The Transfiguration Window

The Transfiguration windowThe West Window in St Peter’s is one of the finest examples of stained glass in the church - it is set in the only remaining mediaeval tracery, dating from the time the tower was built in about 1340. From inside the church it is often overlooked since it is positioned above the west gallery, but it is well worth looking at in more detail, especially later in the day when the sun shows it off best. Since the Feast of the Transfiguration is celebrated on 6 August, and there is a better chance of getting good sunshine at this time of year, this summer issue of the magazine seems appropriate for an article about it!

The story appears in both St Matthew’s and St Mark’s Gospels. Jesus took Simon Peter and the two brothers James and John up a high mountain, where he was "transfigured" - his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as the light, and Moses and Elijah appeared and talked with him. Then a bright cloud overshadowed them, and God called from the cloud. " This is my Beloved Son, on whom my favour rests: listen to him". Peter, always the one to make a hasty decision, had immediately proposed building three tabernacles or shelters for Jesus, Moses and Elijah, but he and the other disciples were so overawed by the voice from heaven that they fell on their faces in terror.

The Transfiguration was significant in three ways. It linked Jesus firmly with the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah, it presented a further proclamation from God that Jesus was his Son, and it foreshadowed the glory of the risen and ascended Christ. The story ends, however, with the return of Jesus and the disciples to the world below the mountain - a reminder that we cannot live solely "on the heights" of religious ecstasy but must return to the ordinary world to continue our lives and work. (The "high mountain" referred to in the Gospels is not named, and various traditions have identified it as Mount Hermon or Mount Tabor - but there is another tradition which suggests it was the Mount of Olives, and there are berries in the background of our window which might be intended for olives.)

The window was unveiled at a special service in 1907 - it was designed as a memorial to the Revd. George Edgcome, who was Rector of St Peter’s from 1870 until his death in 1906. There is another memorial to him - a beautiful marble and mosaic tablet - in the chancel, just to the left of the communion rail. The booklets The Windows of St Peter’s Church and The Rectors of St Peter’s Church 1241-1991 give some details of George Edgcome and of the design of the window (both available in Church, price 1.50).

More information about the design has recently come to light, thanks to a chance visit to the church - and a conversation with Trevor - by Bill Waters from Cumbria, who has been working on Victorian stained glass, especially the designs of Sir Edward Burne-Jones. Our window is not by Burne-Jones, but it is similar to his style. We know it was made by the firm of James Powell and Son of Whitefriars, London, which Burne-Jones often used. Bill Waters has now discovered that the church in Alnwick, Northumberland, has two windows (dated 1871 and 1877) which are very close in design to the upper part of our window, showing Moses, Jesus and Elijah. These are known to be by Henry Ellis Waldridge, a pupil of Burne-Jones, and though the background is slightly different Bill Waters is certain that all these very fine windows are actually the same design - probably taken over by Powells as one of their stock designs, to be drawn on as necessary. (That could explain how the window was designed so quickly after Edgcome’s death.)

The bottom section of the window, showing the three disciples, Bill Waters thinks was probably designed by Charles Hardgrave, another fine artist in stained glass connected with Powells (he was also known for his excellent tile designs - perhaps a link with the Edgcome memorial in the chancel, since Powells also specialised in mosaic work). There is a list of the artists working for Powells, and of their works, in the Victoria and Albert Museum, but it does not include our window - an omission that Bill Waters hopes to put right.

Incidentally, the fact that the Feast of the Transfiguration is celebrated on 6 August has nothing to do with the actual date of the Transfiguration, which is unknown. The date was set by Pope Callistus III in 1457, to mark the anniversary of the day that news reached Rome of the Battle of Belgrade in 1456, when the armies of the Christian states of Europe defeated the Turks!

Peter Hoare
St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 29th June 1998