Tag Archives: Stained glass

St Ninian

September 16th  is St Ninian’s Day. But who was St Ninian? Nothing can be said with any certainty. He is reputedly a 4th or 5th century saint. Nothing was written about him until the 8th century when the Venerable Bede included ‘traditional’ information about him in his ‘Ecclesiastical History of the English People’ in about 731. Reference was made to Ninian being British, being instructed in Rome and sent to the UK (in around 397 according to the Catholic Church) to found a Christian community in south-west Scotland.

There is little doubt that there was an early Christian witness, at around that time in the region of modern Galloway, whether or not he was called Ninian. The missionary built a monastery of stone (unusual at that time) called the ‘Candida Casa’ – the White House. The name of Whithorn, where it was situated, derives from the name of the building. So long after the events it is not certain whether it was white because of the stone used or whether it was whitewashed. The complex of buildings which developed around the original chapel still remain.

These early saints were often credited with miracles and St Ninian was no exception. In about 1160 Abbot Aelred of Rievaulx Abbey in Yorkshire wrote a book ‘The life of St Ninian’ in which he records 10 miracles, 6 in his lifetime and 4 after his death. Whilst there is considerable uncertainty about the historical St Ninian, there certainly was an early missionary, often referred to as ‘the Apostle to the Southern Picts’, some 150 years before St Columba came to Iona.

Post 48 DSCN0116 Right apse window East Kirk, Charles Wilson
                              Part of window in East Kirk apse featuring St Ninian

In the former East Kirk of St Nicholas there are three large stained glass windows in the apse. The right hand of these windows was installed in memory of Charles A Wilson who had been an elder for many years and had died in 1958. The bottom of each light of this window shows an aspect of St Ninian. This section of the window is shown in the photograph. On the left, St Ninian is seen with two of his followers setting out to preach the gospel to southern Picts. In the centre there is a representation of St Ninian robed as a Bishop, whilst to the right hand side, St Ninian stands in blessing, with the Candida Casa behind him. The window was designed by Gordon Webster.

‘Betrothal of Mary’

Post 43 Betrothal of Mary, Stachan window, SMC
‘Betrothal of Mary’ window by Douglas Strachan

One of the most beautiful windows in St Mary’s Chapel depicts the ‘Betrothal of Mary’. The Jewish customs of two thousand years ago may seem rigid compared with what we are used to in the West today. These customs meant that the engagement was probably arranged by the parents, maybe without Mary or Joseph being consulted. There would need to be a contract, part of which would be the ‘bride price’ to be paid by the groom’s family. The contract was implemented immediately and was binding on the couple. In effect they were considered married, but what we think of as a wedding ceremony would not occur for a considerable time, sometimes up to a year, later. During their betrothal, the couple would have little contact with each other, in order to test their commitment to each other. When Mary and Joseph became engaged is not known. In their case the events of this ‘pre-consummation’ phase of their marriage certainly tested them, following Mary’s pregnancy with Jesus. The Bible tells us that Joseph was minded to break off the relationship, but was dissuaded by the Angel Gabriel.

The window was created by the Aberdeen artist Douglas Strachan in 1899 when still in his twenties. He studied at Robert Gordon’s College and Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen before working as an illustrator on newspapers in the north of England. He was persuaded to try designing stained glass. This window in St Mary’s Chapel is his very first commission (there is a later example of his work upstairs in the former East Kirk). He was prolific in his work with stained glass all over the United Kingdom and some overseas. By 1908 he had moved to live in Edinburgh from where he worked for the rest of his life. The University of his home city awarded him an Honorary Doctorate in 1923. His largest commission was for the windows of the Scottish National War Memorial in Edinburgh Castle. He died at his home in Midlothian in 1950 at the age of 75 and is buried in the Dean Cemetery, Edinburgh. The window was restored as part of the Mither Kirk Project in 2010 following some damage due to vandalism.

Good Friday

Good Friday is one of the most sacred days of the year for Christians, when the death of Jesus by crucifixion is remembered. The exact date when this happened is not known. However, the Gospel accounts make it clear that it was on a Friday and scholars, whilst disagreeing over detail, seem to point towards the year AD33 or 34.

Post 35 Crucifixion, Central Apse window,  East Kirk, Jan 2014 DSCN0162There are representations of the crucifixion in many churches – as paintings, sculptures or in stained glass. The photograph with this post is of the stylised representation of the crucifixion in the apse window of the former East Kirk of St Nicholas.

The Annunciation

As recounted in the New Testament the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary to tell her that she was to give birth to a son. The church calls this ‘the annunciation’ and, not surprisingly, celebrates it 9 months before Christmas. Traditionally the Feast of the Annunciation is celebrated on 25th March although the date may be changed depending on when Easter occurs. The first chapter of St Luke’s Gospel gives the fullest account of the annunciation. In it, the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her that she was greatly blessed and would have a son – who would be called Jesus. Mary, who was engaged to be married to Joseph, found it difficult to comprehend, but in faith she was able to respond ‘I am the Lord’s servant, may it happen to me as you have said’. The story not only appears in the Bible, but a shorter version also appears in the Qur’an.

Post 34 Annunciation-ChalmersWindow-WestKirkIn the Christian church, the annunciation is important because it shows the human and the divine nature of Jesus. Many famous artists have attempted to depict the scene through the medium of paint. But it also features in many stained glass windows in churches – these windows were used to help teach Bible stories to those who could not read well. The picture with this article is part of a window in the West Kirk of St Nicholas which shows the annunciation. The window was made by the London firm of Burlison and Grylls and depicts five scenes from the life of Christ (including the nativity scene shown in the blog for Christmas 2014). In some depictions of the annunciation the Angel Gabriel is seen holding a white lily of purity. In this window, however, he is holding a sceptre – but the lilies are there, on the ground between Gabriel and Mary.

The photograph, which is copyright Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums Collections, is used with permission.

The Baptism of Christ

Post 29 Baptism of Christ DSCN0116 Right apse window East Kirk, Charles WilsonIn many churches, on a Sunday in early January, one of the Bible readings will have drawn attention to the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist.  That is the happening depicted here in a stained glass panel from the centre of the south-east window in the apse of St Nicholas’ Kirk.  We see the Baptist pouring water on Jesus who stands in the river Jordan.  The white lines above suggest the coming of the Spirit.  In contrast to the birth of Jesus recounted (in quite different terms) by only two of the Gospels, all four Gospels draw attention to his baptism as the fundamental event for his mission and ministry in the world.  Here his character as Son of God is declared and at the same time he is identified with sinful humanity.  This is his epiphany or manifestation to the world to which the Spirit bears witness.

For Christians, their baptism marks their incorporation into the Church, often described as the Body of Christ, and testifies to the cleansing power of the love of God.

The window, erected in 1961, was the gift of, and commemorates, Charles A. Wilson, son, and successor in business of George Washington Wilson, the notable Aberdeen photographer of the Victorian era.

The maker was Gordon M. Webster, highly regarded and prolific Scottish stained glass artist of the mid 20th century. It may be of interest of some to know that, later in the century his son was for a period Professor of Architecture in the Scott Sutherland School of the Robert Gordon University.

The window was cleaned and repaired as necessary during the Phase 1 works in 2010-11 by Christian Shaw of Edinburgh.

Happy Christmas

A Happy Christmas from all those involved with OpenSpace Trust.

Post 27 The Nativity of Christ window in the West Kirk

(The photograph, which shows part of a window in the West Kirk, is copyright of Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums Collections and is used with permission).

St Nicholas

The 6th December is celebrated as St Nicholas Day. He provides the theme of this post.

Who was St Nicholas? He was a real person but, as often happened with notable people in the past, it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction. Virtually the only thing that is certain about him is that he was Bishop of Myra (which is modern day Demre in SW Turkey) in the fourth century; but he became one of the most popular saints in both the Eastern and Western Churches. Tradition asserts that he was born, around 270, in Patara, another port not far distant from Myra. He probably died on 6th December 343 (or 352). The claim that his parents were wealthy but had died young and that an uncle, who brought him up and was Bishop of Patara is unlikely. Although it has been asserted that he was present as a champion of orthodoxy at the first Council of Nicea, called by the Roman Emperor, Constantine in 325, his name does not appear on any of the early lists of participants, making it very unlikely that he was one of the signatories of the Nicene Creed – still used in churches today.

Many other stories told of Nicholas are clearly legendary. However, it may be worth mentioning a few of them as together they may well give a true pointer to a man strongly committed to good and helpful actions. One story tells that Nicholas heard of a poor man who could not afford a dowry to allow his three daughters to marry. Secretly, at night, Nicholas delivered three purses of gold coins to them through the window. This story is depicted in one of the roundels in the window and lies behind the three gold disks to be found on the coat of arms of the Kirk – and the three ‘gold’ balls once commonly hanging outside pawnshops. He was also reputed to have performed a number of miracles including the raising to life three children who had been dismembered and pickled by a innkeeper. This is depicted on the reverse side of a 15th century .Burgh seal and also on roof boss above the desk in St Mary’s Chapel. The various stories lie behind the adoption of  Nicholas as patron saint by varied groups of people – sailors, merchants, archers, repentant thieves, pawnbrokers and students, and, particularly, children. How this developed into the idea of Santa Claus is fairly obvious, the name coming via New Amsterdam (New York), from a Dutch version of his name.

After the removal in 1080 of his supposed relics from Myra to Bari in Italy the cult of Nicholas spread rapidly to many places, especially seaports. Accordingly, it is reasonable that the first church in Aberdeen, probably built soon after that date, should bear his name, but the first written record is dated 1157. He was regarded as patron not only of the Kirk but of the Burgh, and the records show that in the later middle ages the Rector of the Grammar School accompanied by one of his scholars dressed as bishop, visited the parents of pupils on St Nicholas’ Day to claim a contribution of four shillings Scots.

Post 26 St Nicholas Window in the West Kirk
St Nicholas, Bishop of Myra



The photograph is of the central part of a window in the west wall of the West Kirk and features St Nicholas seen holding three money bags. The present building dates from 1755 but the window is the most recent there and was only installed, in 1927. The rest of the window, not shown, depicts other scenes from the life of St Nicholas and, in a corner, the sign of the artist, Geoffrey Webb – a spider’s web (Not visible in this photograph).






(The photograph is copyright Aberdeen Art Gallery & Museums Collections and is used with permission).

Easter Day

Post 9 (b) Central apse window, Jesus and Mary on Easter Day morning East Kirk Jan 2014 DSCN0164

The crucifixion of Jesus took place on a Friday. When he died it was too late to prepare the body of Jesus for burial, so it was placed temporarily in a new burial cave. Only on the Sunday morning, after the Jewish Sabbath, did the first opportunity arise for the women to visit and prepare the body for proper burial. The right hand light of the central window in the former East Kirk depicts one of the events of that morning. We see Mary Magdalene, an early arrival, met by a man and ‘supposing him to be the gardener’   It is Jesus!  He is not dead: he is victor  over death.   This is central to Christian faith and means that we can all say ‘Happy Easter’.


Good Friday

Post 9 (a) Central Apse window - crucifixion, East Kirk, Jan 2014 DSCN0162 The events of the day called Good Friday, and of the following Sunday, Easter Day, are central to the Christian message, so it is no surprise that many stained glass windows (and other objects) at a focal point in churches seek to portray them.  In the apse at the east end of St Nicholas’ there are three windows – the nativity scene which was shared at Christmas is in one of these.  The central window was created by Marjorie Kemp of Edinburgh in 1936 in memory of Dr James Cooper, a former minister.  At the centre is a depiction of Christ crucified.  This part of the window is shown in today’s image. The picture also shows Mary, the mother of Jesus, and John, one of his disciples, who followed Jesus to the cross, standing on each side with eyes cast down and sorrow on their faces. In three days we will share another part of the same window.


Post 4 DSCN0017 Jesus presented at temple, Whall window, St Mary's Chapel, 2013

The birth of a baby is a time of excitement and celebration.  The stories of the Birth of Jesus suggest that it must also have been a time of some anxiety for his parents – and there are always legal requirements to be met.  Two thousand years ago in Israel these included a visit to the Temple in Jerusalem for the ‘purification’ of the mother and the ‘presentation’ of the child (especially the first-born male) to God.  This is the event pictured in one of the windows in St Mary’s Chapel.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, is seen presenting the child to a priest in the Temple while her husband Joseph is carrying a cage with two young pigeons for the necessary sacrifice.  The episode is described in chapter two of St Luke’s  Gospel from which the words ‘to present him to the Lord’ are quoted under the picture.  Behind the screen are Anna, an aged and very devout woman, and an old man, Simeon, with whom is associated the ancient hymn called ‘Nunc Dimittis’ (Lord, now let your servant go in peace) which is still regularly sung in many churches.  A phrase from the hymn, ’a light to lighten the Gentiles’ gives rise to the name ‘Candlemas’ for the commemoration of this event 40 days after Christmas (on 2nd February).

The window was created in 1899 by Christopher Whall from London and has been described as one of the finest Arts and Crafts windows in Scotland.  It was given by friends who had been associated with him in the late Victorian restoration of the Chapel in honour of Dr James Cooper and to mark his semi-jubilee as a minister, including 18 years in the East Kirk