Guess who?

Great St Mary’s has some beautiful windows in the clerestory, showing patriarchs, apostles, prophets and martyrs. These were installed in 1902-04 by James Powell, to designs by William Cunningham.

Normally it is very hard to see the detail of these windows, even from the galleries. I have taken advantage of the nave being full of scaffolding to get some close-ups of the beautiful, jewel-like glass. Like medieval stained glass windows, these images use symbols, costume and accessories to allude to the stories and attributes of Biblical characters and saints, so that even the illiterate could learn to recognise them.

Can you guess who is represented in each of these windows from the details below?

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The seven stars and Orion

View from south gallery into the new offices

View from south gallery into the new offices

This window into the new offices above the vestry quotes Amos 5:8:

Seek him that makes the seven stars and Orion, and turns the shadow of death into the morning, and makes the day dark with night: that calls for the waters of the Sea, and pours them out upon the face of the earth: the Lord is his Name.

The clerestory windows show Amos in the humble clothing of a herdsman with ears of corn at his feet, referring to his prophecy about the house of Israel in Amos 9:9:

…I will sift the house of Israel among all nations,
like as corn is sifted in a sieve,
yet shall not the least grain fall upon the earth.

The feet of Amos from GSM's clerestory windows

The feet of Amos from GSM’s clerestory windows

This is a beautiful rendition of Jonathan Dove’s choral setting of Amos 5:8 and Psalm 139, ‘Seek Him That Maketh the Seven Stars,’ performed by the Choir of Salisbury Cathedral:

Ely connections

Prior of Ely

This lovely roundel in GSM’s south aisle commemorates the generosity of Roger Westminster, Prior of Ely.

If you have a free afternoon, Ely cathedral is always worth a visit, and you can see the stunning romanesque Prior’s Door there. Dating from c.1135, this portal connected the cathedral to the medieval cloister.

Ely Cathedral Prior's Door, photo by Holly Hayes, www.gohistoric.com

Ely Cathedral Prior’s Door, photo by Holly Hayes, www.gohistoric.com

In the tympanum above the door’s lintel, Christ is enthroned in an almond-shaped mandorla, flanked by angels, with his right hand raised in blessing. In his left hand, he holds the Book with the Seven Seals, the record of good and evil deeds.

September Labours

Labour of the Month for September, 15th century, Ely Stained Glass Museum

Labour of the Month for September, 15th century, Ely Stained Glass Museum

This stained glass roundel from the fantastic Stained Glass Museum at Ely Cathedral shows what a fifteenth-century agricultural labourer might have been doing in September. The curved ears of corn echoing his sickle and the plaited stalks securing the sheaf are especially charming.

Debates on Stained Glass

Great St Mary’s gained an elaborate new set of stained glass windows in 1519 but, by the end of Elizabeth I’s reign, the glass had all been destroyed in the Reformation rejection of painted glass as Popish superstition. Thankfully the stained glass at King’s College Chapel, just across the road from Great St Mary’s, survived intact.

It’s interesting to read about post-Reformation debates about the reintroduction of glass, in this article from Vidimus magazine.

George Herbert (1593–1633), a Cambridge scholar who became the rector of Fugglestone and Bemberton in Wiltshire in 1630, wrote devotional works comparing preaching to stained glass:

Lord, how can man preach thy eternall word?
    He is a brittle crazie glasse:
Yet in thy temple thou dost him afford
    This glorious and transcendent place,
    To be a window, through thy grace.

Doctrine and life, colours and light, in one
    When they combine and mingle, bring
A strong regard and aw: but speech alone
    Doth vanish like a flaring thing,
    And in the eare, not conscience ring.

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