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  • Diana Wells

The East Window, St Mary’s Church, Twickenham

As you sit in church your eyes may be drawn upwards above the altar and the Victorian reredos with its Corinthian pilasters to light upon the round east window with its curious mix of colours: gold with blue, green and red features picked out on a clear white background with floral sprays and curlicues. The window depicts some of the many symbols of Mary and is the last in a series of stained glass windows.

 

The 1859 watercolour painting by James Gooch[1] of the church interior before the 1860-62 alterations shows a plain window with radiating lines.

 


 This watercolour is one of two similar paintings by James Gooch (1790-1872) in the church archives, facing east and west.

 

 

 

Following the new Vicar George Master’s comprehensive alterations – removing the box pews and west gallery, moving the pulpit and organ, raising the chancel and removing the cupola on the tower - a new east window was installed in 1861, dedicated to the previous vicar of 41 years, Canon Proby, by his friends at a cost of £50. 

 




 

This photograph of 1880 shows the window depicting the seated figure of Jesus, holding a cross in his left hand and his right hand raised in blessing. R,S. Cobbett in 1872[2] was very disapproving, writing: “A sad memorial of departed worth!  The design, a figure of the enthroned Saviour, is terribly out of drawing, and the colouring to the last degree poor and weak. It is surprising that the eminent firm who produced it should ever have executed anything so unworthy of their reputation”.

 

Anthony Beckles Willson added that this window “never found favour” and was replaced to celebrate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee, but other photographs taken when the organ had been moved to the south gallery in 1901 show the same east window.[3]

 



 

The east window, along with all the Victorian glass, was blown out by local bomb blasts in 1944 and was repaired temporarily with plain glass. In 1952, when Alan Rogers was Vicar, a new design was installed showing Jesus with his hand raised in blessing and symbols of kingship (a sceptre, globe and the four winged creatures) and the inscription His dominion shall be from one sea to the other.  This window in turn was replaced only 8 years later in 1964 when John Davies was Vicar.  One member of today’s congregation remembers the previous window, recalling her pleasure as a child in seeing birds and flowers and a tree, and her sadness that it was removed![4]

 



  

The current east window was installed in 1964, designed by Brian Thomas OBE (1912-1989), a noted artist of church murals and stained glass. The framed picture above shows a representation with a caption and explanation – rather necessary given the distance at which the congregation is able to view it, its relatively small size and the complexity of its details. 

 

At the top of the window are the initials VM for Virgin Mary below which is a crown symbolising her as Queen of Heaven, a title that dates from the 5th century Council of Ephesus when she was proclaimed Mother of God, theotokos (Greek) and mater dei (Latin). Pope Pius XII issued an encyclical Ad Coeli Reginam in 1946 explaining this title as mother of Jesus the King. Over the centuries she has also been named as Queen of Angels, Prophets, Martyrs, and many other groups (see the Litany of Loreto 1587).  Many medieval paintings depict her Crown of Seven Stars, as here.

 

In the centre of the window is the Fountain in the Enclosed Garden, the Hortus Conclusus of the Song of Solomon where King Solomon’s song to his bride became re-interpreted in Medieval and Renaissance poetry and art as describing the union between Christ and the Church, and many paintings showed Mary in or near a walled garden in which she was untouched and protected from sin, a garden containing the tall cedar, the rosebush, the well of living waters, and the olive tree as well as the fountain.

 

At the bottom is a heart pierced with seven swords, representing the seven sorrows (dolors) of Mary: the prophecy of Simeon, the flight into Egypt, the loss of the child Jesus for three days, meeting Jesus on his way to Calvary, the crucifixion and death of Jesus, Jesus’ body taken down from the cross, the burial of Jesus.  The celebration of the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows on 15 September dates from the 12th century.  The image of swords is from Simeon’s prophecy that a sword will pierce Mary’s heart (Luke 2. v25). The iris or “sword lily” is a further emblem of Our Lady’s Seven Sorrows

 

Filling the four spaces between the arms of the cross are various flowers, especially lilies, the symbol of virginity and purity. The leaves and petals shown may include other symbolic plants associated with Mary, such as the mystic rose with four petals, for Mary  as Heaven’s Rose; the pear as a symbol for the fruit of her womb; the almond as a symbol of divine favour; blue periwinkle, the “Virgin Flower” with pointed petals similar to the Star of the Sea; pansy, the “Trinity Flower” with three petals; fleur-de-lys, etc.  The left arm of the cross has a six-point star, suggesting Mary’s title as Stella Maris, Star of the Sea, an image which has obscure origins but has inspired many prayers of devotion: the right arm has IHS, initials which stands for Jesus, Son, Saviour in Greek. 

 



The window is best seen as the morning sunshine floods through from the east.

 

 


[1] See full entry for his life, artistic activity and church roles on the website of the Twickenham Museum at http://www.twickenham-museum.org.uk/

[2] Memorials of Twickenham: Parochial and Topographical, page 34

[3] Postcard, Local Studies, Richmond-upon-Thames Library.

[4] If anyone has further recollections or photographs they would be gratefully received!  

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