Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Windows of the North America Martyrs

This past weekend I was privileged to give a talk on the windows in Sacred Heart Church in Lake George, New York which depict the life and death of Saint Isaac Jogues and the North American Martyrs.  They are some of the finest stained glass windows I have ever studied.  Here's a video presentation of my presentation, followed by the script.

In 1834 James Powell, a London wine merchant, purchased the Whitefriars Glass Company, off Fleet Street in London, becoming one of the foremost stained glass fabricators by the end of the nineteenth century. The firm's name was changed to Powell & Sons (Whitefriars) Ltd in 1919 and a new factory was opened in Wealdstone. This is the firm which created your windows, some of the finest examples of stained and painted glass in the United States. The windows exhibit four exceptional qualities:

The Design is narrative, yet it makes continual reference to scriptural and liturgical texts. It is typological, pointing to analogies and deeper meanings in other parts of the Church’s tradition.

The stained glass is intricately assembled with quilt-like patterns of random glass which give the effect of a patchwork background made of random pieces. Yet there is nothing random about these designs. They have a depth, a vibrancy of color and texture which is sometimes breathtaking.

Every expert I have consulted on these windows has always said the same thing: the talent of the painter of these windows is without peer. The figures are individual and display a full range of human emotions. A two-inch square of almost any window would provide in its tiny landscape a story replete with sorrow, fear or holy determination. The ability of painter to bring living, breathing characters to life is truly extraordinary.

Despite the weightiness of the subject, the windows retain a lightness, a real sense of humor in its depictions of landscapes and people and even children. Right next to each other are depictions of darkness and light which result in a full portrait of the human condition.

But enough of my exaltation of the artistic merits of these windows for their true value lies in their ability to tell the story of Isaac Jogues and his companions.

I suggest that, in the short time we have together, we go panel by panel through each of the windows, recalling the sacred story they tell and touching on examples of a few of their qualities or meditations along the way.

By the way, there are some secrets to reading these windows that have to do with how they were put together. Each window has two panels and they read from right to left. The center of the window contains the story or narrative element, again, read from right to left. These panels are supplemented with small rectangular window vents below them which specify or detail the narrative. So, the first part of the story is on the right and the second part is on the left. Then up above the narrative panels trifoils, a series of three windows which reflect on the heavenly or typological meaning of each narrative scene. Finally, at the bottom of each window are four symbolic scenes which provide a reflection or meditation on the narration.

Let’s start with the first panel.

Panel 1 (on the right) The story starts with Saint Isaac Jocques in heaven. He holds up a small cross in his right hands and a Missal with which to say Mass in his left. Isaac was born in Orleans, France, enetred the Jesuits at 17 and became a professor of literature. He was ordained at the age of 29. You can see his ordination in the panel below.

Panel 2. Two months after he was ordained he traveled by ship from old France to a mission to the Huron Indians in New France, then located in Canada and upstate New York. In the lower panel on the left you can see the ship.

Here’s his ordination with the words from the Ordination Rite in the upper right: “Thou Art a Priest Forever,” a chalice and host in the upper left, and a beautiful depiction of the laying on of hands in front of an exquisitely ornamented Altar. And here’s the ship he came over on. You can almost feel the winds blow as he is tossed on the waves hither and yon.

And then below the window are the four panels, standing for various elements of nature, their wildness emblematic of this untamed wilderness to which he came as a missionary. The sadled muel to the left may represent the attempt of the missionaries to tame this wilderness, while the magnificent detail of the lion on the right represents the native dangers that await him (just look at those teeth!).

Panel 3 shows Father Isaac’s arrival in Quebec, where he is greeted by the governor and his Jesuit confreres. Just below is a depiction of his first Mass in New France, in the same posiiton as his First Mass in Old France.

Panel 4 shows him preaching to the Hurons, to whom he was known as Ondessonk, and below his preaching to the children, who were his most attentive listeners. Notice, if you will, the typological panels above these two scenes. On the right is the visitation, for Mary went to see Elizabeth in the hill country just as Isaac came to see the Hurons in this strange new land. Above his preaching on the left is the great mandatum, as Christ sends his apostles out to preach the good news to all the world.

Here’s a closer look at his first Mass in the New World. As he raises the chalice to heaven he prays: “What return shall I make to the Lord for all he has given me?” The last part of this quote from Psalm 116 is: “the cup of salvation I shall lift up and call upon the name of the Lord.” Look at the expression on his face of utter devotion and his eyes firmly fixed on God. Look too at the fringe on the altar cloth and the bottom of his stole and the folds depicted in his chasuble. This is really extraordinary, museum-quality art!

And then he preaches to the children with Jesus’ own words “Suffer the little children to come unto me.”

The four meditation panels in this window are symbols of the four Gospels: the angel for Matthew, the Lion for Mark, the Bull for Like and the Easgle for Saint John. All in keeping with the theme of Isaac’s first preaching to the Huron tribes.

Panel 5 reminds us that this first preaching was complicated by three terrible waves of disease. The first influenza almost killed Father Isaac and his companions. But despite their own sufferings, they ministered to the Hurons, first Baptizing a sick child and then caring for the sick.

In Panel six we are reminded that they continued to travel from village to village through the backwoods, sometimes walking overland in the lower panel while two seemingly headless assistants carry the canoe.

Here’s the lower panel of Saint Isaac caring for the sick man. Notice how the artist is able to portray his compassion and the sorrow of the sick child’s mother dressed in red with an economy of lines and a simplicity of design.

The lower panels provide a meditation on the sacraments by which Isaac and his companions provided real healing to the native: the crossed keys for penance, the heavenly Jerusalem as a sign of salvation, the Shell and Baptism, and the living waters of new life in Christ. Here is the heavenly Jerusalem, as the saving waters flow from its side. This is one of the most beautiful combinations of unlikely colors in the whole Church!

Ironically, the rumor soon began to spread among the Hurons and their rivals, the Iroquois tribes, that the Blackrobes, or Jesuit missionaries were practicing their own forms of sorcery and were the origin of the two epidemics of Influenza and soon the Smallpox. The way the Jesuits pray in a foreign tongue and the ritual gestures they would make with their hands made it all the clearer that they were magic men and a threat to traditional ways.

In Panel 7 we see the Iroquois, natural enemies of the Hurons, attack a Huron village, where they captured Isaac Jogues. The fires in the lower panel are symbolic of the tortures he endured.

Panel 8 shows how he was forced to run the gauntlet, burnt with torches, Isaac’s index finger and thumb we crushed by being repeatedly chewed on and then were finally cut off with sharpened seashells. The idea was that without these magic fingers the priest could no longer bless or consecrate a host.

The four panels below stand for Isaac’s imprisonment and torture: a stick with which to be beaten, a rope with which to be tied, a key with which to be imprisoned and finally a bowl of holy water with a branch standing for that purification which the martyrs were undergoing not with water but with blood. “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.”

Panel 9 introduces one of the young Jesuit helpers, Rene Goupil, who stands with a bible in one hand in his glorified form in heaven. Below, this young seminarian is shown teaching the Sign of the Cross to the native children. Rene had undergone similar tortures at the side of Father Isaac. As the two of them were being marched eighteen days away to Ossernenon, now Auriesville, New York, Isaac suggested his young helper should run away. “Allow me to die with you,” Rene replies. For you are my Father and I cannot desert you!” But young Rene was to be the first of the martyrs, as one day one of the warriors struck him with his tomahawk. Rene’s last words were “Jesus, Jesus Jesus!.” The natives threw his body in a field.

And so in Panel 10 you see Father Isaac, who at great risk had snuck out of the camp to find the body of his young companion and bury him under the rocks of a running stream nearby, hoping to return at a later date to bury him in the earth in the hope of the Resurrection. Here’s a closer look at Rene’s martyrdom, as he walks with Father Isaac beneath the words from the Book of Revelation: The white robed army of martyrs praise thee.” And here Father Rene teaches the sign of the cross by which he would die to the little children.

The four panels for meditation include the sign of the Jesuits, the rosary to which Rene was so dedicated, a sign of eternal life, and the tomahawk with which Rene was martyred.

In Panel 11 Ondessonk prays for Rene and for deliverance. Eventually, as in the rectangle below, Isaac was given greater freedom in the camp.

This resulted, in panel 12 in his eventual escape and return to his native France, in the lower rectangular vent. The lower panels meditate on this time with the Cardinal Virtues of Faith, Hope and Love and Purity as symbolic of all the virtues to which Father Isaac was devoted and which got him through this torment.

In Panel 13 we see Father Isaac back in France and able to receive Holy Communion again for the first time. The lower panel refers to the manner of his return, on which we will reflect in the next slide.

In Panel 14 he is presented to Queen Anne, who intercedes with Pope Urban VIII for Isaac, that he might be allowed to celebrate the Eucharist, even without the fingers which were canonically required to celebrate a valid Mass. The Pope is said to have gladly given the permission with the words: It is unbefitting that a martyr of Christ should not drink the Blood of Christ.” And so, in the lower window, he returned to New France after just three months, with the prophetic words: “I go, but I shall never come back again.”

Here is the lower vent panel on the panel commemorating his return. It shows the Jesuit Rector, who knew well of the martyrs of Canada, greeting a poor man whom he did not recognize as Father Isaac Jogues. Here’s one historian’s account of their meeting:

“He invited the “poor man” into the parlor. It was still dark and they spoke by the light of a candle. ”
“Is it true that you have come form Canada?” the rector asked.
“Yes,” the unseemly looking visitor answered.
“Do you know Father de Breboeuf?”
“Extremely well,” he said.
“And Father Jogues, did you know Father Isaac Jogues?”
“I knew him very well indeed,” replied the stranger.
“Is he still alive?” questioned the rector, his voice stiffening “Have those barbarians not murdered him?”
“He is at liberty,” the poor man assured him with a hesitant gasp. “Reverend Father,” Jogues burst into tears, “it is he who speaks to you,”

The four meditation panels at the bottom of the window first show us two crowns: The royal crown and sceptre of Queen Anne and the powers of this world and the crown of thorns worn by Isaac Jogues.

These are followed by two of the most beautiful panels in the whole Church: the visitation of the Magi. Here the Magi have followed the star to find the Christ, leaving all to find him, just as Isaac would forsake home and comfort and even life itself to find the Christ Child whose open arms welcomed him in perfect love. This depiction of Virgin and child is really extraordinary. Look at the eyes of the Virgin and of the Christ.

They are beautifully wrought in a painting of no more than an inch or two! Whenever you are discouraged go look at this image and you will walk away knowing of God’s perfect love for you, even in the face of unimaginable sufferings.

Panel 15 introduces us to the glorified figure of John Leland, another one of the young helpers or Jesuit seminarians who accompanied Father Isaac on the second missionary journey.

Panel 16 shows us how when they reached present day Auriesville, they were captured, stripped of their clothing and beaten at the instigation of the Mohawk bear clan. Here, Jean is killed with a tomahawk and his body thrown into the river.

The lower panels are deep with meaning: First is a box, the same box which Father Isaac used to carry his vestments, vessels and other requisites for Mass. The Mohawks were convinced it was a sorcerer’s magic box and so they through it in the river. There follow the three clans of the Mohawks: the wolf, the tortoise and the bear.

In panel 17 we see Father Isaac down the street from us on Lake George, which he names the Lake of the Blessed Sacrament, because it looked in the morning sun like a shining monstrance and its lakes like sacred hosts. In the lower panel below is the story of Theresa, taught by the Ursuline sisters, who was also captured by the Mohawks.

In panel 18 Theresa is held captive and and Father Isaac is bartering for her release. Here, in one of the vent panels, we see Father Isaac blessing the young captive. Notice the Ursuline nun with the rosary in the upper right corner of the vent.

Meanwhile, the small meditation panels contain symbols of the Faith of both Isaac and Theresa: the palm of victory, the lion who lays down with the lamb, the sacred heart and, of course, the Holy Eucharist. Here is the lion and the lamb of the peaceable kingdom.

Panel 19 depicts Father Isaac’s martyrdom. Lured into a tent, one of the Mohawks attacks him with a tomahawk. In the vent window, below, we see his Mass chest floating down the river.

With the story of Father Isaac completed, panel 20 introduces us to Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, who would build upon the foundation of Saint Isaac Jogues in spreading the faith among the Mohawks. She was born ten years after he died and was known as the Lilly of the Mohawks, living a life of prayer and service to others as an example to her tribe. She died at the age of 24, and the deacon at her beatification by Pope John Paul II in 1980 was our own Father Joseph Busch.

Above this scene of the death of Father Isaac Jogues is the Lord in glory, roved in magnificent red and gold with a triplex tiara, ready to judge the living and the dead.

The small meditation panels at the bottom of the window contain incense and a harp and symbols of the offering of the life of the saints which rise up to God like incense or Psalms of praise. Then we see Father Isaac’s Missal (remember it in the first panel and floating away in the trunk above?) and his signature: Isaac Jogues.

There are other windows dedicated to this story in other Churches. Like these from the North American martyrs Chapel at the North American College in Rome. But none that I have seen as moving, as faith filled and as beautiful as yours.