By Mary Bucknall
Once I went to an early morning Communion service at the local parish church of All Saints. As I could not hear the sermon, I decided to read the Bible as I usually do, but then I looked up at the magnificent stained glass window at the east end of the church, designed by Hugh Easton and unveiled at a special service of dedication in 1953.
I gazed at it. There were 28 emblems of saints in 4 columns of 7 rows – all a riot of heraldic colour. St Peter’s keys, St John’s eagle, St Mark’s winged lion, St Luke’s winged bull, St Matthew’s angel, St James’s scallop shell, St Matthias’ dice, St Thomas’ spears, the list could go on.
I was learning visually what I could not grasp aurally through colour about each of the saints’ lives depicted in that window. It was a visual feast! During the Communion the sun shone through the All Saints window, casting a medley of colours onto the stone floor of the church.
There’s a story to be told in each stained glass window to be found in our cathedrals and parish churches up and down the land. Some depict the parables and stories of Jesus, such as the parable of the Good Samaritan and the story of the Good Shepherd holding the lost sheep. Others depict images taken from everyday life, for example the 22 species of birds in the St Francis of Assisi window in St Mary’s Church, Selborne, Hampshire.
Often known as the “poor man’s Bible”, these windows ministered to the illiterate folk of times past, as well as being memorials to the deceased – with all the history that this involves.
More modern windows of contemporary design include those installed to mark the Millennium in 2000, as in St Michael and All Angels’ Church, Highworth, Wiltshire.
Stained glass windows are a vast heritage, the result of painstaking hours of work by designer and craftsman – the artist, the glazier, the metalworker, the stonemason – all for the greater glory of God.