A theological and Liturgical Guide to the Pentagon Window
By Carole Camp
The pentagonal window is situated in the north aisle above the organ in St. Giles Church, a strange shape (the pentagon is usually associated with the occult) to have in church and is believed to be the only one in Europe. It was rediscovered in 1867 when the north aisle was renovated, but it is believed that is was walled up by Sheldon people before the Puritans wreaked havoc on the English Church by violently removing all images from churches. After this in 1704 Thomas Bray opened the first school building which was built against the wall. Hence there was no need to reinstate the window and eventually it ceased to be part of people’s memory.
Within this pentagonal framework there are eleven main windows. Taking the central place within a circle, which represents eternity because it has no beginning or end, is the portrait of the priestly Jesus. Surrounding him the clouds are five seraphim, each holding a scroll. At the outer edges are five smaller circles depicting titles for God.
This window is so full of symbolism and theology. Each of the parts of the picture tells more about Jesus. It is rich in colour reflecting even more of God’s glory when the sun’s rays are shining through. ‘Beauty is part of the nature of God; it is the essence of God’s glory’ It picture the seraphim crying to one another Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts (Sabaoth); the whole earth is full of his glory. The whole window reflects Isaiah’s heavenly vision(Isa. 6:3). This is also referred to in John 12:41 ‘Isaiah’ saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him’. There is another glimpse into Christ’s glory in Revelations 4:8 ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty, who has and is, and is to come. The seraphim are demonstrating God’s victory. The glory of God is a way of referring to the presence of God, likewise, the presence of smoke in the Old Testament. In the window the seraphim are all in cloud shaped windows. The vision is a way the God can reveal himself in person in a way that people can experience or more readily understand.
Each of the small circular windows has its own story to add to the picture.
The six pointed star which was originally know as the Star of Creation but in more modern times probably better known as a symbol for Israel, the Star of David. As the Star of Creation it symbolises the six days of creation. The six points are also said to represent the six attributes of God, power, wisdom, majesty, love, mercy and Justice.
Alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet and Omega is the last. The Greek alphabet, became a symbol for Christ as he was known as the first and the last. The roots go back to Exodus 34.6, God is said to be full of Goodness and Truth, the Hebrew spelling of this word consists of the three letters ‘Aleph, Mom and Thaw’ and because Aleph and Thaw are the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet, the ancients saw mystical relevance’s in God being referred to as ‘Truth’. These symbols were used to represent the omnipotence and infinity of God, as expressed in the book of Revelation; I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.
It dates from the eighth century and is an abbreviation for IHESUS which is the way Christ’s name was written in the Middle Ages
Chi-Rho or sigla; the letters ‘X’ and ‘P’ representing the first letters of the title Christos were eventually put together to form the symbol for Christ. It was the first public symbol of Christianity; also it was a widely adopted sign for victory, salvation and triumph.
To a person with good background knowledge these symbols have much depth and meaning and are a real treasure, but they would be totally lost on someone who has no religious background, unless they were willing to do some research. This is where the wood carving has the advantage of simplicity and the ability to tell its story in a more understandable dramatic way to a modern society
Christ is the perfect image of God. At the centre of the window, God in the person of Jesus is shown as part of the Trinity. This is denoted by his Halo or nimbus which has three parts representing the Godhead, and in particular Christ. He is wearing a purple robe which is a colour of royalty. He is holding his right hand up in the position of blessing. Jesus is shown as the priest, a reminder of the High Priestly Prayer in John 17 as he faces the cross. The cross was not a place of defeat but triumph. Jesus left his father in heaven and was to return after his death and resurrection to that place of honour and authority. The picture shows some of the beauty of God radiating His presence. The whole window shows God as creator. Redeemer and sanctifier. The picture of Jesus depicts a very traditional white Jesus with long hair and a beard, typical of a rabbi.
This picture lends itself more to public worship but much more symbolism is stimulation for private prayer and concentration on just parts of the window, as well as the whole, is helpful.
The North aisle window provides a focal point for those unable to see the sanctuary and in its own way provides a place where it is possible to experience a sense of the transcendent. The whole window is a natural lead into worship. The Sanctus is part of the Isaiah reading and is found in the Eucharistic service and a natural part of worship. It may either be said or sung in the traditional or modern version; the latter is shown below;
Holy, holy, holy Lord,
God of power and might,
Heaven and Earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.