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Let there be light

New cathedral's stained glass will generate solar power

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SASKATOON -- A different kind of trinity is emerging at Saskatoon's newest cathedral, where the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon is combining art, technology and faith in a stunning and environmentally friendly project.

The Holy Family Catholic Cathedral, a $28.5-million cathedral under construction in Saskatoon's northeast, has solar cells embedded in the large stained-glass windows that are being installed this spring.

The cathedral could be the first church in North America to use photovoltaic cells in a stained-glass installation, said cathedral building committee chairman Jim Nakoneshny. The University of British Columbia used the combination in a library.

"It's an art installation, but being able to incorporate energy-collecting methods is a way to show sustainability can be done without it being an ugly feature on the building," he said.

Toronto-based artist Sarah Hall used 54 panels to create three large sections -- the largest of which is 13.3 metres tall and 3.2 metres wide -- representing the Prairie sky.

Sections of bright red, orange and blue swirl around bursts of white light on the stained-glass panels, which will be installed high on the south side of the cathedral.

Hall, who is known for her stainedglass work at religious institutions around the world, had the panels fabricated at a studio in Germany.

Once made, about 1,000 solar cells were embedded in the panels.

The marriage of art and faith in Roman Catholic architecture is common, Nakoneshny said.

"The artistic element is always something we look for in a project," he said.

"If you look back in the history of the church, there's a long-standing tradition of trying to bring beauty to the form of a building. It ensures that what we're creating celebrates the glory of God's creation."

Nakoneshny said the project is on budget and on time. He expects the cathedral to open its doors in November.

The Saskatoon cathedral's use of solar energy isn't new to the Catholic Church.

In 2008, the Catholic Church replaced roof tiles on a Vatican auditorium with 2,700 solar panels.

The glass and solar cells -- from conception to installation -- will cost the Saskatoon diocese about $675,000, but the money for the project came from special donations and not the cathedral's construction budget, Nakoneshny.

The diocese hasn't calculated how much money might be saved by using solar energy in the cathedral.

The panels will collect annually enough energy to power five homes for a year -- enough to help offset electrical costs at the new cathedral, said project manager Michael Lux.

-- Postmedia News

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