East Window by Willement, 1849

The East window of a church is almost always the main and largest window. Churches are designed so that they face East, the direction of the rising sun, symbolic of Jesus rising from death. This also allows the window to have maximum impact when the sun strikes it during morning service.

At All Saints the East window was designed by Willement and contains a summary of important biblical events. At the base of the window is a dedication in Latin: In honorem dei et in memoriam parentum ejus Lydia F C Dawway Anno Domino MDCCCXLIX which gives the name of the benefactor and that it was in honour and memory of her parents the Reverend William and Lydia Dawnay whose funeral brass is on the wall to the left of the window. The inscription also dates the window to 1849.

To either side of the dedication are heraldic arms relating to the Dawnays.

On the left is a shield divided vertically to contain the blazon of both the Dawnays and the Heathcotes, the latter being the family of Lydia Dawnay. The Heathcote arms are ermine three roundels vert each charged with a cross or which means an ermine background with three green circles each featuring a gold cross.

To the right is a lozenge escutcheon (a diamond shape containing the heraldic arms) depicting the Dawnay arms alone. As the lozenge shape was typically used to depict heraldry for a female it could be that this is intended to represent Lydia F C Dawnay and the arms on the left to represent her parents.

At the very top of the window are the letters IHC which is an abbreviation of the Greek spelling of Jesus.

Below the letters is an image showing the Lamb of God which is symbolic of Jesus. The lamb has a cruciform (containing a cross) halo which is the most sacred type and only shown in images of God. The lamb is carrying the flag of victory to show that Jesus, the sacrificial lamb, triumphed and thus brought salvation to the people.

The latin text surrounding the lamb reads as Agnus dei qui tollis peccata mundi miserere nobis. This translates as ‘Lamb of God you who take away the sins of the world have mercy upon us.’

Around the lamb you can also see a fleur-de-lys design which symbolises the Trinity.

Background Symbolism

The window is divided into five lights and there are various plants climbing up the border of the lights, through the background and in the shapes connecting the medallions.

The border of the first and fifth lights consists of a vine leaves and grapes and the background is full of clover. These lights contain scenes from the Old Testament and the inclusion of the clover, symbolic of the Trinity, emphasises that Jesus was present for those events as part of God.

The second and fourth lights have oak leaves and acorns in the border and a background of a five-petalled rose. These lights contain scenes from the New Testament and the rose probably symbolises the five wounds Christ suffered on the cross.

The centre light has a plant with a three-lobed leaf with three-lobed tips which could be a fleur-de-lys and a background image of ivy leaves and berries. The centre light depicts scenes which show Christ’s divinity and the choice of foliate background reflects this. The thee lobes of the fleur-de-lys represent the three parts of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost and the evergreen nature of ivy symbolises immortality and so fits with the theme of this light.

Biblical Scenes

Working left to right and top to bottom the scenes in the East window are:

Abraham and Isaac

God tested Abraham’s faith by telling him to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Abraham is prepared to follow God’s orders but, before he can, a messenger from God, the Angel Zadkiel, appears to stop him. To the left of the image is the ram with his horns caught on a tree that Abraham sacrifices instead of Isaac. Jesus is declared to be a ‘son of Abraham’ in the Bible, through his mother Mary, and thus he is an heir of Abraham and the beneficiary of promises made to Abraham by God.

John the Baptist

The halo identifies the man in the centre of the image as a saint and the ragged beard and animal skin clothing along with the tall, narrow cross show that this is Saint John the Baptist. John lived in the Judean desert as a holy man, living on a diet of locusts and wild honey and dressed in clothes of camel hair. The camel skin clothing is also symbolic of John fulfilling scripture as the promised return of Elijah, who dressed similarly. The cross on a long staff was a symbol for a preacher and the image, with John’s finger pointing to heaven and the crowd gathered around him, seems to show John at work in his role as a forerunner to Jesus.

The Ascension

This scene depicts Jesus being raised up to heaven in front of his disciples. At the top of the image you can see the cloud described in the Bible which takes him from their sight. There was no need to show Jesus in this image as he is show directly above in the image of the victorious Lamb of God.

There aren’t enough details in the image to distinguish them but the halos around the heads of the figures show that they are six of Jesus’ disciples.

Paul preaching

Our records state that this scene is of Saint Paul preaching. The columns and arches in the background suggest that this could be an image of the Areopagus sermon. This was Saint Paul’s most dramatic and fullest reported sermon that took place in Athens at the Areopagus, a prominent rock outcropping which was a centre for temples, cultural facilities and a high court. Paul was distressed to see so many idols and even an altar to an unknown god. He was moved to preach that the God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. Acts 17:24

Elijah fed by ravens

Elijah was forced into hiding after warning that there would be years of drought in Israel because King Ahab and his wife Jezebel, and the line of rulers before them, had done evil in the sight of the Lord. God told Elijah of a safe place to stay by the Cherith. This was a stream which would provide him with water and God also promised that ravens would bring him bread and meat morning and night.

Noah offers sacrifice to God

This scene depicts Noah’s sacrifice to God of burnt offerings of each kind of clean beast and clean bird. This was after God had allowed the flood waters to recede and you can see the Ark on Mount Ararat and a rainbow over the top of it in the right hand corner. According to the Bible Noah took two of every kind of unclean bird and beast but seven of each of the clean birds and beast so there would have been a few to offer up as sacrifice without risking extinction.

Shepherds in the fields

In this medallion you can see a group of shepherds with their crooks, sheepdogs and sheep. Above them is an angel pointing towards a star. This angel has come to proclaim the birth of Christ and is pointing towards the Star of Bethlehem. The artist seems to have used a bit or creative licence in this scene as according to the Bible the shepherds were in the nearby fields and so would not have needed a star to guide them. Also the shepherds were supposed to be terrified at the appearance of an angel before them but the man in the centre simply looks fed up.

The empty tomb

This is a depiction of the moment Jesus’ empty tomb is discovered. On the right are three women bearing jars containing spices and oils to anoint his body. The halos over their heads show that they are holy women, probably Mary Magdalene; Mary, the mother of James; and either Joanna or Salome. To the left are two angels, one is pointing to the cloth shroud Jesus body had been wrapped in and both are pointing to heaven to show that Jesus has risen from the grave.

Peter escapes from prison

Peter had been put in prison by King Herod and was due to be executed the next day when an angel appeared to him. This angel caused the chains that held Peter to fall to the floor and Peter was able to escape from those guarding him as they had been rendered unconscious. Peter is pictured with a book because he is considered to the be the author of at least one of the Pauline Epistles (letters) in the New Testament, the source for Mark’s gospel and he was shown to preach God’s word in Acts.

Samuel annoints David

This scene shows the prophet Samuel anointing a young David, with his father Jesse looking on. God had been angered by Saul, King of Israel and turned away from him. He sent the prophet Samuel to Bethlehem to anoint one of the sons of Jesse as the new king. Jesse presented his sons one by one to Samuel but none of them were the one God had chosen. Jesse said that his youngest son, David, was tending the sheep. David was sent for and God told Samuel that this was the son he had chosen and that he should be anointed. David went on to have a number of escapades before being crowned king, including his defeat of the giant Goliath. Jesus is declared to be a ‘son of David’ in the Bible, through his adopted father Joseph, and thus he is a legal heir of David and the beneficiary of promises made to David by God.) in the New Testament, the source for Mark’s gospel and he was shown to preach God’s word in Acts.

Expulsion from Eden

After Adam and Eve were tempted by the serpent they ate the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and were banished from the Garden of Eden. In order to prevent their return cherubim (the second highest order of angels) were placed east of the garden as well as a flaming sword which turned every way to keep them away from the tree of life. The archway in this image is not mentioned in the biblical account but does feature in artworks such as a fresco by Masaccio, who influenced Michelangelo.

The Annunciation

This means ‘announcement’ and relates the tale of how the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and informed her that she would conceive a child through the power of the Holy Spirit, that he would be called Jesus and would be a mighty ruler. The Holy Spirit is symbolised by the dove at the top of the scene. The festival of Annunciation is celebrated on the 25th of March, exactly nine months before the celebration of the birth of Jesus. The proximity to the Spring Solstice would also have helped the early Christians in their conversion of the pagans.

The flowers in the vase between Mary and Angel Gabriel are most likely lilies and represent springtime when the Annunciation took place. The Holy Spirit is depicted as a dove at the top of the medallion. The book Mary is carrying is most likely a reference to the prophesy by Isaiah 7:14 ‘Behold, the Virgin will conceive and will give birth to a son.’

Christ's temptation

The man at the centre of the image is identified as Jesus by the cruciform halo surrounding his head, the same halo that surrounds the head of the Lamb of God at the top of the window. The scene depicts the end of Christ’s Temptation when he has resisted Satan’s suggestions to turn stones into bread to relieve his hunger, to throw himself from a pinnacle and rely on angels to save him and to worship the devil in return for all the kingdoms of the world. After failing to tempt Jesus into sin the devil departs and angels arrive to minister to Jesus after his ordeal and period of fasting. The silhouette in the top right of the image could be the departing devil. Jesus’ hand gesture with his first two fingers and thumb pointing and last two fingers closed is a sign of blessing and the three open digits represent the Trinity.

The healing of the cripple at the Beautiful Gate

This event takes place after the death and resurrection of Jesus when Saints Peter and John were going to pray at the Temple of Jerusalem. They arrived at the same time as a disabled man named Levi was being carried by friends to the Beautiful Gate (one of several gates leading to the Temple). Levi was brought to the gate everyday so that he might beg for alms from passers-by in order to make a living. When he asked Peter and John for money Peter instead responded by commanding Levi to ‘Look at us!’ and explaining that he had no silver or gold but that he would give him what he had. Peter then commanded Levi ‘In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, stand up and walk!’ before taking hold of Levi’s hand and pulling him his feet. At once Levi’s legs were made strong and he was able to walk. Peter declares to the amazed onlookers that it was faith in Jesus Christ that allowed this healing to take place.

The giving of the Ten Commandments

The final scene shows Moses returning from the top of Mount Sinai with two stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments as written by God’s finger. God had already spoken the commandments aloud to the Israelites gathered on the mountain and then he had told Moses to climb to the top to speak with him privately. The mountaintop was surrounded in a dark cloud of smoke because God had descended in a blaze of glory, similar to when he spoke to Moses in the form of a burning bush. When Moses failed to re-appear after several weeks there was disquiet in the camp and some people decided to look to a new God and make an altar to worship a golden calf idol. This is why some of those in the image seem to despair at Moses’ return because they have realised their error and lack of faith.

Moses appears to have horns because of a mistranslation of a passage from Exodus: “And when Moses came down from Mount Sinai, he held the two tablets of the testimony, and he knew not that his face was horned from the conversation of the Lord.” This is now thought to mean shining or emitting rays – his face was glowing because he had spoken directly to God.

Thomas Willement (18th July 1786 - 10th March 1871

Willement was the son of a painter of coaches and heraldry. From this early interest in heraldry he became interested in stained glass. His training was as a plumber and glazier, the two jobs being linked at that time because both required lead working skills. He produced a window with a heraldic shield and from there he went on to become of the most successful of England’s early 19th century stained glass artists.

The great period of stained glass manufacture was 1100 up to about 1500. But after the Dissolution of the Monasteries and the destruction of church artworks under the Puritans there was little demand for it. The few windows produced were simply painted glass. Willement encouraged the return to the medieval style of joining separate pieces of glass together. He introduced colour by the use of metal oxides during glass manufacture instead of enamel paints.

This new style became very popular and soon people up and down the country were keen to make a donation so that their parish church might afford a stained glass window. At the time of the showcase of Victorian enterprise, the Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851, stained glass manufacture had reached a point where 25 firms were able to display their works, including John Hardman of Birmingham, William Wailes of Newcastle, Ballantine and Allen of Edinburgh, Betton and Evans of Shrewsbury and William Holland of Warwick.

Willement was particularly known for producing panels of biblical scenes against a decorative background – just as we have here at All Saints. He was Heraldic Artist to George IV and Artist in Stained Glass to Queen Victoria.