Halifax Minster: Commonwealth Windows


Stained glass windows in churches seldom give me pleasure. This is because they are either vulgar Victorian with dull panes and tedious meaning, or they are excessively bright and cheerful, populating sacred space with trite cartoon characters. Surviving medieval glass is historically satisfying but I find it spiritually dead, its creators more interested in noble coats of arms or silly saints and popish idols. Some of the best antique windows, however, are to be found at Halifax Minster, wherein several ‘Commonwealth’ windows (and one replica) may still be enjoyed. Installed in 1657 to replace their colourful predecessors damaged by local puritans or visiting Scottish troops, they contain plain glass, although closer inspection concedes some faint colouring. The lead work which holds in place the small panes creates some rather stunning geometric designs. No garish images here, no gaudy hues or excessive distraction. Just a plain beauty, a modest and understated style which is as eloquent as it is beautiful.

In 1 Timothy 2:8-10 (New King James Version), Paul writes: I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting; in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works.

The spirit of this text applies to both sexes in equal measure. Our beauty, like Halifax’s windows, comes not from excessive adornment, but our chaste and modest patterning of God’s good will in our lives.