What is a stained glass window for? Three things: it is something to look at, something to look through and something to look and see by.
The first is that it is something lovely to look at, a thing of beauty to enjoy. This new window in Durham School’s chapel is a worthy addition to a place that is already beautiful. We must thank the OD Lodge for funding it, to those who created and installed it, and to Alex Douglas for his design, the winning entry in a school competition. I think you’ll agree that it’s a remarkable achievement that deserves hearty congratulations.
The brief was to incorporate key aspects of the school’s history. The dates tell of the school’s foundation 600 years ago – it was a privilege to preach at the anniversary service this summer. Floreat Dunelmia indeed in the next 600 years. You can see our founder’s mitre and seal, the great bishop of Durham and chancellor of England, Cardinal Langley’s. VIII is for King Henry who re-founded the school in 1541 after a fire in the original buildings on Palace Green. There are 98 poppies, standing for the former pupils who died in the Great War whose centenary we are keeping this year. The globe reflects the international nature of the school. At the top are the house colours. You can see a section of the school badge with the cross of the Cathedral Priory, your mother house, and St Cuthbert’s cross to remind us of our beloved native saint. The OD Lodge is commemorated to remind us of a generous gift. It’s a beautiful design, and a rich one that brings so many themes together. Looking at it gives us pleasure and reminds us of so much that is important in the story of our school.
That brings me on to a second gift that stained glass can give us. It’s not only something to look at and admire for its own sake. We also need to look through it. I don’t mean literally, though what we see of sky and trees does show up in a new way. I’m thinking about how beauty lifts our imaginations and spirits. We glimpse new horizons. This is a window to make us think about our vision for our school and for ourselves. It says to us: remember your past where your roots are. Be thankful for this school and all who have enriched and served it. But take a larger view of it: let your vision be as broad as the globe in the window. And like the 98 who died in the First World War, let your aim be to serve, to make a difference to the world by your loyalty and devotion.
And let Cuthbert’s cross inspire you to what matters most of all, to live good lives of service, kindness and generosity, faithful to Christ who laid down his life for his friends. These are truths you will see if you look not just at the window but through it. In our reading today, Jesus spoke about the two great commandments of the law: love God, and love your neighbour as yourself. This is what exalts our school, our communities, our world, our own selves. This is what makes life into a work of art, something beautiful for God and for the human family. It brings us near to the source of all that is good and lovely in life. This is when, in Jesus’ words, we are ‘not far from the kingdom of God’.
The third gift is about how colour and artistry give us light to see by. A stained glass window brings a different light to this chapel. It adds new vitality to this interior. It changes it, and how we feel about it. And who knows: it may change us too, our own interior lives just as it changes this chapel interior. Sometimes colour adds to our sense of joy by making us happy to be alive, thankful for the goodness of the world, for all the benefits we have in a place like this school, above all, for God’s great love for us. But the poppies and crosses should help us feel the pain of the world too, the tears of things as Virgil put it. That helps make us more sensitive, more compassionate, more kind. It might even hint at how we can contribute as only we can to this school community, and how we can be good citizens in the future.
So this window could touch us in many ways depending on what we see in it, or perhaps, what it sees in us. Light has a way of exposing us to truth in ways that are sometimes hard but always in the end, wholesome and healing. We need to be open to the possibility, let light and colour in so that it can illuminate our lives, remind us us of what in the end counts the most.
Jesus said: ‘walk while you have the light so that the darkness may not overtake you’. Something to look at, to look through and to look and see by. Here is a window to inspire this school and all of us to look and see in new ways. Thank you to all who played a part in helping us to enjoy this wonderful gift. And thanks be to God.
Durham School Chapel
26 September 2014