A Window of Life over Death
A Vicar of St Mary's Greenfield, The Revd Samuel Redfern Potts wrote in his letter for the Parish Magazine :
“January 24th (1921)
My Dear People,
As I write this letter I am thinking of the impressive Memorial Service held in our Church yesterday. The Church was packed to its utmost capacity, it was a sight that will never fade away from our eyes. It was a manifestation of great respect to those from our Church and parish who gave their lives in the Great War, also of deep sympathy with those who have been bereaved .........."
At this Service, on Sunday 23rd January 1921 at three o'c1ock, a memorial stained glass window was unveiled by Lieutenant Hervey Rhodes DFC (a former pupil of St. Mary's School; later to become the Lord Rhodes of Saddleworth KG), and the marble name tablets on either side were unveiled by Private John Bell DCM and Private G.W. Bell MM, The dedication by the Vicar was "in the faith of Jesus Christ we dedicate this memorial to the Glory of God and in loving memory of those from this congregation and parish who gave their lives in the Great War 1914 - 1919." The lesson was read by Captain Francis Buckley from 'The Wisdom of Solomon' Ch.3, vv 1-10 (Apocrypha).
A report of the Service appeared in the Saddleworth Reporter of the following week. Headed 'Impressive Ceremony at Saddleworth', the report stated that the church "was filled with a large congregation...every part of the sacred edifice was crowded, the aisles being filled with chairs and forms." The opening hymn was 'O valiant hearts who to your glory came." Staff Sargeant Whitehead of the Boys' Brigade sounded the Last Post and "the never to be forgotten service closed with the singing of the hymn 'For ever with the Lord,'" In addition to apparently more than 320 people inside the building, it appears a goodly number also stood outside the open doors to listen and join in the service.
The window was designed, made and installed by Thomas Figgis Curtis of the London firm of Ward and Hughes in 1920. The window, in the north wall of the nave next to the entrance from the porch is known as both the 'sacrifice window ' and the 'memorial window'. A matching set of name tablets were added in memory of those of congregation and parish gave their lives in the 2nd World War. All the names are read out during each Remembrance Sunday (or Day) Service to this day.
The window is indeed in memory of those who sacrificed their lives that we might live in freedom and peace. It has a remarkable biblical and theological basis and is a beautiful example of late Victorian style painted stained-glass.
The upper pair of pictures is part of a saga from the book of Genesis - the only Old Testament direct reference in any of this church's windows. The first picture shows Abraham and his son Isaac on a donkey, going to the mysterious land of Moriah to a mountain to sacrifice his beloved son in absolute obedience to God's command. They carry wood for the funeral pyre and a 'fire pot'; the two servants who have been told to wait, are shown in the background.
The second picture has Isaac prepared to be sacrificed on the wood, his father with the knife ready to kill him. But the angel above represents the giving of a new command from God as the knife is stayed - "Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him, for I know that you fear God, seeing that you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me - because you have done this and have not withheld your son, I will indeed bless you.... and your descendants shall pass the gates of their enemies, and by your descendants shall all the nations of the earth bless themselves because you have obeyed my voice."
This story from Genesis ch.22 vv 1-19 is called in Hebrew 'aqedah' or 'binding' which is sometimes alleged to show how the old original covenant between God and Abram and his developing community, who were to be led to the promised land, comes into existence; a precursor of God's plan in the giving of His only Son on the Cross of Calvary where the love of God reigns supreme and the full Kingdom of God comes into being. The reference acknowledges loyalty and obedience as being worthy of God's love and honours the faithful for their love that they show. We should note the sudden appearance of a ram shown caught in the thicket - for God will provide the sacrifice.
On the left side of the main lights of this window we see Christ in majesty in the robes of a bishop (he wears a bishop's pall), crowned in gold as supreme head of the Kingdom of God in the act of blessing - blessing the dying soldier in the opposing light, tended by a medical orderly. This unknown warrior is about to pass into that full 'kingdom of love' with honour and dignity for his sacrifice. Entwined on the Lord's Crown is a further crown of thorns to indicate his suffering in achieving victory over both sin (achieving redemption of mankind for all the wrong-doing they would ever do) and over death (achieving resurrection and eternal life within His Kingdom for all). The rays of 'energy' coming from the Lord (the aureole) signify the power of God emanating from him; his crossed nimbus (halo) signify his divinity and holiness; the en-shielded gothic-script letters, 'xps' & 'ihs'' are Greek abbreviations for the holy name - Christ Jesus - the chosen (anointed) one of God. (In His ministry on earth, there were many first-born males of Jewish families called Jesus, but there is only one Christ).
In the right-hand light, surrounding our unknown warrior is a stylised drawing of the devastated fields of Flanders with explosions, fire and death taking place in the background. The scriptural text for the whole scene is from St, John's Gospel ch.15 v13 - "Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends."
The angel of God holds the crown of eternal life over the dying soldier's head signifying that the King of Love will take him into his safekeeping. The crossed palm leaves signify the rewards after earthly life is over.
We take note of the windows message - stronger and more poignant as the years roll on -- let us strive for peace that war be no more, that the sacrifices of all those men, women and children in our prayers are for ever remembered.
A window indeed of life over death.