St James' Stained Glass

Stained Glass Window – East End

2013 saw the 60th anniversary of the installation of the East window at St James. The original was irreparably damaged as a result of enemy bombing during World War II (1939-45). Post war reconstruction at St James was supervised by the Rev. J.J.A. Thomas the then Vicar of Swansea who subsequently became Bishop of Swansea & Brecon (1958-76).

The first necessity was to re-glaze the window with plain glass, and the present form evolved only after the Church obtained monies from the War Damage Commission. The window shape is typical of the Gothic period of Church architecture and measures approximately 12 feet at the base and 20 feet in height (internally). 

The design is based on the ‘Te Deum’ – the opening words of which are to be seen at the base of the centre light “We praise Thee O God: we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord”. The theme however is ‘The King of Glory’. 

The Vicar had a profound influence on the entire project. It was designed by Gerald E. R. Smith of the A.K. Nicholson, Stained Glass Studios,35 Circus Road, St. John’s Wood, London, whose work reached National importance in the 1940’s and 1950’s. In 1988 Moss Galleries of 238, Brompton Road, London SW3 2RB held an exhibition on ‘Design in Watercolour and Pencil for stained glass (between 1850 – 1950)’. Seventy eight designs were exhibited of which six were by Gerald E. R. Smith. Of these six – exhibit No. 65 was the East Window at St James’. This bears a wonderful tribute to the work of the original designers. The window was dedicated on Sunday 28th February 1954 at morning service by the Right Rev. Glyn Simon, Lord Bishop of Swansea & Brecon who later became Bishop of Llandaff (1957) and then Archbishop of Wales (1968-71). 

It would be of interest to learn how many images/signs/symbols etc are identifiable to today’s Church members and visitors. The main characteristics can be summarised as follows: 

The central figure is that of the risen Lord upon the Cross, crowned and holding the Orb – the symbol of Majesty. Upon the scroll above are the words “Thou art the King of Glory O Christ”. The lining of our Lord’s robe symbolises the firmament: “all things were made by Him”. 

Around Him are choirs of angels, the cherubs with their green wings reminding us of “the rainbow round the Throne, in sight like emerald”. The colours of the wings of the angels in the outer lights also suggest the rainbow, the sign of God’s unfailing loving–kindness to men. 

Near the central figure are the archangels St. Michael with the flaming sword and the scales (left) and St Gabriel – God’s messenger (right) holding a parchment with the inscription “AVE GRATIA PLENA” – Hail full of grace – the traditional salutation to the Virgin. 

Over the angelic choir are the words of their song “Holy!, Holy!, Holy!”. 


Lowering our eyes we see (centre right) the Paschal Lamb on the altar (AGNUS DEI – Lamb of God), surrounded by the Instruments of the Passion – Cockerel (Peter’s denial), Lance (Piercing Jesus’ side), Sponge attached to a Javelin (I thirst), Robe (for which the Roman soldiers cast lots), Money bag (to hold 30 pieces of silver), Hammer & Pincer (for nailing) - while immediately above, at the foot of the Cross, lie the serpent and the skull, telling us of Our Lord’s victory over evil and death; above again, are the Eucharistic symbols, the Chalice and the Wafer, by means of which we receive all benefits of the Lord’s Passion and Death. Beneath Jesus’ feet are vine & grapes signifying ‘I am the vine, ye are the branches’. 

The base of the outer lights contain figures typical of the ‘Goodly Fellowship of the Prophets’ (Isaiah holding a parchment with the inscription “Behold a Virgin shall conceive a Son” – standing beside St. John the Baptist); “the Glorious Company of the Apostles” (St. Peter & St. James our Patron); “the Noble Army of Martyrs” (St. Stephen & St. Alban) and “the Holy Church throughout all the World” (St. David for Wales & St. Nicholas, patron of seafarers and children). 

We see in the background of the furthest lights an outline of King Solomon’s Temple at Jerusalem having two magnificent pillars at its porch or entrance (left). One pillar has the inscription Boaz who was the great grandfather of David, and the other Jachin the assistant High Priest who officiated at the dedication of the Temple. The other outline (right) is that of our own Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist at Brecon. The coat of arms of St. David’s Diocese is to be seen near the Temple and that of our own Diocese near the Cathedral. 

Raising our eyes to the tracery, we see the emblems of the four evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) and (centre) the ancient symbol of the Holy Trinity. On either side above are (left) the Pelican symbolising our redemption by the Blood of our Lord and (right) the Phoenix arising from the flames, symbolising Resurrection. Note two symbols in Greek for the name of Jesus [IHS]  - capitalised forms of the Greek letters – Iota eta and sigma – short for Jesus, spelt as Iesous used as a Christian symbol and Monogram for Jesus. 

Above and around are the cherubs and seraphs with their green wings; above again are Alpha & Omega, then the sun & moon, and the whole is surmounted by the Dove, the biblical symbol of “the Holy Ghost, the Comforter” and in the secular world a symbol of Peace. 

In this troubled world at the beginning of the 21st century it is appropriate to repeat one of the prayers used by the Bishop in the dedication of the window in 1954 viz: 
“Grant, O Lord, we beseech Thee that the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered by Thy governance, that Thy Church may joyfully serve Thee in all godly quietness, Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Who liveth & reigneth with Thee & the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end”.

The above has been written with the aid of  the Rev. Chancellor Dr David Walker’s book “The first one hundred years of St. James’ ” together with papers given to me by the late Mr Harold Austin (Churchwarden of St, James 1965–86) plus my own recollections and interpretations.

The West Window - The Ship of the Church

Like the East Window, this window was also designed by Gerald E.R. Smith of A.K.Nicholson Stained Glass Studios, 35 Circus Road, St. John's Wood, London. It is likewise typical in shape to the Gothic period of Church architecture and measures approximately 8 feet wide and 20 feet high (internally). It was installed circa. 1955. Note that the vertical span of both windows is the same. 

The great advantage of this window, as of the East window, is that the central theme is absolutely clear i.e. the Church is represented as a ship carrying its passengers to the Holy City. The outposts of the Celestial City can be seen in the background on the left. Everyone who spends time exploring these windows in detail will find pictures/images/emblems which have a personal appeal as well as a distinct spiritual and local significance.

The mainsail has the Cross with the Crown of Thorns. The Foresail, or Principal sail, on the foremast has the Virgin and Holy Child. At the Yardarm, or outer extremity, are pennants with her emblems of the Fleur-de-Lis and Rose. 

On the Mizzensail (aft of the main mast) is the pelican feeding its young with blood from its breast, the ancient symbol of redemption. The pennant has the Sacred Monogram a motif of interwoven letters. On the Jibsail set forward of the mast is the Pascal Lamb, and on the top sail are the Chalice and Wafer, our communion gifts of wine and bread. 

The seated central figure under the canopy is St. David the Patron Saint of Wales. He is surrounded by various figures depicting local professions and occupations together with the different races of mankind. There is an educationalist in gown and mortar board representing local seats of learning, a farmer representing agriculture, a miner representing the coal industry, a nurse the medical profession, a soldier the armed forces, a monk Holy Orders, an aged person indicating the earthly advance of man, together with African and Asiatic persons to emphasise the universality of the Church of God. At the helm is a seaman (for which the port of Swansea is famous) standing next to St. Peter who seems to be pointing the way. In the prow, or the pointed front of the ship, is St. James Patron Saint of our Church with his pilgrims staff and a shell on his hat – as in the East window. With him are two children in contrast to the aged man on the ship. Note the Crucifix on the vessels side - it was customary for everyone in olden days to salute the Crucifix when boarding a ship. 

The six Welsh Diocesan coats-of-arms on the side of the ship from the prow (left) to the stern (right) are those of Swansea and Brecon, Llandaff, Bangor, St. David’s, Monmouth and St. Asaph. Each coat-of-arms is incomplete as it omits to show a Bishop’s mitre which crowns each crest. The flag at the top of the Mainmast is that of the Church in Wales with the pennant of St. George of England below, above which is the inscription “When Thou passes through the waters, I will be with you”. On the foremast is the Sacred Monogram and on the Mizzenmast ‘The Lighted Lantern’ signifying ‘The Light of the World’. The most uncomfortable position (the crows nest) is occupied by robed choirboys. At the top of the outer main lights are four cherubs representing the four cardinal winds of heaven. Above the cherubs are the terrestrial bodies – the Sun to rule the day and the Moon to govern the night. 

As in the East Window, at the very top, is the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.

At the base of the centre light is a figure of St. Nicholas (as in the East Window) the Patron Saint of seafarers and children. He is depicted wearing a Mitre, while holding a crook and Bible in one hand and embracing a child with the other. The child is looking upwards in expectation of security holding a model sailing boat in his hand. In the outer bases are angels heralding the ship into port after its long journey illustrating the extract from Bunyans dream and the trumpets sounded for them on the other side. Note two small details in the ornament at the base of the outer lights. On the left is St. Catherine’s wheel and eagle from the Swansea and Brecon coat-of –arms, and on the right the national emblems of Wales — the daffodil and leek. The base of the left hand light has the inscription ‘For He maketh the storm to cease: so that the waves are still’. The base of the right hand light has the inscription, ‘They are glad because they are at rest, and so He bringeth them unto the haven where they would be’. Is this an allusion to the end of man’s life journey and entry to the Celestial City? 

The background to the window is dominated by a clear sky and blue sea. Birds of the air and fishes of the sea are seen in their natural habitat. We are reminded that the outline of the fish was the accepted symbol of the early christians.  

NEVER LOSE AN OPPORTUNITY OF SEEING ANYTHING BEAUTIFUL.

BEAUTY IS GOD’S HANDWRITING   (Charles Kingsley)