Hursley Parish Church History in Detail
“The glass windows in a church are Holy Scriptures, which expel the wind and the rain, that is all things hurtful, but transmit the light of the True Sun, that is God, into the hearts of the faithful”
William Durandus (c 1220 – 1296) from “The Symbolism of Churches and Church Ornaments”
John Keble (1792 – 1866), the vicar of Hursley parish from 1835, was one of the leaders of the Oxford Movement which brought about a revolution in church building and decoration, which in turn brought about a revival in the art of stained glass manufacture.
As part of that Movement, the church at Hursley was rebuilt at Keble’s instigation in 1847/48 in its present form, although the stained glass windows were made a few years later. Many 19th century designers attempted to recreate or replace medieval glass in effecting church restorations, but the previous church at Hursley had had clear glass in the windows, so there was no medieval glass for Keble to re-use. Accordingly, instead of creating a pastiche of old glass, new designs were used.
The stained glass windows at Hursley were planned by Keble, based on the scheme of the medieval windows at his childhood home of Fairford in Gloucestershire. The scheme was prepared by the architect,
William Butterfield (1814 – 1900), but as Fairford Church is much larger than Hursley, that plan could not be exactly followed. According to Keble’s sister, Elisabeth, “The Hursley windows are meant to be a course of instruction in Sacred History from Adam to the last day; the church being dedicated to All Saints”.
The designs were suggested by the artists William Dyce (1806 – 1864) and Anthony Vandyke Copley Fielding (1787 – 1855) and executed under the supervision of Butterfield by William Wailes (1808 – 1881), who was seen as a Gothic Revival artist. Having trained with Franz Mayer & Co. of Munich, Wailes established his own stained glass business in 1838 which became one of the largest in England and was in great demand for use in new and restored churches of the period.
His work retained the style of stained glass produced in Germany and Limoges, being often a little paler and more brightly coloured than many English works. It tended to have distinctive colour combinations in the clothing of the figures (for example in the West window Christ’s red robe is lined with green), and he often used pink glass, which is noticeable in many windows at Hursley. His bright colours have been used throughout the windows at Hursley and, as commented by Charles Winston (1814 – 1864), an English historian of stained glass, dark interiors require more richly coloured glass than light interiors, and indeed Keble found that his new church was so dark that he later installed clerestory windows in the roof.
It was originally intended that the cost of the windows would have been raised from contributions of friends and readers of Keble’s writings but in the end only the four three-light windows and the repentance window were given, two others were paid for by special offertories and the rest were finally given by Keble from his published writings.
The stained glass windows at Hursley are typical of their time, and are a reflection of the changes effected by the Oxford Movement. Yet they have their roots in the past, in that the Hursley windows follow the same plan as the medieval windows at Fairford: from the Garden of Eden, through the Prophets and other Old Testament characters, the life of Christ, the Apostles and Saints to the Judgement Window. These windows will be looked at in detail in subsequent issues of the Parish Magazine.
Although the Fairford windows receive almost universal acclaim and astonishment at their longevity, the windows at Hursley arouse mixed opinions. Some consider that the Hursley windows “are an excellent example of early Victorian stained glass”, whereas others regard them “as lurid as a row of jars in a candy shop”. Charlotte Yonge’s view was that” ... though the colours are deeper, and what is now called more crude, than suits the taste of the present day, they must be looked upon with reverence as the outcome of [Keble’s] meditations and his great delight”.
Adam and Noah
The first window in the plan depicts Adam and Noah. Noah was a descendant of Adam and thus started the lineage of Christ. The early Church likened the flood to Christ’s baptism in washing away man’s sin.
In the quatrefoil window at the top is a depiction of an angel, an Old Testament being who conveys God’s will to the people. The angel is holding a flaming sword, as a symbol of authority and of the administration of justice, and with which the angel guarded the way to the tree of life in the Garden of Eden. There is a foliage design in the background of both lights.
Adam (Genesis 2:5 – 3:24)
In this window there is a cross above Adam’s head with foliage sprouting from it (thus linking the image to Christ’s cross and the tree of life). Adam is carrying a bunch of purple grapes (a link to the true vine) and is holding a spade. He is standing on grass with a tilled field and a tree and plants behind him. His job in the Garden was to tend the plants.
After Adam and Eve had succumbed to the Temptation, God clothed them in animal skins. By using this part of the creation story and showing the figures in furs, this also avoided the Victorian aversion to nudity as the pair were created naked.
The small light at the bottom shows a picture of Adam and Eve being driven from the Garden of Eden by an angel. There is a tree shaped like a crook (suggesting Christ as the Good Shepherd) behind the figures with leaves and flowers to represent the tree of knowledge of good and evil, alongside a part of an arch, symbolising the exit from the Garden. Adam and Eve are walking on a path through fields and plants with the setting sun on the horizon, as the Expulsion took place when the Lord was walking in the Garden in the cool of the evening. After the Expulsion Adam was condemned to toil in the fields for the rest of his life, and Eve to suffer in childbirth.
Noah (Genesis 6:9 – 9:1)
The figure of Noah is shown in the right-hand light. He carries the plans for the ark over his right arm and a T-square in his left hand.
The small light at the bottom of the window shows Noah after the waters have subsided, with a wooden ark (ignoring the structural details given in Genesis) in the background and a tricoloured rainbow (the three colours representing the Trinity) in blue, red and yellow in the clouds, signifying God’s promise that never again will flood waters destroy all living creatures or lay waste the earth. Other figures are behind Noah, two men representing his sons and a woman representing either his wife or one of his daughters-in-law.
The animals to the right of Noah (an ox prefiguring an animal generally present at scenes of the Nativity; a lion symbolising the Resurrection or representing strength and fortitude; a deer being a sacred animal, a fleet-footed messenger or a symbol of piety; a rescued sheep symbolising the repentant sinner; and a rabbit as a symbol of the fecundity required of Noah and his family) represent some of the creatures which came out of the ark.
To the left of Noah is a wood fire on a brick or stone pillar, representing the altar which Noah built to make offerings to the Lord in thanks that they were all saved, and behind it is a pot with steam showing the soothing odour of the sacrifice rising out of it.
Abraham and Melchizedek
The second window in the plan has lights depicting Melchizedek and Abraham. Melchizedek was a figure of importance in biblical tradition because he was connected with Jerusalem, and was revered by Abraham, who paid a tithe to him. It is speculated that the story of Melchizedek has possibly been added to give validity to the idea of the priesthood and tithes connected with the Church.
The quatrefoil at the top of this window pictures a woman's head and shoulders and her crossed hands show humility. The word "Sara" is written across the window, indicating that she is Sara or Sarai (she would later be re-named Sarah), the wife of Abram (or, later, Abraham) and mother of Isaac. Her relevance in this window is that God keeps his promises; He promised to give her a son (Genesis 21), even though she was then 90 years old, and her tomb at Hebron (Genesis 23) was a sign of Abraham's faith that God's promise of the land would also be kept.
The backgrounds of the principal lights have vine branches at the top and show oak foliage with acorns. The use of an oak in art has many meanings, including faithfulness and endurance as shown by Sara and Abram, but in this instance could represent Abram’s journey from his own country to Canaan and God’s promise to make him into a great nation - in some versions of the Bible: “Abram passed through the country to the sanctuary at Shechem, the oak tree of Moreh” (Genesis 12:6). The background also shows a castellated parapet, perhaps symbolising Jerusalem and the other cities mentioned in Abram’s journey.
Melchizedek (Genesis 14:18-24)
He is shown in the left-hand light. Melchizedek was the king and high priest in Salem or Jerusalem. The god whom Melchizedek served as priest was probably the high god of the Canaanite pantheon. Later, the early worship of Yahweh was centred around the cultic temple at Salem, as this was David's capital, and the town was given exclusive right of sacrifice to Yahweh. Hebrews 6:20 refers to Jesus “having become a high priest for ever in the succession of Melchizedek”, which is foretold in Psalm 110:4, where the psalmist says “The LORD said unto my Lord: Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek”.
Melchizedek’s name means “My king is righteousness” or, as referred to in Hebrews 7:2, “King of Righteousness”. He wears a yellow mitre with Hebrew characters round the lower edge which translate as “Sanctify the LORD”.
When Abram and his nephew Lot travelled north from Egypt, Abram went to Canaan and Lot to Sodom. There Lot was captured by raiders. Abram pursued them and released Lot, returning in triumph. At Jerusalem he was received by Melchizedek who blessed Abram and gave him food and wine; the figure in the window is shown holding a cloth with a loaf of bread in his left hand and a chalice in his right. This may also symbolise the idea of eucharist. One of the tenets of the Oxford Movement, of which John Keble was a major influence, was to get back to a fundamental form of worship, through a revival of Holy Communion as the principal act of Christian worship.
Abraham (Genesis 22:1-19)
Abraham was the first of the great Hebrew patriarchs of the Old Testament.
This window illustrates the test which God put to Abram - now called Abraham (Genesis 17:5), to offer his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice. They travelled for three days, alone in the latter part while Isaac carried the wood for the fire and Abraham carried the fire and the knife, as shown in the window. When Abraham went to kill his son, he was stopped by God who acknowledged his obedience, and provided instead a ram caught by its horns in a thicket. As a result, Abraham was blessed by God andwas promised many descendants.
This story was considered to show a parallel with the New Testament story of the God’s sacrifice of his beloved only Son, Jesus Christ. The image of Isaac carrying the wood prefigured Christ carrying the Cross, the ram became Christ crucified, and the thorns of the thicket were the crown of thorns.
Joseph and Job
The third window in the plan has lights depicting Joseph and Job. Both of these stories illustrate that even though we do not understand why God, who is good and just, allows bad things to happen to good people, we must continue to trust in Him and we will be rewarded.
The small quatrefoil light at the top of the window shows a woman’s head and shoulders and her hands. The name ‘Rebecca’ is written across the light, showing that she represents Rebecca, the wife of Abraham’s son, Isaac, and the mother of Esau and Jacob. She was a kinswoman of Abraham and was selected for Isaac by his father when she drew water from the well for his servant and his camels (Genesis 24:14). She was taken to Canaan to meet Isaac and when she first met him, she covered her face with a veil (Genesis 24:65).
Joseph (Genesis 37; 39 – 40; 41:1-49; and 42 – 47)
Joseph was the elder son of the Hebrew patriarch, Jacob by his wife Rachel, and a grandson of Isaac and Rebecca. His numerous other brothers, mentioned in the various stories about him, were strictly only half-brothers with different mothers, apart from Benjamin who was his full brother.
He was sold into slavery in Egypt by his older brothers who hated him because he described dreams he had had which predicted that they would all be subject to him. He was eventually made steward of the household of the Pharaoh’s guard (Genesis 39:4). Later he became chief administrator or vizier to the Pharaoh (Genesis 41:40), on account of having interpreted the Pharaoh’s dreams as being a sign of seven good harvests followed by seven years of famine to come and of giving good advice to reserve some of the bounty against times of hardship. His rich clothing in the window is an indication of his high-ranking position. He is also shown holding seven ears of wheat illustrating one of those dreams.
Joseph became very wealthy and had two sons; and it was foretold that the descendants of the younger “shall be a whole nation in themselves” (Genesis 48:19). When Joseph’s father was dying, he declared that “Joseph is a fruitful vine….with branches climbing over the wall” (Genesis 49:22), which is illustrated at the top of the principal lights of this window.
Job (Job 2:1-10)
Job refused to abandon his God despite a series of disasters which befell him and his family, his health, and his property, and which were imposed during an argument between God and Satan as to whether Job’s faith was strong enough to survive adversity.
Job is shown naked, and covered in boils, which was one of the disasters. In his left hand he carries a scroll which states “Wherefore I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job42:6). He carries a broken plate in his right hand illustrating that “He took a potsherd to scrape himself” (Job 2:8) when the pain of his boils became almost too much to bear.
Job was a good and prosperous man until the misfortunes fell on him. In the book of Job, he and his three friends debate the cause of his suffering and possible solutions, but Job simply regarded them as God’s will. Eventually Job is restored to an even better position than he had originally. The stories of the suffering and resilience of Job show that obedience to God, who is just and merciful, will be rewarded, but that ultimately what is mankind to question the ways of God. Few Christian theologians today regard this an adequate answer to the problem of suffering.
St Paul quotes from Job twice in his letters. Firstly, in Romans 11:35 “who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?”, quoting Job 41:11, and secondly in 1 Corinthians 3:19 “As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”” quoting Job 5:13.
Also, in the letter of James (5:11), the writer praised Job for his patience and said “as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the LORD …You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the LORD finally brought about”.