Stained Glass Windows
Part 5 - The Saints
Four saints were chosen to be shown in the windows behind the altar because each has special meaning to this parish.
Location: Right of altar, lower window
It’s been said that St. Francis is the most popular saint in the world. The artist has depicted him with birds perching on him, and a fawn at his feet. Who wouldn’t like a man who loved, and was loved by, animals so much?
Francis Bernardone, whose father was a successful international fabric merchant, was pretty popular with the other young people of early 13th century Assisi in Italy. He led a fun-filled frivolous life, spending the family wealth freely on his “posse,” to his father’s continual consternation. One day, sitting in a country chapel that was in great disrepair, Francis heard a voice telling him, “Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin.” Initially understanding this message literally, and using more of his father’s money, Francis set about the task of restoring the chapel. It took more time before Francis would give himself over to a life of complete service to God, but he did eventually do so (perhaps helped along by his father disinheriting him).
The figure in the stained glass looks well-nourished; but Francis wrecked his health with his dietary habits, often giving up his food for others. Once, Francis trekked from Italy to Spain barefoot in his rough rags. He even joined in the last of the Crusades, prepared – eager! – to die a martyr’s death in an attempt to bring peace. The account of Francis’ declining health during his final two years of life (he died at the age of 44, in the year 1226) is difficult to read. He may even have endured the onset of leprosy, since he had cared so closely for those poor unfortunates so afflicted, ever since the early days of his ministry. One aspect of this deteriorating health is the story that he was the first person whose body bore the signs of the stigmata (the appearance of wounds in his hands, feet, and side similar to those of the crucified Christ). You must look closely to see them, but the artist has included this legendary detail of the wounds in the stained glass figure’s hands and feet.
Unlike the rich young man in the Gospel story, he gladly pursued this life of caring for the poor. Throughout it all, he maintained the joy and fun-filled cheerfulness of his youth. He loved to sing and he composed poetry, as evidenced by the authorship credits for Hymns 400 and 593. He considered every person, every animal, and everything in nature to be his brothers and sisters.
Location: Right of altar, upper window
From an early age, her natural inclination was to give everything away to the poor. This was a great frustration to her family, even though her charity was rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ: she is reported to have asked her parents, “Is it not Christ Himself we help when we help His poor?”
Bridget’s father pressed her to marry a young nobleman, but she thwarted his plans by fleeing and becoming a nun. By thus becoming a “bride of Christ,” Brigid of Kildare (as the Irish know her) acquired her alternate name of “Bride.” She founded a convent at Kildare, and was its abbess. Her works of mercy continued through her long life, and her feast day of February 1 marks the date in the year 523 when she died, at about the age of 70. She is regarded as the patron saint of many things, including newborn infants (especially those born out of wedlock) and midwives. Unfortunately, she is often confused with a 13th century Swedish saint, another woman also called Bridget (this one was really named Birgitta), who was responsible for founding a religious order of nuns involved in acts of charity.
In the stained glass, the crown you see upon St. Bridget’s head has a triple meaning: the stories of her life claim that she was of Celtic royal birth; a crown usually denotes a saint who was a nun; and, as one of the top three Irish saints (Patrick and Columba are the other two), Brigid is often called “Mary of the Gaels,” being yoked in the Irish mind with the persona of the mother of our Lord, the “Queen of Heaven.” She is shown carrying a staff, which indicates her status as an abbess. The glowing heart she
Location: Left of altar, lower window
Martha of Bethany was very focused on wanting to display hospitality in the best possible way. For her, this meant the hard work of preparing a nourishing meal, and to do that she needed some help in the kitchen. But her sister, Mary, on whom she was relying for that help, was instead in the living room enthralled with listening to Jesus. Martha let her annoyance with Mary show, forgetting that hospitality comes in a variety of forms. She was focused on her own needs in her effort to be hospitable, and she failed to see that sometimes guests just need “to be,” rather than “to be waited upon.”
In the alcove to the left of the altar, in the window opening below the figure of St. David, St. Martha of Bethany is shown in the stained glass. Her arms are laden with a bowl of fruit and a flagon of drink for her guests. On her wrist she wears a bundle of keys, emblematic of someone who must manage a large house. Once past these symbols that identify her, there seems to be a look of weariness and self-pity about all the things she must do to be hospitable. Martha of Bethany was chosen as one of the four saints to be depicted in the stained glass of St. David’s because we place great stock in displaying hospitality.
Location: Left of altar, upper window
David was born in the 6th century. After his religious education, he traveled throughout Britain and established various monasteries, returning finally to the area of his birth near the ancient city of Menevia on the shore of the Irish Sea (which is now the city named for him: St. David). The way of life he led, which he also required of his monks, included a regimen of extreme austerity: hard physical labor during daylight hours, study and worship during the hours of darkness, and a vegetarian diet, with water the only permitted beverage. He is also said to have had the habit of bathing in pools of very cold water, doubly earning him the nickname of “The Waterman.”
Since he is the patron saint of Wales, every Welsh youngster is taught the most famous legend of St. David’s ministry: that while he was preaching to a particularly large crowd, the ground on which he stood rose up beneath his feet so that David stood upon a small hill and all could hear and see him clearly. A white dove, symbolizing the Holy Spirit, alighted on his shoulder. Impressed with this sign, the aged bishop of the area is said to have resigned and conferred his title upon David. Leeks (and their close botanical relative, the daffodil) are the traditional Welsh decoration to wear on March 1, the feast day of St. David. Legend has him advising Welsh warriors engaged in battle with the Saxons to put leeks in their hats to distinguish themselves from the enemy; naturally, the Welsh won.
It takes time to fully appreciate all the symbols shown in this window. The lush green of the chasuble he is wearing can be compared to the lovely green of the hangings and vestments used for the majority of each church year. Almost hidden is the white dove perched on the bishop’s shoulder. Behind him, poking up from the elevated ground, is a crop of plump leeks. The “pallium” is an ancient garment, similar to the stole worn by priests. You see one hanging like a yoke down the front of St. David’s green chasuble. The Pope traditionally awards a pallium to archbishops who exercise authority over other diocesan bishops, and the status of St. David as the archbishop of Wales is symbolized in this way. Remember Rhygyfarch’s goal of showing the independence of the Church in Wales?
How did our parish come to be named for the patron saint of Wales? Parish records state that Bishop Randolph Claiborne, in August of 1956, suggested this name to the Episcopalians in North Fulton who had petitioned him to establish a parish for them. But I had to probe the memory of someone who knew Bishop Claiborne personally for an account of why he would have suggested this name: Bishop Claiborne was mindful that the Diocese of Atlanta already had a parish in Griffin that was named for St. George, the patron saint of England; and, there was St. Margaret’s parish in Carrollton, named in the 19th century for the beloved patron saint of Scotland. Apparently, Bishop Claiborne was bent on honoring the patron saint of each part of the British Isles, and thus our parish was named for the patron saint of Wales.