“Windows to Heaven”

Oksana Zakydalsky

TORONTO – A thirty-year project has just been documented in a new book: “Windows to Heaven – Stained Glass Windows at  the St. Demetrius the Great Martyr Ukrainian Catholic Church by artist Yaroslava Surmach-Mills,” and published by the church. The launch of the book took place on April 29, 2008 with a presentation by Dr. Christine Turkewych about the artist, Yaroslava Surmach-Mills. Rev. John Tataryn, the pastor of St. Demetrius, introduced the compiler of the book, Rev. Peter Shumelda and presented gift copies of the book to the people who had been involved in its publication. Daria Diakowsky led the program.

Yaroslava Surmach was born in Queens, New York, in 1925 and received her art degree from Cooper Union Art College. At first, she worked at illustrating children’s magazines but in time became famous for glass painting. It was an exhibit of her glass paintings in Toronto that brought Mills and Fr. John Tataryn together. Impressed by her art work, Tataryn asked Mills if she would be interested in designing stained glass windows for his recently built church. St. Demetrius, built in 1970, is a modern church, built in a circular plan with three large Romanesque windows and a dome with a skylight. Tataryn took  Mills to see the church and, although fascinated by the architecture, she realized she would have to do a lot of research to create the windows. She agreed to do the work but only if she had plenty of time in which to do it.

The three main stained glass windows – in the front, east and west sides - as well as the skylights in the dome,  were installed in 1983. St. Demetrius the Great Martyr, the patron saint of the church, adorns the window at the front while Christmas and Epiphany Feast Days are featured in the East Window, and Easter Feast days - in the West Window. The Pantocrator and Seraphim are installed in the dome skylight.

The second phase of installations, which continued until 1998, involved the side windows, which depicted New and Old Testament saints and martyrs. In the third phase, which ended in 2006, Mills and the church clergy chose the saints to be represented, which she diligently researched to ensure authenticity. In addition to the three main windows, 48 smaller stained glass windows were installed. For this, 500 lbs. of hand-blown German full-antique glass were purchased, of which 250 lbs. were actually used. The installations were complex, involving pulleys, scaffolding and hydraulic lifts.

In the 112-page book, each stained glass window is featured as a full-page colour illustration and provided with its historical, liturgical and symbolic significance. Donors of each window are named. The book also contains an essay by Yaroslava Surmach Mills “Painting with Light and Colours” in which she writes about the challenges she faced and describes the creative and production processes in making the windows.

Front page banner: “Windows to Heaven” book cover  jacket

For information on ordering the book, visit the website www.stdemetrius.org  or contact the St. Demetrius Parish Office at 416-244-5333