THE BOLTON PRIORY PUGIN WINDOWS
Medieval stained glass in churches had a two-fold purpose – partly to teach an illiterate congregation through pictures but also, more importantly, to create an image of heavenly glory in coloured light which would draw people’s eyes upwards to thoughts of heaven. The great nineteenth century architect and artist, Augustus Pugin, who designed a large part of the Palace of Westminster, also designed this glass for Bolton Priory in 1851, continuing the medieval ideal by presenting the whole Gospel in thirty-six powerful scenes from the life of Jesus, from the Annunciation to Pentecost, against a background of intricate, jewel-bright colours, the intense blue being perhaps the most attractive of all.
THE NARRATIVE OF THE SIX SOUTH WINDOWS
Each of the six large windows contains six individual scenes. They depict, from left to right:
A After the Angel Gabriel’s greeting of the virgin Mary (1) and the Christmas message of praise and goodwill to the shepherds (and little dog) (2), we see the three wise men visiting the Holy Child (3) and then Mary, holding up her Son, with Joseph and the ox and ass in attendance (4). The Child is the presented for circumcision to the priest in the Temple (5). Finally, the family flees from Herod’s persecution into Egypt – on a little grey donkey (6).
B The boy Jesus astonishes the Temple theologians with His understanding and wisdom (7). John the Baptist, ‘fore-runner’ of Christ, proclaims Him as ‘Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world’ (8). Jesus is baptised by John in the river Jordan (9) and then confronts and overcomes the Devil who tempts him in the wilderness (10). Now mature and tested, He preaches His new Gospel to the crowds on the mountainside (11) and performs His first transforming miracle at Cana of Galilee, turning water into wine (12).
C As His ministry gains momentum, He offers the water of life to an ‘alien’ Samaritan woman at the well (13) and heals a desperately sick woman, who needs only to touch His clothes to be cured (14). John the Baptist, his mission complete, is beheaded for denouncing Herod’s incestuous marriage. (15). Peter kneels at Jesus’ feet in recognition of his divine power, after Jesus has miraculously filled his nets with fish – a sign of Peter’s future role as ‘fisher of men’ (16). Five thousand people are fed with five loaves and two fishes, leaving little baskets piled high with left-overs (17). Bartimaeus (in blue) has his sight restored by Jesus (18).
D The story deepens in significance in this magnificent window. Jesus appears in divine splendour between Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration (19); He blesses the children – ‘of such is the kingdom of heaven’ (20); He raises Lazarus, three days dead, from the grave (21). Mary Magdalene foreseeing His death and burial, anoints His feet with perfume, to the indignation of a female onlooker (22). Her foresight starts to become reality as Jesus courageously rides into Jerusalem, surrounded by green waving palm branches (23) and, five days later, at the Last Supper, offers His friends bread and wine as tokens of His body and blood given for them. Judas (without halo) slips away from the table to betray Him (24).
E Later, Jesus prays in the garden (25). Judas betrays Him with a kiss and Peter, in defence, cuts off a soldier’s ear (only to be rebuked by Jesus, who heals the man) (26). In bitter sorrow, Jesus is then mocked and insulted (27) led out bearing His cross (28) and crucified – gazed upon by the grieving Mary and St John (29). In the evening, the stricken, clumsy figures of His friends remove the body from the cross (30).
F With tenderness and grief, He is laid in the garden tomb of Joseph of Arimathaea (31), but on Easter morning He bursts from the tomb in majesty while the guards sleep (32). He greets the astonished Mary Magdalene in the garden (33) and appears among His overjoyed friends in the locked room where they are hiding (34). Finally, He ‘ascends’ (note the two feet!) to the Father, taking His place at God’s right hand, to plead perpetually for all mankind (35). Yet He has not gone away, for His Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples (‘tongues…like as of fire’) at Pentecost, and the Christian Church is born (36).
(Photographs by Fr Lawrence Lew)