I was looking at our south-facing “west” window recently and discovered that I had wrongly identified one of the bottom panels in the booklet that I published about the window some time ago. I have now corrected that error. But looking at the window, I discovered what I thought to be a mistake in the order in which the five bottom panels are set in place.
From left to right: The first shows Joseph’s brothers presenting his blood-soaked coat (of many colours) to his father and telling him that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal whereas they had sold him into slavery out of jealousy. The second is the story of God testing Abraham’s faith by asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac. Isaac is carrying the wood on his back for the altar of sacrifice, and Abraham is carrying the knife and a censor holding the fire. The third panel shows Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac when an angel appears and points to a ram caught in a bush and the ram is sacrificed instead. The fourth takes us back to the story of Joseph and depicts his brothers pulling him out of a dry well to sell him to some passing merchants who are on their way to Egypt. And the final panel shows the prophet Elijah being taken up into heaven in a fiery chariot.
In choosing those five episodes from the Old Testament for the panels, the thought occurred as to why John Hardman Powell, who designed the window, chose two involving Joseph and two involving Abraham. Whatever his reasons may have been, it might have been expected that he would have set them, left to right, in biblically chronological order, in which case the two depictions of Abraham would have come first, and then the two of Joseph, and Elijah last, whereas he begins with Joseph, then has two involving Abraham, then comes back to Joseph, and lastly Elijah. Also, rather strangely, the two panels depicting Joseph are in the wrong order: he was sold into slavery before his brothers returned home with his blood-soaked coat.
I was wondering whether the panels had been removed at some point, perhaps for repair, and had then been put back in the wrong order… but then a further thought occurred. Instead of looking at those bottom panels from left to right, I looked at each in relation to the larger panel above it and suddenly things made much more sense (and let me state that what follows is my own theory – I have no evidence to support it)(also maybe everyone else is already aware of what I am about to say and it’s just me that the light has finally dawned upon).
Those larger panels, working from left to right depict Our Lord’s Passion and death, and in each case the panel below connects with it as I’ll explain:
- First we have the image of the Agony in the Garden and the disciples fast asleep, in a sense a betrayal of Our Lord’s faith in them. Below it is the image of Joseph’s brothers in an act of betrayal as they mislead their father into thinking Joseph is dead.
- Next is the image of Our Lord carrying his cross along the road to Calvary. Below it is the picture of Isaac carrying the wood for the altar on which he was to be sacrificed.
- The central panel depicts Our Lord’s crucifixion and the moment just before he died when the soldier offers him vinegar to drink. Below it is the picture of Isaac, about to be sacrificed on the altar, when the angel intervenes.
- The next one shows Our Lord rising from the tomb where he had been buried. Below it is the panel showing Joseph being lifted from the dry well where his brothers had thrown him.
- And finally, below the picture of Our Lord’s ascension into heaven while Our Lady and the disciples look on, is the panel showing the great Old Testament prophet Elijah being taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot as Elisha looks on. (The depiction of heaven in the apex of each panel is identical, possibly confirming the fact that we are meant to see a vertical connection between each pair of pictures as I’ve suggested.)
Given that the central theme of the window is Our Lord’s Passion and death, this would then explain the designer’s selection of those five parallel episodes from the Old Testament, also perhaps making the point that Our Lord in the New Testament was the fulfilment of the Old.
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