The best Cathedral window

winchester26abigLast weekend I went to Winchester. It’s a nice little town with lots of history, a river running through it and a quaint centre. It also used to be the capital of Britain but that’s not too important.

Whilst I was there I met up with one of my friends from University and she showed me around the town. We went on a stroll by the river, through some fields and then ended up at the Cathedral.

Winchester Cathedral is an old building with the longest medieval nave in all of Europe (which is one of those facts that you had never heard, nor did you care about, before you arrived at the cathedral, but now it’s amazing – I looked at it in a whole new light after I found that out).

But the most interesting thing about the Cathedral is the large stained glass window at the front of the church.

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To look at it, you wouldn’t think it was anything special. In fact, it looks pretty rubbish: there’s no rhyme or reason to it, it doesn’t resemble anything, it looks like it was a rush job with little care taken. It’s a far cry from other stained glass windows which depict Saints and stories from the Bible so clearly and expertly.

This one looks like it was put together by a child.

Stained glass up close

Nevertheless, my friend pointed this window out to me specifically (she did History of Art) and she explained to me its story and why it looked so terrible:

In 1642, during the Civil War, Oliver Cromwell’s forces deliberately destroyed these windows and smashed the glass to pieces. These pieces were then gathered up by the locals.

Once peace time came and the Monarchy was restored, the locals came together and rebuilt the old window. There were no plans of the old window and a ‘jigsaw’ approach would have been far too difficult so they placed each shard wherever they could – making the full mosaic-like piece.

These locals had no formal training yet they banded together to bring glory back to their cathedral, to bring glory to God. Their capabilities were lacking but their hearts were determined, and they rebuilt the entire window.

Some may ask why they didn’t just get a whole new window commissioned rather than piece together something meaningless. But I would argue that what they did was much more meaningful than most other stained glass.

They bonded together to build something bigger than themselves. Even though it didn’t look as ‘nice’ as if someone else did it, that doesn’t matter because they did it together. The community outweighed the outcome.

I loved it.

Once I returned home from Winchester I searched online to try and find the full story for the Cathedral window but to no avail – it just said it had been pieced together by the locals after it was smashed by Oliver Cromwell. So there could have been many other reasons why it was created this way, perhaps they didn’t have enough money or time, but I like to think it was done as a group.

The 5 year-old running to help the 70 year-old place the final shard.

That is community.