The East Window
Original text by Len Clarke, additional material by Jayne Saberton-Haynes. Diagram by Margaret Cullen.
Father Benson Always planned that the East Window would picture the Adoration of the Lamb, but in 1879 when that chancel was built only plain glass could be afforded. His successor as Vicar, Fr. William Scott, got vestry approval on 18th May for an overall design and in November that year a start was made with the figures of the Blessed Virgin and St. John, our two patron saints, thereafter, as fast as money came in, Burlison & Grylls filled in the other lights until on St Stephen's day, 1892, the completed window was dedicated.
The General Plan
Based on the vision of St John in Revelation, the window teaches the eye and mind with symbolic shapes, pictures and words.
Burlison & Grylls made full use of the discovery (made long before Gothic masons) that tracery within a pointed arch lends itself to the proliferation of circular and triangular shapes. Circles symbolise perfection: 'on earth the broken arc, in heaven the perfect round'. Three-sided figures symbolise the Holy trinity: Three-in-one and one-in-three. On our east window there are circles within circles; circles edged with triangles; triangles within circles. So that, even apart from the figures, the very chinks of coloured glass are patterns of eternal truths.
The upper part of the window depicts the Adoration of the Lamb; the heavenly altar, where the worship of angels and saints is being continually offered, standing above our altar on earth.
The lower portion of the window crowds into six panels many of the most popular saints in the English calendar. Their arrangement is not quite arbitrary; holy women are grouped around our Lady to the left and holy men around St John to the right. This distinction of the sexes was mirrored in the church seating arrangements for a generation after the window was put in. Another element of order is that the upper six niches picture biblical characters and the lower ten saints from more recent centuries.
Many symbols are pictured along with the saints: books, buildings, birds, beasts and botanical specimens emphasising some trait of as holy maiden, matron or martyr.
Knitting together the whole design is a thread of Latin text mainly from Revelation VII. At the foot of the window pairs of angels support parts of this text. The left-hand couple frame the words:-
'These are they that came out of great tribulation'.
The right-hand couple frame:-
'Neither shall the sun light on them nor any heat'.
Frances Cox, who worshipped in our church until her death in the 1890's, has left a marvellous rendering of the text that threads through our East window, in her 1841 translation of Schenk's great seventeenth century hymn:-
'Who are these before God's throne?'
(English Hymnal No: 204)
Detail - The Adoration of the Lamb
The whole of the upper portion of the window is loosely based on the great Van Eyck altarpiece in Ghent cathedral completed in 1426. The background of the original showed spires of the heavenly city. In our east window, Oxford people may recognise pinnacles bearing a near resemblance to the University Church of St Mary the Virgin on the left, on the right, the west end of Keble college chapel and in the centre, Tom Tower, Christ Church (Fr Benson's old college) and the spire of Oxford Cathedral: at the summit of our house of God, Oxford's 'Aedus Christi'
Fr William Scott's elucidation was as follows:-
'In front of the trees and in the centre is the slain Lamb upon the altar mentioned by St. John in Rev. v6. Blood is flowing from the wounded side into a chalice upon the Altar. Round the Altar are angels, some holding instruments of the Passion, others in adoration and the two offering incense to the Lamb. Beneath these is the fountain under the altar mentioned in Rev. xxii. 1. The water of the fountain runs out of it's basin by a pipe which seems to let it fall downward in showers of blessing. The figures in the other two spaces represent the four and twenty elders. Rev.iv. and v'
A horizontal line of trefoils marks off this Adoration of the Lamb from the great crowd of witnesses in the lower window. In the four trefoils are the four living creatures of Rev. iv6. They represent the four evangelists: Matthew (the man), Mark (the Lion), Luke (the Ox) and John (the Eagle), embodying respectively the evangelical virtues of humanity, courage, patience and insight.
Detail - The Biblical figures
St Elizabeth Mother of John the Baptist, at the back in green. (Feast of her son, 24th June)
St. Anna: Prophetess and aged widow, in red. (Remembered on Purification of Blessed Virgin Mary 2nd February)
St. Anne:Mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in white and red. A patron of both Canada & Brittany. Feast 26th July.
The Blessed Virgin Mary: Mother of the Lord, in blue and red. Joint patron of our church, she presides over this north (left hand) half of the east window.
The three women traditionally believed to have stood by the cross along with Our Lady and St John the Evangelist:-
St Mary Magdelene: Shown kneeling. Feast 22nd July.
Mary: Wife of Cleophas and mother of James.
Salome: Daughter of Herodias, who danced before Herod and was converted by John the Baptist's beheading.
St Stephen:Deacon and first Christian Martyr, in red with Martyr's crown and stones representing his method of death. Everyone knows his feast - 26th December.
St Paul: Last of the Apostles, in green with the sword of Converter of Gentiles, his Conversion feast 25th January.
St Barnabas: At the back with a book. Paul's young companion on his early journeys. Feast 11th June
St John the Evangelist: Joint patron of our church, he presides over this south (right hand) side of the east window. The symbol of a snake emerging from a chalice is also in chancel clerestory and carved in the south porch (symbolising his preservation from a prison attempt) Feasts 6th May & 27th December.
John the Baptist: In red with the flag of a herald and the device of the Lamb (of God). feast 29th August.
Zacharias: At the back. Father of the Baptist, remembered at his son's Nativity Feast 24th June.
Simeon: In green with book. Aged Holy man uttering 'Nunc Dimittis' at our Lord's Presentation in the Temple. Remembered at Candlemass, 2nd February.
Detail - Saints from later centuries
St Agnes: Martyred as a young girl during Diocletian's persecution in Rome c. AD 304. Shown with book and lamb in blue (Lamb is both a pun on her name and a reference to the two lambs blessed each year at Sta. Agnese, Rome from whose fleece is woven the pallium of office sent by the Pope to new Bishops).
St Faith: With book. Martyred c. 287 by Maxentius Hercules Acquitaine. A favourite medieval saint, the crypt of St Pauls is dedicated to her. Feast October 6th.
St Agatha: with a martyrs palm. Brutally killed in Sicily, during Quintain's consulship: (3rd Century). Feast day 5th February.
St Lucy: in green. Burnt at Syracuse under Diocletian, about fifty years after St Agatha's death. Her Christianity was betrayed because she gave away her wealth. Feast day 13th December.
St Cecilia: shown carrying an organ, she is the patron saint of musicians. Martyred 2nd or 3rd Century. (See her window in Oxford Cathedral Choir). Feast day 22nd November.
S Catherine: of Alexandria, shown with the wheel on which she was tortured in CE 307 under Maxentius. One of 14 'auxiliary' saints (saints of general help) she is the especial patron of girls, wheelwrights, lawyers and (from her reputation for great learning) struggling scholars. Feast day 25th November.
St Margaret: of Antioch, another 'auxiliary' saint and patron of women in labour, she is also known as St Marina, martyred under Diocletian, she is shown in green with her foot on the neck of the dragon satan. Feast day 20th July.
St Perpetua: matron and mother, she was killed by wild beasts on 7th March CE under Septimus Serverus in the arena at Carthage, North Africa. Feast day 7th March.
St Prisca (or Priscilla): Child martyr of great popularity of whom little is known. Probably beheaded in early 4th century. Feast day 18th January.
St Frideswide: in green, with an ox (as patron of both city and university of Oxford) and with our cathedral, where she is buried on the former site of her abbey seized by cardinal Wolsey for Cardinal college - later Christ Church. She flourished c CE 735. Feast 19th October.
St Hilda: in blue with book. Scholarly Abbess of Whitby, CE 614-680. Present at the Synod of Whitby that re-united Celtic and Latin branches of the church. Feast day 17th November.
St Etheldreda: Abbess of double monastery at Ely (CE 673). Also known as St Audrey. Feast day 23rd June.
St Ethelburga: with book. First Abbess of Barking and a noted teacher, she died in c. CE 676. Feast 11th October.
St Augustine: of Canterbury, Confessor, in green. Sent from Rome in the late 6thC to be missionary to the Saxons, became the Apostle of England, founder of Canterbury Cathedral and also it's first Archbishop. Died CE 604/5. Feast day 26th May.
St Gregory: Pope (CE 590) in red with mitre. Lived CE 540-604, was the founder of the medieval papacy, gave his name to Plainsong (Gregorian chant), sent Augustine to re-convert the English. Feast day 26th May.
St Hugh: Bishop (CE 1186) of vast Lincoln Diocese which included Oxford until 1542. Friend of Lepers and protector of Jews against anti-Semitism; shown with his emblem of his pet, a tame swan. Died c. 1200. Feast day 17th November.
St Birinus: with book. Consecrated Bishop of Milan, he came to England on a 7th Century mission, built his Cathedral at Dorchester and became Apostle to the west Saxons. Died CE 649/650. Feast day 5th December.
St Thomas: of Canterbury. The 'holy blissful martyr' of Chaucer; 'this low born priest' of Henry II, who made him Archbishop in 1162, but four of whose men-at-arms butchered him on the steps of the high altar in 1170. In green. His shrine became the principal place of pilgrimage in medieval England. Feast day 29th December.
St Cuthbert: Died CE 687. Hermit saint of Lindisfarne and Bishop of Northumbria. Preached in Gaelic, north of the Scottish border, giving his name to the county of Kirkcudbright (church-of-Cuthbert) and to all the Co-ops in Scotland, which are called 'St Cuthberts'. His bones brought south and re-interred in Durham at its foundation (CE 995) along with the head of St Oswald (which had been hastily buried in its first grave to save it from desecration by the Danes). Feast day 20th March.
St George: Martyr shown in armour. Auxiliary saint of unclear history, but great popularity. Patron of pre-1917 Russia and England now. His flag has flown from our tower since 1893 and from SSJE Church since 1896 on his feast day 23rd April.
St Martin: French soldier and (CE 372) Bishop of Tours. A Patron of France and a great one for monastic and church reform in his day. Usually shown, as here, sharing his cloak with a beggar, he died humbly in old age. 'Ora mihi beate Martine' (pray for me blessed martin) became corrupted into the saying 'all my eye and Betty Martin'. Prayers should be said on 11th November.
St Edward; the Confessor. English king (1003-1066) shown in green. Henry VI later incorporated into the stone screen behind the Coronation chair in Westminster Abbey (which Edward completed in 1065) the legend of a ring given by Edward to a beggar who turned out to be St John and who returned it just prior to the pious kings death. It is reputedly buried with him in the Abbey and shown here. (Compare Edward in the S. aisle Comper window) Feats day 13th October.
St Alban: Shown with a cross and sword, Alban was the first English martyr, exchanging cloaks with the fugitive priest Amphibalus from whom he had learned about Christianity. Flourished in 3rd Century Verulanium where he was a Roman military officer. Around his shrine grew modern St Albans in Hertfordshire. Patron of our daughter church in Charles St. Feast day 17th June.
St Benedict: kneeling. Father of Western monasticism and founder of the great Abbey at Monte Cassino between Rome and Naples, with the Benedictine Order, for prayer work and learning. Flourished CE 480-547. Feast day 11th July.
St Nicholas: Little certain apart from bishopric of Myra in Lycia, Asia Minor, imprisonment and death under Diocletian. 'Santa Claus' shown here with three gold bags / balls signifying benefactions to children. Patron saint of sailors. Feast day 6th December.
St Giles: Patron of beggars, cripples and blacksmiths. An 8th Century Greek becoming a hermit in the pagan borderlands of eastern France, saving the emblematic hind shown from Wamba the Visigoth. 160 medieval English Churches were dedicated to him as the helper of the downtrodden and menial. he founded an Abbey himself. feast day 1st September.
St Dunstan: Flourished CE 909-988. Archbishop of Canterbury (CE 960), previously Abbot of Glastonbury (CE 940). Founded monasteries at Ely, Peterborough, Thorney. An active reformer in church and state. Like his master (and unlike most prelates) he loved working with his hands in wood and metal. He is pictured overcoming the devil with a pair of pincers. He is the patron saint of jewellers and goldsmiths. Feast day 19th May.
St Anselm: Doctor of the church, born CE 1033 at Aosta coming from Normandy to become Archbishop of Canterbury in 1093. Founder of scholastic philosophy. died 1109 (also shown in the Comper S Aisle window). Feast day 21st April.
St Lawrence: Deacon and martyr, shown with palm and the gridiron on which he was roasted. Certainly died after torture CE 258 during Valerian's persecutions. Feast day 10th August.
The East Window Text
'After this I looked and behold in the midst of the throne
And of the four beasts
And in the midst of the elders
A lamb was standing as though prepared for sacrifice.
These are they who came out of great tribulation
And have washed their robes
And made them white in the blood of the lamb
Therefore are they before the throne of God
And serve him day and night in his Temple
And he who sits upon the throne shall dwell among them
They shall hunger no more
Neither thirst no more
Neither shall the sun light on them nor any heat
For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne
Shall feed them
And shall lead them into living fountains of waters
And God shall wipe away
All tears from their eyes.