Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pain, and Glass, and Beauty

By Sean McDonough, PhD
Associate Professor of New Testament

It may seem strange to find beauty in an obituary, and stranger still when the subject of the obituary is virtually unknown. But there is much of it to be found in the Economist’s heartbreaking tribute to the stained glass artist Michael Lassen, who died in a fall from Durham Cathedral in September (http://www.economist.com/node/17199498?story_id=17199498). I will do little more here than note the most salient points, and implore you to read it in its entirety.
Lassen had been working on the Transfiguration of Christ in the south quire at the time of accident. The obituary describes his fall:
He was fitting a small panel at the bottom left-hand side, a pane of bruised blue glass that showed the broken and suffering about to be transformed by light, almost the last piece in the window, when he fell. He was not particularly high up, working at the ledge. But stone flags are unforgiving.
We see there a hint of the poignant match of the man, and the moment, and the message that was to come fully to light a few weeks later:
But when September 25th came, the day of dedication, he was remembered in a different way. The clue lay in George Herbert’s poem “The Windows” which was sung as an anthem at evensong. Man was “a brittle crazy glass”:
Yet in thy temple thou dost him afford This glorious and transcendent place To be a window, through thy grace.
As the congregation pressed through afterwards into the south quire aisle they found the windows still wreathed in incense, like the cloud of God that had enveloped Jesus on the mountain. Through it shone the glass. Its golds and blues were smoky in the evening light, but the central column blazed white, like the transfiguration of a man; and of all men, named or un-named, whose lives and skills are embedded in the stone and glass of great cathedrals.

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