The Great East Window
The book is open at the beginning of Psalm 143 (142 in the Latin numbering): Domine exaudi orationem meam; auribus percipe obsecrationem meam, ‘Hear my prayer, O Lord; give ear to my supplication.’
The fact that all three books in the window – this one and those held by the two Margarets – are open at Psalms suggests that they are ‘Books of Hours’. These were books of structured prayers at speciﬁed times (‘hours’) which were especially popular among women in the late middle ages.
The words above St Christopher
The scroll reads
Here on Christopher I am seated who take [away] the [world’s] sins
With typical economy of words the Latin, here given a literal translation, carries the meaning given in the Guidebook: Christopher carries me, but I carry the world’s sins.
The position of the window
Until 1730 this window was in the Lady Chapel, in the place where the Corporal Acts of Mercy window now is. It was moved to its present position at some time between then and 1846. Because the north-side windows have no tracery, 19th-century glass had to be created to fill the tracery lights above the present window.
In their former position in the Lady Chapel the three lights of this window were shorter than the openings for them in the east window. Accordingly they were lengthened when the glass was moved to its present position by the addition of the alternating red and blue lancets that run along the foot of the window. Previously the bottom of the window was marked by the ‘Orate pro animabus...’ inscriptions now above the red and blue lancets.
(above) The red and blue lancets beneath the younger Blackburns and their ‘Orate pro...’ inscription. The lancets, which appear at the foot of all three lights, were added in the 19th century when this glass was moved to its present position behind the High Altar. Otherwise there would not have been enough glass to ﬁll the extra height of the already-existing stone window openings. Previously the two-line inscription was at the very bottom of the glass.
The inscriptions – the younger Blackburns
Margaret Blackburn jr is reading the beginning of Psalm 6, Domine ne in furore tuo arguas me, neque in ira tua, ‘O Lord rebuke me not in thine indignation, neither [chastise me] in thy displeasure.’
The inscription at the bottom of the window, above the lancets, reads Orate pro animabus Nicholai Blakeburn junioris quondam maioris Civitate Ebor. et Margarete uxoris eius, ‘Pray for the souls of Nicholas Blackburn jr, one-time mayor of the City of York, and Margaret his wife’.
Gee records that in 1618 one visitor stated that the inscription read Orate pro animabus Nicholai Blakeburn junioris et Margarete uxoris sue itaque pro animabus omnium benefactorum istius fenestre [blank] luminare vitrio, ‘Pray for the souls of Nicholas Blackburn jr and Margaret his wife, and also for the souls of all who contributed towards this window...to illumine with glass’. This omits mention of the fact that Nicholas jr. had been Lord Mayor of York, but adds other unnamed donors.
The inscriptions – the elder Blackburns
Margaret sr reads from Psalm 51 (50 in the Latin numbering), Domine labia mea aperies et os meum, ‘Thou shalt open my lips O Lord, and my mouth [shall shew thy praise].’
The scroll above Nicholas Sr’s head reads Det venie munus nobis rex trinus et unus, ‘May the King, the Three-in-One, grant us the gift of forgiveness.’ Even though he openly ﬂaunts the uniform of the title he bought from king Henry IV, he wants it to be known that it is God whom he regards as the true king.
Above the 19 th -century red and blue lancets the inscription reads Orate pro animabus Nicholai Blakeburn senioris quondam maioris Civitatis Ebor. et Margarete uxoris eius, ‘Pray for the souls of Nicholas Blackburn sr, one-time mayor of the City of York, and Margaret his wife’.
Gee records that according to the 1618 visitor the inscription added, after ’Margaret his wife’, the words et omnium ﬁdelium defunctorum, ‘and all the faithful departed’. Gee also tells us that in 1670 another visitor noted that the words benefactorum istius fenestre [blank] luminare vitrio now missing from the inscription below the younger Blackburns had been included here under the elder Blackburns. By 1691 these words had vanished from both, and the two inscriptions appeared in their present form.
Why have the inscriptions been altered?
Nicholas Blackburn sr was Lord Mayor of York in 1413, Nicholas jr in 1429. The post was always held for one year. (It still is.) According to Gee the window was made ‘probably’ between 1412 and 1427 but ‘possibly’ as late as 1435 – in other words it ‘probably’ pre-dates Nicholas jr’s term as Lord Mayor in 1429. In that case the reference to the latter’s mayoralty must be a later addition and not part of the original inscription. At some time after 1618 a restorer seems to have decided to record this mayoralty alongside Nicholas sr’s.
There may have been other reasons as well for the alterations. These could include the following:
- Being at the bottom of the window may have made the inscriptions more vulnerable to damage.
- If an inscription was damaged or destroyed long ago there may have been no written record of it but only (fallible) memory to help reconstruct it.
- The black pigment that was used to paint the inscriptions on the glass appears to fade easily (some of the surviving lettering is very faint) and may have had to be renewed, perhaps several times over the centuries, with the chance each time that alterations crept in.
The Trinity in picture form
The Reformation viewed with the utmost suspicion any attempt to depict God, and windows that did so were normally mercilessly smashed. It is remarkable that this one survived – might that be because the reformers did not recognise it for what it is and took it to be another picture of donors at the foot of a window? The very different 15 th -century depiction of the Holy Trinity as three crowned ﬁgures in the east window of the church of Holy Trinity, Goodramgate, York may well have survived because they were mistaken for the Magi.
On the other hand the face of God the Father is ‘modern’ (Gee), so perhaps that was deliberately destroyed but a decision made to limit the destruction to it.
The theology behind this depiction is important. The Christian faith in the Trinity is that it is through the cruciﬁed Son that we have access to God the Father, and so the cruciﬁed Son is in the foreground; yet the Son is overshadowed by the Father, ‘for the Father is greater than I’ (John 14.28). The bond of union between Father and Son is the Holy Spirit, the dove that links them in the image in the window.