The Rose Window at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Austin, Texas

rose-window-600pxUpdate: This photo is available for purchase. Send inquiries to the photographer at

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This picture is a composite of 33 separate exposures, assembled by hand in Photoshop. It shows the complete rose window at St. Mary’s in downtown Austin, and is likely the first photo ever to show the whole of the stained-glass design. You can see in the photo below how much of it is normally hidden from view behind wooden beams.

During last year’s restoration of the church’s towers, cracks were found in the stone spokes of the rose window. These spokes, I am told, are not just “window dressing” (har har), but are structural elements. So, in order to avert catastrophe, restoration of the rose window was added to the “to do” list . . .

Here is a picture of the window before any restoration. This was July 22, 2011. The wood is all cracking and rotting, the glass is dirty, and the leading is corroding. Window had issues, aside from the cracks in the exterior stonework.

Rose window at St. Mary's Cathedral

Close-up of some nastiness. Do I see pigeon-droppings? (It could happen. Also from the “unexpected happenings” file: a couple of weeks ago a homeless guy got into the church at night through the rose window—climbed the scaffolding and hopped in through a gap.)

Rose window at St. Mary's CathedralNow the window has been completely cleaned, and all the lead replaced. Not sure if window-makers and conservationists still use lead, or if something more human-life-friendly has been substituted . . . anyway, the stuff looks like grey metal.

The pieces were all stacked up waiting for me this morning.


I hung a white sheet from a background stand and shot an Einstein through it, through the back of the window pieces, for the tiny ones. Added one AlienBees for the 7-foot-wide (or -tall) pieces, for more even coverage. Almost none of these pieces was even or regular enough to be able to rest on its side without holding it, so I had the camera on a tripod and triggered it via infrared remote that I’ve had for 15 years and (so thankfully) works with my 5D Mk 3. I rested each piece on top of a shortish bookcase; the bookcase was centered over a line in the floor, over which line my camera was also aligned. I put masking tape along the edge of the bookcase’s top and marked the center, so each piece would be put in roughly the exact same place (big fan of rough exactness). I called for help with the 7-footers and the center medallion. Rested the center roundel on a small table and both of us held it upright.

Rose window-052

This could have compromised the focus on this piece, but you know what? If you want to know the truth, I know sharp and I know a near-miss, and this one is a lot closer to sharp, no kidding, so I’m not going to go commit suicide or anything (I just finished rereading The Catcher in the Rye and all).

Lightroom Screen Shot 2013-07-25 at 9.54.43 PM


Rose window Screen Shot 2013-07-25 at 4.57.45 PM

The above picture shows part of my Lightroom 4 catalog. I opened each picture in Photoshop and downsized everything to match the center roundel. Then opened a big document (15,000 x 15,000), threw down some guidelines, and started putting pieces in place. I would rotate and position each piece, and then add a layer mask to get rid of the white background, bookcase top, etc. This “progress” screenshot is from my first go—I had put all the “arms” in in the order I shot them, which ended up looking odd, so I started again from zero, with new guidelines and everything. If you look closely you can see that the arms all have either a blue or a green “dot” separating the main window section from the circular portion at the ends of the arms—except one arm has a red dot and one has an orange dot. So there are 8 greens, 6 blues, 1 red, 1 yellow. In my redone image (see below) I decided to put the orange dot on top, like it’s the sun, the red dot on bottom, like it’s the fires of hell (just making stuff up now . . . I just wanted it opposite the orange), the the blues and greens alternating evenly on each side. Each wooden frame has a number etched into its side, from 1 to 16, but the resulting color patterns appeared random when I arranged the pieces by number. So I just did what I wanted. This is not how the window was previously installed—but just because some workmen 100 years ago installed it that way doesn’t mean they were right. I mean, at the front of the church we’ve got a St. Joseph window that reads in ornate script, “sancjos tuseph.” Oops.

Hope you enjoy the pic and the brief discussion of its making. Here’s a slightly larger version of the pic above.


22 thoughts on “The Rose Window at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Austin, Texas

  1. Arlen
    Thanks for taking the time to document a important part of our history. Can’t wait to see the sunlight stream through the glass and light up the Cathedral. It will be a glorious day!

    • Richard, I was reading today that originally the window was almost entirely covered by the pipe organ. Then in the 1940s a guy named Otto Hofmann rebuilt the organ and put the pipes on either side of the window. Of course, we haven’t had an organ with real pipes for some time now, but it’s an interesting story.

    • Thank you, sir! To me, the impact comes from the subject and from the unusual point of view—normally we don’t view stained glass windows from straight on. The actual photography part was quite basic. But I don’t care how hard or easy it was, if it looks cool! 🙂

  2. Stunning. Do you know when the window will be installed?
    It is a privilege to sit up so close to this beautiful piece of art, Sunday after Sunday!

    • I have not heard when it’ll be re-installed. But I expect it will be soon—if I were to make a guess, I’d say within the next month or so.

  3. Absolutely beautiful photograph!!! And I particularly enjoyed your step-by-step on How to Photograph a Rose Window.

  4. I woudl like to buy a print from you in order to make a quilt from it. I would like to discuss how we could work this and I would of course attribute it to your photo. The quilt would be for my personal use and local quilt show. I am in the Schola and have sat under the window for 11 years and wondered how I could make a quilt from it. So beautiful!! Marcia

  5. You never cease to amaze me. Such a creative mind you have in that noggin of yours 🙂 So much thought went into that. I truly am impressed beyond words. It is stunning. Thank you for sharing the process and the final result.

  6. Pingback: The Renovation of a 19th Century Rose Window in Austin, Texas…almost — The Way of Beauty The Way of Beauty

  7. Pingback: The Rose Window at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Austin, TX -

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