West window, Winchester Cathedral
I have never visited Winchester Cathedral, so it was only when I read “View From A Bouncy Castle” by Adrian Plass that I first heard the story of the ‘jigsaw puzzle window”.
There is much fine stained glass in the Cathedral, but the glass in the West window presents the visitor with an enigma. Although the window still contains much of its Medieval glass, a visitor from those times would be hard pressed to recognise what they see today.
During the English Civil War (1642-1651) the Puritans took the opportunity to remove what they considered to be idolatrous art of all kinds from churches and cathedrals.
In the summer of 1642 the full horror of the Civil War came to Winchester. The Parliamentarian troops broke open the West Doors of the Cathedral. They rode their horses up the great nave, shot out the medieval West window and did untold damage throughout the Cathedral.
Local legend has it that once the troops left the City, people gathered up the fragments of medieval glass and hid them away. Eighteen years later in 1660 when peace returned following the Restoration, the people decided that the time had come to restore the window to its former glory. Unfortunately, they had no picture, pattern or plan to guide them, and lacked the skill and creativity of the original craftsmen, and the task proved to be beyond them. So, not to be completely beaten, they fitted the glass back in a crazy collage of random fragments…the glass was back but the big picture was lost.
The turn of the year is a time when many people look back over their lives and try to discern the big picture, and then, hopefully, look forward to imagine the year ahead. When I do this, nowadays I find the bigger picture almost impossible to discern…smashed and broken hopes and dreams (some of them vandalised by modern day Puritans), random events, successes and failures, relationships, people and places seem to come together in a jumbled array of fragments that make me who I am today. If there’s a purpose and a plan it seems to have been brutally shot-out and wrecked long ago.
The missing peace…
But, as Adrian Plass reminded me in his book, faith is about believing that there is a pattern and a plan in the apparently random journey of our lives.
God is more than capable of gathering up the lost and broken pieces of our lives and re-using them to build something beautiful…”behold I make all things new”.
The thing about the puzzle window at Winchester Cathedral is that most of the pieces are there, in the frame…the whole, beautiful big picture is in there somewhere, it just need the creator’s eye to see it.
Although our lives may appear to be a collage of random pieces, faith says that although this side of eternity we may not see it, and sometimes I struggle to believe this, it really does make sense. So let’s get on with living these extraordinarily fragmented lives of ours, knowing that we’re an active part of something much bigger and infinitely more beautiful than we can imagine.