Tag Archives: Stained glass

Good Friday

St Mary at the cross of Jesus


Today is Good Friday.

There are two stained glass windows in St Mary’s Chapel which record the crucifixion and death of Jesus.

This window is the right hand light of the window of the south aisle of the Chapel and shows Mary, his mother grief-stricken together with ‘the disciple who Jesus loved’ with Jesus on the cross in the background. The window was created in 1900 by Douglas Strachan and was the first stained glass window at the start of a distinguished career.


The second of February is celebrated in many churches as Candlemas. Where does the name come from and what is being celebrated?

At the time of Jesus’ birth, there were strict requirements placed on parents following the birth of a child. The first of these, if it was a boy, was circumcision at 8 days old. This was spelled out in the Torah – the Hebrew scripture. In the Bible it is in Genesis chapter 17 verse 12 and repeated in Leviticus chapter 12 verse 3.

The second requirement was that the mother had to be ‘purified’ as she was classed as ‘unclean’ until this ritual was performed. When this took place depended on whether the child was a boy or a girl. If it was a boy it was at 40 days, if a girl at 80 days, after the birth. This ritual was carried out in the Temple in Jerusalem, with the appropriate offerings for sacrifice. The details are spelled out in Leviticus chapter 12 verses 1 to 8. A second ritual being performed that day was the dedication of the first-born to God. Exodus chapter 13 verse 2 states that every first born, including animals, was to be dedicated to God. So Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to dedicate him. That answers the question of why there is a celebration on 2nd February – it is 40 days (inclusively) after Christmas Day. The nature of the celebration takes a little longer to explain.

When the family went into the temple they encountered two people, Simeon and Anna, who are mentioned in Luke’s Gospel. There is very little about Anna, other than that she was a widow, very devout and very old. Simeon appears to have been a priest and he had a conviction that he would see God’s salvation before he died. As soon as he saw the baby, he recognised that here was the fulfilment of God’s promise. He then spoke what we now call the Nunc Dimittis (the name is simply the first two words as written in Greek). In it he said that the baby Jesus would be ‘a light for revelation to the Gentiles’. Light was produced using oil lamps and later using candles. That is where the term Candlemas comes from.

The presentation of Jesus in the Temple when 40 days old. Part of a window in St Mary’s Chapel.

In St Mary’s Chapel one section of the large stained glass window in the apse, shown in the photograph, depicts the scene, but with a level of ‘artistic licence’. Mary and Joseph are presenting Jesus to the priest in his robes. Interestingly, Joseph is carrying a little cage with two birds in it. The details of the sacrifice given in Leviticus chapter 12 verse 6 is for an offering of a lamb and a young pigeon or dove. However, verse 8 of the same chapter indicates that if the family cannot afford a lamb, a second pigeon or dove may be substituted. Luke’s Gospel states the offering made was of two birds, indicating that Joseph was a poor man. The window has a stylised colonnade, with two people looking on. These are Simeon and Anna, seeing the child being offered to God. The scroll below says ‘To present Him to the Lord’.





The picture is part of a window in the former East Kirk and shows the Angel Gabriel. By tradition, depictions of the angel feature him holding something – a trumpet, a lily, a shining lantern, a scroll, a branch from paradise or a sceptre. Also traditionally, Gabriel wears white or blue clothing. In this window he is shown with mainly white clothing and holding a lily in his left hand.

Gabriel features widely in the Bible, but is also recognised in other major religions, including Judaism and Islam.

Good Friday

The events of Easter are at the heart of the Christian faith. This is because Christians believe that Jesus’ sacrifice of himself was the atonement for our sin. Good Friday is the day Christians remember the crucifixion of Jesus.

Given the importance of the Easter events, it is not surprising that they feature in works of art, many featuring in churches. In St Mary’s Chapel there is a beautiful window which has as its centrepiece the Pietà, shown in the accompanying photograph. The image of Mary, the mother of Jesus, cradling the body of her son was developed in Germany around 1300 and reached Italy by the end of the century. Michelangelo used it as the subject for one of his most famous statues (now located in St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican City) another century later.

  The central section of the window by Christopher Whall in       St Mary’s Chapel

The stained glass window in St Mary’s Chapel was made by Christopher Whall in 1899. He started work as the Arts and Crafts movement got underway and is widely recognised as one of the key figures in the modern history of stained glass. A lot of his work is in England, but there is a substantial amount north of the border. This window has been described as one of the finest Arts and Crafts windows in Scotland. It was commissioned in memory of Dr James Cooper a former minister of the church.

If you would like to see the window, St Mary’s Chapel will be open to the public between 10 and 12.30 on the second Saturday of each month starting in May and ending with Doors Open Day in September. You would be very welcome to come and see this small chapel dating back to the mid-1400s.


In the former East Kirk there is a beautiful ‘arts and crafts’ stained glass window featuring the ‘three graces’ of Faith, Hope and Charity. This blog completes the explanation of the tryptic.

The definition of the word ‘hope’ indicates that it is an expectation and desire of receiving something good. Conversely, hope can be refraining from despair and not giving up. It is not about certainty, but about an assurance that something is likely – it is not wishful thinking. For a Christian, hope is clearly based on the belief that God’s word and His purpose in their life can be trusted. Thus, hope gives a Christian a foundation for their life, to avoid despair and cynicism and to strive for good. It becomes something which they ‘hold on to’ through thick and thin, trusting in God’s promises. This meaning of hope is different to the secular meaning of ‘I hope it happens’ because it is not wishful thinking.

The ‘Hope’ window in the former East Kirk

How can artists represent this? They have used a number of different symbols, including a harp, a flaming brand, an anchor, a palm frond, or hands with fingers closed together. In this window, the unknown artist has used an anchor, which Faith holds across her chest.


Discussion of Love (Charity) was put on the Blog for Valentine’s Day on 14th February 2016 and Faith on 3rd August 2016, where some of the background to the window was included. Finally a photograph of the whole window is shown here, so that the three figures can be seen in context. At present it is not possible to see the window, but it will be a feature on the ground floor of the completed Mither Kirk Project.


The whole of the ‘Three Graces’ window


In February this year, we featured Charity from the window featuring Faith, Hope and Charity in the former East Kirk. This blog looks at the left hand light – ‘Faith’. It is shown in the photograph.

Post 73 Faith window, East Kirk
Faith as shown in a window in the former East Kirk

In Christianity, Faith, Hope and Love are known as the ‘theological virtues’. These three virtues are highlighted in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13. All three virtues point people towards God and Paul exhorts his readers to aim likewise.

How we move from Paul’s written word to the artistic depictions of the ‘three graces’ of Faith, Hope and Love is more difficult. There are early Roman writings about three martyred female saints bearing these names (Fides, Spes and Caritas in Latin). Their mother was Sophia (Greek for Wisdom). Some sources suggest their martyrdom was commemorated on 1st August, whilst the Eastern Orthodox Church had the feast day on 30th September. As with most of these early saints there is scant reliable information. Nevertheless, the history, real or otherwise of these women, produced icons featuring them. These would then lead to these more recent depictions of these three early martyrs in works of art in various media.

What is ‘faith’? It is difficult to be precise and also succinct, but it has been defined as ’the theological virtue by which a Christian believes in God’. Most acutely, this shows in accepting the redemptive act of Jesus in his crucifixion and resurrection. It is, therefore not surprising that most artistic representations of ‘Faith’ include an empty cross. Another common feature is a lamp, candle or chalice. The representation of Faith in this window in the former East Kirk is no exception – Faith is seen holding a cross in her right hand and what appears to be a lamp in her left hand (unfortunately the support bar partially blocks this part of the picture). Her expression is beautifully tranquil.

The young Jesus in the temple

In New Testament times, devote Jewish families tried to visit the Temple in Jerusalem each year for the Festival of Passover. When he was 12 years old Jesus went with his family as part of a larger group. After the Festival was over, the group set off back for their homes in Nazareth. Jesus’ parents assumed he was with the group and it was only at the end of the first day of walking when they could not find him that they realised their mistake. The anxiety can be imagined as they hurried back to the big city looking for him. After three days of frantic searching they found him in the Temple courts asking questions and debating with the teachers of the Law. People were amazed at his understanding. The full story can be found in St Luke’s Gospel, Chapter 2, verses 41-52.

Post 68 Jesus in the temple
Mary and Joseph find Jesus debating with the teachers of the Law in the Temple

All the stained glass windows in St Mary’s Chapel feature Mary, Jesus’ mother. In the apse, there is a large window, which depicts three scenes, two of which have featured previously. To the right hand side of the window is a depiction of the scene above, as interpreted by Christopher Whall, the artist who created the window in 1899. The image shows Jesus, obviously making a point in the discussion with the wise old teachers. They have out some of the scrolls they have been talking about and look a little perplexed. In the background, looking through the window, are Jesus’ parents, Mary and Joseph.


In his first letter to the Corinthian Church, Paul wrote his famous passage about the gifts of faith, hope and love and concluded that the greatest of these is love – or ‘charity’ as it appears in some older translations. Although the meaning is far deeper than romantic love, the time around Valentine’s Day is an appropriate reminder of the gift of love, be it human or divine.

On the north wall of the former East Kirk there is a window of three lights with tracery which features depictions of Faith, Hope and Charity – the ‘three graces’. The window was created in 1908 as a memorial to George Donald, an elder of the church, and his wife Elizabeth Milne. They had died in 1890 and 1901 respectively. George Donald owned ‘Potty’ Donald’s Paint and Glass merchant business in Netherkirkgate, Aberdeen.

The presently available records do not indicate who made this memorial window. One possibility suggests that it was produced by the family business, but there is no direct evidence for this. Others have indicated that it was produced by the company Shrigley and Hunt of Lancaster, but many of their records were destroyed in a fire. If anyone who reads this can provide further information we will be pleased to hear from you.

Post 60 CharityThe company of Shrigley’s had been in Lancaster from the mid-1700s initially carrying out painting, carving and gilding. Arthur Hunt ran a successful stained glass and painting company in the south of England. He acquired the company in 1868 and developed it to become a leading stained glass company, under the name of Shrigley and Hunt. Their work can be found throughout the UK and Europe, although there are relatively few examples of their work in Scotland. There are two other windows known to be made by them in the former East Kirk of St Nicholas building. The company finally closed in 1982. The window is described as being in the ‘Aesthetic’ style of stained glass which drew on the pre-Raphaelite movement. The right-hand light of this window depicts ‘Charity’ and is shown in the accompanying photograph. It demonstrates the characteristic use of boldly contrasting colours beneath canopies of dark green foliage and red fruit with the name in a scroll. ‘Charity’ carries a child in her arms.

The window was restored and cleaned during the Phase 1 work in 2010-11.


Malcolm III and Queen Margaret

The Blog on 15th November told something of the life and ‘good works’ of Queen Margaret. This one will tell more of her and King Malcom as depicted in another section of the same window in the former East Kirk.

King Malcolm III was later given the nickname ‘Canmore’, derived from the Gaelic, which literally means ‘big head’ but perhaps should be ‘Great Chief’. Lasting 35 years, his was a long reign at a time of considerable turmoil. Those familiar with Shakespeare’s Macbeth can equate the Malcolm of the play to this historical Malcolm. Indeed Malcolm killed Macbeth in Lumphanan on 15 August 1057. These were indeed turbulent times, with constant battles taking place and Malcolm was involved in many during his reign and the Battle of Alnwick was the one which ended his life.

His first wife was Ingibiorg Finnsdottir, widow of the Earl of Orkney. They had three sons, one of whom became King Duncan II. When Ingibiorg died is not clear, but Malcom was a widower when he encountered the future Queen Margaret following the shipwreck of the boat in which she and her family were trying to flee to the continent. She became a great influence on his life, bearing him eight children, six boys and two girls. All the children were given English names breaking the tradition of Scottish names. Four of the boys assumed the throne in later life – Edmund, Edgar, Alexander I and David I.

The death of Malcolm III came on 13th November 1093 at the Battle of Alnwick, along with his son Edward. His wife was already mortally ill in Edinburgh Castle which was being besieged by her brother-in-law. Her son Edgar brought the news of the deaths. Margaret died three days later on 16th November.

That is not the end of the story. Margaret’s sons and attendants managed smuggle her body out of the castle by a postern amidst thick mist. She was then buried in Dunfermline. However on 19th June 1250, her body and that of Malcolm III, were exhumed and removed to a magnificent new shrine. That date was celebrated for a long time as Margaret’s saint day until it was changed to the present 16th November, the date of her death. In 1560 the shrine was desecrated by Scots Calvinists and Mary, Queen of Scots had St. Margaret’s head removed as a reliquary to Edinburgh Castle. However, in 1597 Margaret’s head was taken home by a ‘private gentleman’, then arrived in Antwerp and finally reached the Scot’s College at Douai, France from where it disappeared during the French Revolution. Phillip II of Spain had the remains of Margaret and Malcolm Canmore taken to a shrine at El Escorial in Spain, but they are now missing.

Post 54 St Margaret and Malcolm Canmore
Queen Margaret reading to King Malcolm III

Margaret had been well educated whilst Malcolm was probably illiterate. It is reported that Margaret used to read, usually Bible stories, to her husband – a sign of the close bond between them. This final section of the window features the royal family with Margaret reading to her husband which accounts suggest was a common practice.

St Margaret

St Margaret’s Day is celebrated on 16th November, although in earlier times it was on 10th June.

Who was St Margaret? She was born Margaret Atheling in Hungary in 1046 and was a direct descendant of King Alfred and granddaughter of Edmund II (Edward Ironside) who had been king of England for about eight months in 1016. She and her brother Edgar and sister Christina were brought up under the care of the King of Hungary. Margaret and her family came to England towards the end of the reign of her great-uncle Edward the Confessor. The return may have been with a view to her father Edward Atheling being named as heir to the throne, but he died a few months later. Following the Norman Conquest the family were forced to flee, heading for the continent via Northumbria. However, their boat was battered by storms, blown off course and they eventually landed in Fife. The place, now called St Margaret’s Hope, is just to the west of modern day North Queensferry. There they were welcomed by King Malcolm III (Malcolm Canmore) who looked after them. Indeed, a widower, he was greatly attracted to the beautiful Margaret, although she resisted his attention for a while, rejecting several proposals of marriage. However, Malcolm’s persistence paid off and they were married in Dunfermline in 1069.

This proved to be a very happy marriage in many different ways. Margaret and Malcolm had eight children. Alexander and David followed their father to the Scottish throne, whilst their daughter, Edith (who changed her name to Matilda upon her marriage) married King Henry I of England. It is probable that King David build St Margaret’s Chapel in Edinburgh Castle in honour of his mother.

Post 53 (a) St Margaret and Dunfermline
St Margaret with her coat of arms and Dunfermline Abbey

The first photograph shows a small section of the stained glass window in the apse of the former East Kirk and features St Margaret in the centre, with her coat of arms to the left and Dunfermline Abbey to the right. The Queen brought her early experience of life in Hungary with her and made changes to life in Scottish court circles. Under her influence, ceremonies became more elaborate, tapestries were used to adorn the walls, gold and silver tableware was introduced whilst fur and velvet were used in clothes, adorned with jewellery. She had a great moderating influence on her husband, and often gave advice on matters of state.

Margaret was also very devout, spending much of her time in prayer, devotional reading, and ecclesiastical embroidery. She rose each night to attend a midnight service. This inner devotion spread to her making reforms to the church bringing it more in line with continental practice. For example, she changed Mass to use Latin rather than the multitude of Gaelic dialects, Benedictine monks were invited to found an Abbey at Dunfermline in 1072 and she promoted Easter communion. Pilgrimage was seen as being important. Margaret was fond of the old Scottish saints and she encouraged pilgrimage particularly to St Andrews by instigating ferries across the Firth of Forth, one at North Berwick, the other at Queensferry – named in her honour.

Post 53 (b) St Margaret giving alms
St Margaret giving alms to the poor

The second part of the window depicts how St Margaret’s piety worked out in her charitable works. She would serve orphans and the poor each day before she ate, including washing their feet in imitation of Christ. She founded hostels for the poor, tended the sick and held feasts in Advent and Lent for as many as three hundred commoners. In recognition of her life Pope Innocent IV issued a Papal Bull in 1249 declaring her a saint in the Catholic Church.

The account of her death will be recorded in the next Blog which will also say a little more about Malcolm Canmore.