Monday, 6 February 2012

Souls and Butterflies

The rest of England has snow today, but Oxford has only been grey and misty - one big cloud, as a friend called it. The little snow we did have yesterday has turned to brown slush, and it's all very depressing. So I turned to some of the pictures I took in Kent over Christmas (before my camera broke) and found these, from the church of St James the Great, at Staple.

Staple is a little village to the east of Canterbury, not far from Ash - a place which I now see I similarly turned to, for light on a dark day, in the autumn of 2010. I sold Ash a little short in that post by only posting photos of one of its splendid features; had I not been so enraptured with those knights and ladies I would not have failed to include a picture of Ash's even-more-modern stained glass window, inspired by St Francis of Assisi:

Beautiful - I wish I'd taken a better picture. I was reminded of this because Staple also has some an extremely modern stained glass window, installed only in 2007, which looks like this:

It's absolutely stunning. The parish website says:

The Pilgrimage Window, designed by Buffy Tucker and made by her and other craftsmen at the Cathedral Studios at Canterbury Cathedral, was installed in November 2007 as a gift to the church by Mrs Burges in memory of her husband Roger Burges who was organist at St James at the time of his death in 2005 and had been involved with the music and choral singing at the church for many years.

St James the Great is the Patron Saint of Pilgrims hence the theme of Pilgrimage, but the artist has chosen to depict the soul’s spiritual journey to heaven – the parallel journey to that of our bodies in pilgrimage, which she felt to be more uplifting imagery than the comparative heaviness of corporeal striving, with the figures conveying spiritual joy as the souls climb towards the light.

Among the souls there are butterflies, symbolising the transience and delicacy of the human condition; a tribute to God the creator. While it celebrates the soul’s release and journey to heaven the window also shows the beauty of the natural world around us in this life.

The design also includes a reference to music, an important part of the human expression of devotion. Curling upwards with the souls is music by Edward Elgar from his oratorio ‘The Dream of Gerontius’; that sung by the angelic choir as Gerontius’ soul approaches heaven.

In the bottom right hand light, amongst the more struggling figures, are references to medical science with symbols of some chemical elements and the organic molecule amlodipine (Istin). Mr Burges, as a pharmaceutical scientist, was a key figure in the discovery and development of this medication for angina and high blood pressure.

There's a prism in the window which casts rainbows in the church when the sunlight hits it:

I don't really have any words adequate to express how beautiful this window is, and how moving a tribute to the man who inspired it. The pictures speak for themselves.

Especially the butterflies.

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