as during live concerts & theatre that are held there now.  And the stained glass windows certainly add to the ambience.

The windows at Knox United started my deep love for the medieval craft of stained glass — for its ultimate beauty, grandiose detail, timeless strength, & ever-changing rainbow-coloured light.

Each creation a breath-taking wonder.

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Vanessa Dawne Studio of Design

Functional glass & wood art on Vancouver Isle


** all images of Knox United Church come from their website at

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