Monday, December 12, 2011


The Mystery of NCBC's Stained Glass
In this series I want to take a closer look at the stained glass heraldry in the window at the north end of NCBC’s “nave” (See picture above). These windows, I assume, were added when the church was built circa 1952.

As I have remarked before, the church congregation of 1952 thought of themselves as pillars of society (and at that time still were); this fact, I submit, is reflected in the stained glass motifs of the window above, as we shall see. Since 1952 Christian culture has undergone huge shifts, especially during the 1960s when Christian fundamentalism and a vigorous secular liberalism separated out in the centrifuge of rapid change. The 60 year gap since these motifs were installed is effectively a much longer time span than it would be in periods when change was sluggish.

It is no surprise, then, that as far as NCBC’s Joe and Josephine Pugh are concerned the meaning of these windows and above all the rationale that motivated them is all but lost in the mists of time; to most people they are just a pretty pattern of colours. In fact Christian fundamentalists who have shrunk their epistemic horizon and purged their world of all that they don’t want to understand, would very likely underrate the spirituality of the peoples that built the impressive edifice which now hosts NCBC.

What, then, did these windows mean in 1952? Perhaps there are documents somewhere revealing just what motivated the 1952 builders to install these windows and just how they thought about then. To be honest I’m too lazy I lack the time to go on a long paper chase with no guarantee of a successful find at the end of it. In any case the ambient weltanshauug and mores of a culture often don’t get recorded as at the time they seem too self evident and axiomatic to need it. Also, the people of the day may be unable to consciously articulate the reason for the appeal of certain motifs; for them they just feel right. Thus, the historian has to embark on the hazardous business of trying to read between the lines of history in order to reconstruct the deeper rationale that motivated the lives of distant ancestors.

So, as is my usual practice when the pressure is on to come up with answers, I will simply have to give it my best shot. I’m not going to spend and inordinate amount of time on the subject, but I will simply express where my understanding is at the moment. I will decode the meaning of the window as best I can with the help of some heraldry web sites and my knowledge of history such as it is. Some of my conclusions may be fanciful and with about as much chance of being right as the interpretations of pre-historians when they are faced with something as distant in time and culturally enigmatic as Silbury hill ... for me it so often feels like that. In fact I’m reminded of the cautionary tale of H. G. Wells’ Time Traveler who found himself in an alien world and with little to go on he attempted to make sense of what he saw:

As I stood there in the gathering dark I thought that in this simple explanation I had mastered the problem of the world – mastered the whole secret of these delicious people…. Very simple was my explanation, and plausible enough –as most wrong theories are! (The Time Machine, Chapter: “The Sunset of Mankind”) at least there is the bonus of being in the middle of what feels like a scientific romance with all the sense of adventure and mystery that goes with it.

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