The Transfiguration Window

At the end of the Epiphany season on the Sunday before Ash Wednesday we celebrate the Transfiguration of Christ. The gospel stories of this church season describe various events that manifest the divinity of Jesus. The best is definitely the last. Dazzling white light, Moses, Elijah, and the booming voice of God declaring Jesus is his Son is hard to top.

The magnificent Transfiguration Window was given in memory of Charles Philip Armstrong who lived from 1842 to 1901. He was a prominent businessman who resided in Belle Haven. The window was designed and made by The Gorham Company of New York and installed in 1912 over the balcony on the north end of the church, which is the window over the double red doors we enter from Putnam Avenue. Many say this is the finest work of stained glass at Christ Church. Its rich, deep colors, intricate tracery and Gothic design, and very “readable” graphic images all contribute to making it a glorious and imposing example of stained glass religious art.

The account of transfiguration depicted here most likely was inspired by Matthew Chapter 17: 1-8. Peter, James, and his brother John went with Jesus up a high mountain. There they witnessed Jesus’s face shining like the sun and his robe as white as the light. Then, after Moses and Elijah appeared and spoke with Jesus, Peter offered to build three dwellings, one for each of them. He was interrupted by a voice from above saying “This is my Son, the Beloved, with him I am well pleased; listen to him”.  Jesus addressed their fear, touching them as they lay on the ground and saying “Get up and do not be afraid”.  When they looked up Jesus was alone.

All of these Biblical figures are depicted in the window. The disciples are at the bottom of the middle three of the five lancets with Peter, his foot on a rock, on the left, and then to right, James and John, fishermen and fishers of men. There are beautiful flowers and vegetation depicted here as well. Moses with the tablets representing the Law and the prophet Elijah representing the prophets flank Jesus and all three seem to be suspended between Earth and Heaven. Rainbow rays of light above Jesus add to the luminosity of the window. Above them six Cherubim (angels) carry the pronouncement by God.  More angels flank Jesus, Moses and Elijah. The greens and golds of their wings enhance the magnificence of this tableau in glass. The four Seraphim (angels) at the top carry symbols associated with Christ. The memorial inscription is at the bottom of the window.

Notes: Scripture taken from NRSV. Other scriptural references in the window include Mark 9:1-13; Luke 9: 18-36; and John 12: 23-33, and for those who have studied the Synoptic Gospels, Elijah appeared with Moses during the Transfiguration of Jesus in all three. Cherubim have four wings and help God while Seraphim have six wings and praise God.

Karen Royce

Photograph from The Stained Glass Project by Lynne Smith and Lawrence J. Sterne