Windows of All Saints
The ten stained glass windows of All Saints North Street form one of the great set pieces of English medieval art. They contain more good medieval glass than almost any other parish church in England, unique even in the cirt of York, well known as it is for its medieeval glass. Find out more about each window by following the links.
Coat of Arms Window
These shields were originally in the East window of the Lady Chapel (Window 5), where some of them are believed to be connected with the VISIONS OF OUR LADY received in All Saints by the anchoress Emma Raughton in 1421, the best-documented wisions in the whole of medieval English history.
In particular the shield at bottom right containing six pears belongs to the Beachamp family. In the visions Our Lady instructed that Richard Beachamp, Earl of Warwick, was to have care of an as-yet-unborn infant son of King Henry V.
The king’s death was also foretold. He did in fact die the following year, on campaign in France in 1422. The promised son was to be crowned as King Henry VI in England and also in France (he was) and was to be educated by Beauchamp.
In the top of each of the three lights is an exuberant architectural fantasy known as a ‘canopy’. Similar canopies can be seen in many of the windows in All Saints. The canopies in this window originally went with a different, now unknown, window.
St. Thomas Window
Fifteenth Century ~ c.1410
IN THE LEFT LIGHT of this window is Saint Thomas the Apostle, known as ‘Doubting Thomas’ because according to S. John’s Gospel he refused to believe in the resurrection of Christ until he saw and touched him. The scroll behind his head reads ‘Dominus meus et Deus meus’, ‘My Lord and my God’, Thomas’s confession of faith when the risen Christ showed himself.
IN THE CENTRE LIGHT is the risen Christ, who shows to S. Thomas the visible wounds to his hands, feet and side.
IN THE RIGHT LIGHT is a different S. Thomas, S. Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury murdered in his cathedral in 1170—or is it?
It is known that a chantry was founded on this spot at the altar of S. Thomas the Martyr (i.e. Becket) in ~1407-9, so there certainly will have been an image of S. Thomas Becket in this window.
This archbishop, however, does not quite fit (the ‘floor’ level on which he stands is wrong compared to the other two lights), and in fact he was placed here only in the 1970s.
Before that he was in another position in the church and identified as S. William of York, the archbishop murdered, allegedly by his archdeacon, while celebrating Mass in York Minster in 1154 (the chalice was poisoned).
Corporal Acts of Mercy Window
Fifteenth Century ~ 1410
In the 'Great Assize' parable in S. Matthew's Gospel (chapter 25) Jesus teaches that people are judged by God on the basis of their acts of mercy towards the needy: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming strangers, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, bringing relief to prisoners. Medieval piety referred to these along with a seventh, burying the dead, as the 'CORPORAL ACTS OF MERCY'.
(The complementary seven 'SPIRITUAL ACTS OF MERCY' were instructing the ignorant, counselling doubters, admonishing sinners, bearing wrongs patiently, forgiving others willingly, comforting the afflicted, and praying for the living and the dead.)
This magnificent window illustrates the six Corporal Acts of Mercy from S.Matthew's Gospel. It was given as a memorial to Nicholas Blackburn, father and grandfather of the Blackburns shown at the foot of Window 6. Hence the window itself is the seventh 'corporal act', burying the dead.
Each of the three lights consists of four panels. In each light the TOP PANEL is another elaborate canopy. BOTTOM PANELS with kneeling figures usually depict the donors of the window, but these probably went originally with Window 2, since under the Corporal Acts of Mercy were panels, now lost, showing Nicholas Blackburn and his shield. The MIDDLE TWO PANELS of each light are the Corporal Acts of Mercy.
Pricke of conscience Window
Fifteenth Century ~ 1410
This unique window, the finest in the church, illustrates part of a widely popular devotional poem of c. 1340, ‘The Pricke of Conscience’. The anonymous poem is written in the Northumbrian dialect of Middle English.
The part illustrated concerns the End of the World, depicted in fifteen signs or ‘days’ - the last fifteen days of the world. It is Europe’s only known medieval window to incorporate the text of a poem it illustrates below each scene. Some portions of text have been lost over the centuries.
It is thought likely on stylistic grounds that the glass painter was John Thornton of Coventry, who made the huge east window of York Minster in 1405-8, the world’s largest expanse of medieval glass.
The fifteen 'days' are described below:
2 The sea recedes, exposing the sea-bed.
3 The sea returns to its normal level.
4 Fish leap out of the sea ‘roaring’.
5 The sea catches fire.
6 Fruit drops off the trees.
7 Earthquakes destroy buildings. The fallen church spire may be a semi-humorous warning about the wonderful spire of All Saints, only 15 years old at the time this window was made (and still there).
8 Rocks and stones are consumed by fire.
9 People take refuge in caves.
10 Only the featureless Earth and red sky remain.
11 People come out of caves praying. (One man is still hiding!)
12 The graves are opened.
13 The stars fall from heaven.
14 All living people die.
15 The whole cosmos goes up in flames.
Lady Chapel East Window
Fourteenth Century ~ c.1330
This is the earliest window in All Saints. The canopies at the top of each light are clearly less assured than those of the 15th century in Windows 1 to 3.
This window was at one point above the high altar (Window 6). The central figure of the crucified Christ would have been seen behind the altar, in place of the more modern altar crucifix - these were unknown in medieval England, where instead there was normally a crucifixion scene in stained glass in the window behind an altar. Each of the three eastend altars in this church has a crucifix in stained glass behind. The six main panels tell the Christian story of salvation.
Appropriately for the Lady Chapel, they show Our Lady present in every scene, except the Resurrection where according to St. Matthew's Gospel nobody was present other than the sleeping soldiers.
Many individual pieces of glass in a window this old have broken and been renewed down the centuries. The face of the risen Christ, bottom right, is a clear example of a modern piece.
This window along with no. 4, 6 and 7 has ‘tracery lights’. These are small openings in the complicated stonework above the main window. Most of the glass in the tracery lights is not medieval.
LEFT LIGHT, LOWER: The Annunciation (the angel Gabriel tells Our Lady she is to be the mother of God's Son). The angel holds a scroll with the words ‘Ave Maria gratia plena’, ‘Hail Mary full of grace’ (Luke 1.28; the Latin words are abbreviated).
CENTRE LIGHT, LOWER: The Nativity (the birth of Jesus). Our Lady holds the infant Jesus, S. Joseph is beside her, and above them are heads of an ox and an ass.
LEFT LIGHT, UPPER: The Adoration of the Magi (the three kings offer gifts to the infant Christ).
CENTRE LIGHT, UPPER: The Crucifixion. With the crucified Jesus is the customary pairing of Our Lady (left) and St. John - see Window 7.
RIGHT LIGHT, LOWER: The resurrection of Jesus. He is shown rising from the tomb. At one side is an angel in white, and below are three soldiers, the centre one frightened and awake, the outer ones asleep.
RIGHT LIGHT, UPPER: The Coronation of Our Lady as Queen of heave - in medieval thought the sign that the redemption of humanity by God in Christ is completed.
Great east Window
Fifteenth Century ~ c.1410
Like window no. 3 this was given by the Blackburn family, who appear kneeling at the bottom—Nicholas snr is on the right with his wife Margaret, and their son Nicholas jnr on the left with his wife Margaret.
In between them, at the centre bottom, is a striking representation of GOD THE HOLY TRINITY. The Father is seated on his throne, holding the Son on the cross before him, and the dove of the Spirit is between their two heads.
The MAIN FIGURES under their exuberant canopies:
LEFT LIGHT: St. John the Baptist. He wears the rough garb of a prophet, and carries the lamb which is his symbol, from the occasion when, according to St. John’s gospel, he pointed out Jesus with the words ‘Behold the Lamb of God’.
CENTRE LIGHT: St. Anne. She is teaching her daughter, the Virgin Mary, to read and to pray: the words are the beginning of Psalm 142 (143), ‘Domine exaudi orationem meam auribus percipe obsecrationem meam’, ‘Hear my prayer O Lord; give ear to my supplication’. This representation of the Virgin as a child is incidental - its function is to indicate that the main figure is St. Anne - but it is one of the finest images of Our Lady to have survived from the whole of medieval England. That it is in such a fragile medium as glass makes its survival all the more remarkable.
RIGHT LIGHT: St. Christopher. He carries the child Jesus on his shoulders through water. Fish swim between his feet.
IT IS STRIKING THAT ALL THE WOMEN IN THIS WINDOW ARE READING. The merchant-class Blackburn family wish it to be known that literate women are not confined to the aristocracy.
In the main panel Our Lady and her mother St. Anne read from Psalm 142 (143).
At the lower left, Margaret Blackburn, wife of Nicholas jnr, 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’.
On the right Margaret wife of Nicholas snr reads from Psalm 50 (51), ‘Domine labia mea aperies et os meum’, ‘Thou shalt open my lips O Lord, and my mouth [shall show thy praise]’.
South Aisle East Window
Fourteenth Century ~ c.1350
Though originally the second oldest in the church, this is now a somewhat dissapointing window because much of it dates from repairs done in the 19th century.
UPPER ROW, LEFT: Our Lady, unusually dressed in purple (medieval).
UPPER ROW, CENTRE: the Crucifixion (the altar crucifix for this chapel).
UPPER ROW, RIGHT: S. John the Evangelist.
The placing of Our Lady and St. John on each side of the crucified Christ is traditional in medieval art. According to St. John’s gospel only these two remained faithfully by the cross when all the other disciples had fled. Carved in wood they occur on the ‘rood screen’ of all medieval English churches, separating nave from chancel. The rood screen in All Saints is an early-twentieth-century restoration.
LOWER ROW, LEFT: a kneeling lady, probably a donor.
LOWER ROW, CENTRE: Christ with the cup of sorrow in the Garden of Gesthemane.
LOWER ROW, RIGHT: a kneeling lady donor (medieval). To the left of her, outside the ‘picture’ but inside the blue border with its flowing sprays of oak, is a triangular piece of 16th-century glass with a long-beaked bird, possibly a fragment from another window.
St. Michael and St. John Window
Fifteenth Century ~ 1430
IN THE LEFT LIGHT St. Michael the archangel defeats Satan, depicted as a blue animal with three heads. St. Michael is wearing plate armour and has golden wings - which incidentally make it clear that this is not St. George, who would be shown without wings. His face was stolen in 1842 and has been replaced in clear glass.
IN THE RIGHT LIGHT stands St. John the Evangelist. He holds a scroll reading ‘Benedictus sit sermo oris tui’, ‘Blessed be the word of your mouth’. In his right hand are a clasped book, an eagle (his symbol) and an ink horn.
St. John’s left hand holds a palm branch - oddly, because palms normally symbolise martyrdom (Revelation 7.9) and St. John was not martyred but is known to have lived to a ripe old age.
The palm is in fact an allusion to an early legend according to which Our Lady on her deathbed is given a palm from heaven by an angel with the instruction that it is to be carried before the coffin in her funeral procession, a task she entrusts to St. John. Unbelievers scoff, and when they attempt to disrupt the funeral they are struck blind. They are converted by the preaching of St. Peter and are healed by the touch of the palm. The legend appears in a book attributed to St. John but certainly 5th century, The Account of St. John the Divine of the Falling Asleep of the Holy Mother of God.
Because he lived to old age, St. John is often shown in art as a very young man. St. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna martyred in AD 155, had met him. The face of St. John in this window portrays a beautiful combination of youthful innocence and wisdom.
Nine Orders of Angels Window
Fifteenth Century ~ 1410
This window has a fascinating recent history. Until 1965 it was in a very fragmented condition and nobody knew what it had originally represented. In the 18th century it was thought to have contained an angel, a cardinal-bishop, a pope, and a religious procession, possibly a Corpus Christi procession. A 19th century restorer suggested it might be the coronation of Edward IV in York in 1464. Some 20th century scholars believed it was simply a jumble of glass fragments from several unknown windows.
Then in the early 1960s the sketchbooks of an antiquarian called Henry Johnston came to light in the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Johnston visited York in 1670 and made sketches of many of the sights, including stained-glass windows in various churches. He left a clear sketch of this window which enabled it to be identified.
It depicts the nine 'orders of angels' as described by the 5th-century writer Pseudo-Dionysius in an infuential book. Dionysius placed them in three hierarchies each containing three 'choirs'. The three horizontal rows in the window represent the hierarchies, and in each panel there is a single angel on the left, representing his 'choir', with various onlookers. The angels of the highest hierarchy (top row) have three pairs of wings each - one pair is crossed above the head, another is behind the back, the third is in front - recalling Isaiah's vision of seraphim in attendance on God (Isa. 6.2): 'Each had six wings: with one pair of wings they covered their faces and with another their bodies, and with the third pair they flew.' In the second row they have two pairs each, in the In the bottom row one.
The restorers of 1965 when they found a piece of glass missing replaced it in clear glass. At the bottom right a man wearing spectacles is peering over someone's shoulder - a very rare illustration of what spectacles looked like in 1410. Is it the glass painter himself, eyesight worn out with years of close-up work? Possibly, but there is no evidence.
St. James Window
Fifteenth Century ~ 1410
LEFT LIGHT: S. James the apostle, dressed as a pilgrim on his way to the Santiago shrine at Compostela. (‘lago’ is the Spanish form of ‘lacobus’, James).
CENTRE LIGHT: Our Lady, crowned, holding her Child.
RIGHT LIGHT: a kneeling archbishop. His mitre is behind him, and he is wearing the pallium around his neck, the symbol of archiepiscopal authority bestowed by the Pope. He is saying Mass and is kneeling at the elevation of the Host. Above him Christ appears, accompanied by four angels.
The archbishop has been seen as S. Gregory the Great, or as S. William of York. But recent research indicates he may be S. Denys, bishop of Paris in the 3rd century. Denys, or Dionysius, was thought at the time this window was made to be the Dionysius who wrote the book on the nine orders of angels illustrated in the adjacent Window 9.
Amidst the fragments below the three main figures is a charming bird. The incomplete inscription beneath the archbishop contains the only surviving ‘indulgence’ in an English stained-glass window.
An indulgence removes the penalty incurred by a confessed sin, and could be gained by, for example, going on pilgrimage, or by meditating on truths of the faith expressed in a statue or, as in this case, a window.