Saturday, 7 April 2012

Concerning My Loathing of Stained Glass

Actually, I like stained-glass windows; just not stained-glass Christianity. 

The Passion is a time when the Mrs Alexanders of this world conspire to annoy  me. "There is a green hill far away without a city wall". I ask you - green? Jerusalem? Not the Jerusalem that I visited that was parched and arid. Green Hill? Hardly, love. 

If this were Room 101, I would surely consign Stained-Glass Christianity to that deep pit. Why? Because all glass should be clear or frosted? No. Because it depicts a story in a manifestly sanitized way. 

Windows depicting the events on the Golgotha are a pertinent case in point. You have your cross, all neat and clean. you have your Jesus, all fair and wind-swept - almost dashing. His face is clean, his natty little head-piece set to a jaunty angle. He is often depicted in neat baggy Speedos, wrapped around a muscular, six-pack enhanced physique. It must be that between Gethsemane and Gabbatha, Jesus popped over for an hour at the weights at Gold's Gym. 

The Christmas images are the same. Mary is often a pretty woman in her late twenties, in robes more expensive than Bill Gates could afford. Jesus is always a plumpling, clean and as Caucasian a child as ever there was. The manger is a twee little magazine rack full of my guinea-pig's straw bedding, the donkeys have floppy eyelashes and the moo-cows seem to smile.


I know that argument for this is artistry, or that the alternative would have wounded sensibilities. Sensibilities Schmensibilities. Artistry Schmartistry. Stained-Glass Shamed Glass.

Now, as a thing to have in ones church I like these windows a great deal, just not the way that they clean up the act, purify the filth, sooth away the agonies, wash the linen, beautify the traumatized. Little wonder people don't 'get' Good Friday let alone a snotty dribble-covered manger stone. If people could be allowed to learn of the horrors implicit in our Gospel stories, they might just start to get the extent and depth of the whole thing. 

"There is a green hill far away ..."

No there bloody well isn't.


  1. Oh my, we are a ranty little vicar today aren't we?
    Given that stained glass in our churches and cathedrals covers an enormous period of time (several centuries) is it surprising that the glass reflects the tastes of those periods.
    Agreed the Victorian propensity for 'covering up' and presenting a respectable front went to extremes. (Thinking of frilled pantaloons on piano - dare I say it? - legs).
    Nevertheless there are some truly beautiful examples of stained glass church and Cathedral windows in existence (not Gilbert Scott) but a true depiction of the Middle East of 2,000 years ago would probably require the use of dark glasses in church.
    We know, or do we?, that Jesus was not a blue-eyed blonde, but did the artists?

  2. Are you trying to tell me Jesus wasn't a blue-eyed blong chubbykins with a neon halo? Goodness, you'll be telling me next he didn't speak King James English. How ridiculous!

  3. Visit one of our churches, which has just had a new stained-glass window. Not a blond Jesus in sight. Just rich colours, layers of imagery, and a vision in which to lose oneself and find God. Come and see!

  4. I do love stained glass so very much but until going to St Mary's in Aylesbury I had never had the opportunity to view it up close & personal.It is so very detailed a fact I have never fully appreciated before.
    There may not be a green hill far away but I think that humans trying to worship with everything they are by the writing of hymns and creation of beautiful stained glass is a noble thing indeed and it helps the less artistically gifted like myself to reach spiritual depths that otherwise may have remained hidden. very humbling it would be to see much closer to 'real life' pictures and realistic representations of Jesus' time on earth it would be. Maybe it would just be to hard for a lot of us to take.



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