In the weeks leading up to Easter, thousands of people will flock to Forest Lawn-Glendale to view the three great artworks in what is called “The Sacred Trilogy:” “The Last Supper” window, and The “Crucifixion” and “Resurrection” paintings.
However one of those masterpieces almost never came to be.
Back in 1924, Forest Lawn’s Founder Dr. Eaton travelled to Italy on an art tour when he visited the Cathedral of St. Francis in Assisi. He was overwhelmed by the sheer majesty of the stained glass in the cathedral and lamented to his tour guide that it was as shame that the art of stained glass making like that had been lost.
“Not so,” his guide replied, and pointed to three panels that were recently repaired by a woman whose same family made the window in the 12th century.
“Where can I find the artist?” Eaton asked.
The guide introduced him to a young woman named Rosa Caselli Moretti. He asked her if she would be interested in being commissioned to create some stained glass windows for Forest Lawn. She agreed.
But one request, in particular, intrigued her; a stained glass recreation of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Last Supper.”
Eaton asked her if she would duplicate the painting in stained glass. “I will not copy the Last Supper in Milan, as it is no longer Leonardo’s,” she said. “I will use the original sketches so when finished it is a reproduction of the original painting, precisely as it was when Leonardo laid down his brushes so long ago.”
Eaton returned to the states and Moretti began working on the “Last Supper.” It was expected to take six weeks to complete. However something strange kept happening during the process. The figure of Judas, the betrayer of Jesus, kept breaking during the firing process—the period in stained glass creation where the glass is “baked” repeatedly in ovens to blend the colors and fuse the glass.
The figure of Judas broke five times in the oven. Word of it spread throughout Italy and had taken on mythic proportions. Moretti sent a letter to Dr. Eaton to explain what was happening. The letter concluded: “I know not whether God intends that I shall not finish the window, or whether he is emphasizing again the fact that one of His own betrayed Him. I have prayed. I shall try once more, but if Judas breaks again, I shall not finish the ‘Last Supper.’”
Weeks passed. Forest Lawn anxiously awaited word from Moretti. Finally, a telegram arrived from Italy with one simple sentence: “The ‘Last Supper’ is finished!”
The “Last Supper” window was unveiled and dedicated on April 29, 1931. Since then, more than a million people have viewed its majesty and wonder. And just last year, we refreshed the stained glass and its home to make it more impressive than ever.
Did Rosa Caselli Moretti really receive a sign from above to finish her work? We don’t know for sure. But we do know that our new state-of-the art presentation of Leonardo’s masterwork is here for your viewing enjoyment and reflection. We hope you stop by and enjoy one of the world’s greatest artistic treasures.