Memorial Window in the Nave of Hexham Abbey

To the Memory of Mr C. W. C. Henderson.

“Still let him, mild rebuking stand
Betwixt us and the wrong;
And his dear memory serve to make
Our faith in goodness strong.”

A handsome Stained-glass window has been placed in the Nave of Hexham Abbey Church by the widow and family of the late Mr C. W. C. Henderson, of The Riding, and the great West Window now casts a mellow glow of rich colour over the beautiful lines of the new building.

The subject had already been chosen before Mr Henderson’s death, as it had always been his great desire to have this window filled with a representation of those of the Northern Saints who have been most closely associated with the envangelization of Northumbria and the Cathedral Church of the town.

This plan has been carried out, and the design consists of three tiers of panels; the two upper being filled with large single figures of the Saints of Northern England, and the third with subjects illustrating episodes in their history.

The places of honour are given to St Edwin and St Etheldreda; the former the first Christian King of Northumbria, who fell in conflict with the Mercian pagans; and the latter the Queen of Egfrid of Northumbria, Abbess of Ely, and, in association with Wilfrid, the founder of the Abbey of Hexham. The ground on which the Abbey stands was given by Etheldreda to Wilfrid for the building of the great Church, which as Eddi the Chronicler asserts, had no equal on this side of the Alps. St Edwin is represented with the sceptre in one hand, and the palm of martyrdom in the other; St Etheldreda with the crozier of an abbess and a model of Hexham Abbey as her symbols. She wears royal robes over the black Benedictine gown, and is decorated with the jewels which were the glory of her youth, but sacrificed later to works of piety and of charity. On the left hand of the upper row are St Paulinus and St Aidan. St Paulinus was the first to obtain the royal license to preach the gospel of Christianity in Northumbria, and he became first Bishop of York. He is a melancholy figure, saddened by the violent death of his patron and convert, Edwin, and the consequent destruction of his work. The Bishopric of Rochester was a poor substitute for the Archbishopric of York and the abandoned work of Christianizing Northern England. St Aidan was a monk at Hy (a primitive Scot community), who took up the work of teaching the doctrines of Christianity among the Northumbrians when others appointed to the task found it too rough and unpromising. He because Bishop of Lindisfarne under St Oswald, and was notable for his acts of charity and mercy among the poor. When St Oswald, in response to Aidan’s appeal, gave the dishes from the royal table to feed the poor collected outside his hall, Aidan prayed that the hand that fed the necessitous might never wither, and it is said that when centuries later the tomb was opened in which Oswald’s relics were buried, the right hand was found to be still fresh and uncorrupted as it was in life. Opposite to these are St Acca and The Venerable Bede. St Acca was known as a great chanter. He was the beloved friend of St Wilfrid, and was Bishop of Hexham for twenty-three years. The organ he bears in his hand is a reference to his having introduced instrumental music into the service of the Church. Bede, the author of the “Ecclesiastical History of the English People”, is our great authority for the history of his period. He received Deacon’s and priest’s orders at the hands of another of Hexham’s great Bishops—St John, the founder of Beverley Abbey. Indeed the Service of the Laying on of Hands of the great Saint of Jarrow took place in the Abbey of Hexham.

In the lower tier on the left are St Oswald, King and Martyr, and St Wilfrid, the builder of Hexham Abbey Cathedral Church, a portion of which is incorporated in the Nave of our Church at this day. St Oswald holds the cross which he set up at the battle of Heavenfield when he gained a great victory over an immensely superior force of Welshmen, and so saved Northumbria for the English; St Wilfrid has as emblem a model of his Church, and is represented as arguing his case in his great struggle against the Royal Authority in Church matters before King Aldfrid at the Council of the Easterfield. On the right are St Cuthbert and St John of Beverley. The former holds the head of St Oswald which, after Oswald’s martyrdom, was placed for safety in Cuthbert’s tomb, where it was found when the tomb was opened in 1104. At St Cuthbert’s feet is a seal, an emblem which refers to the extraordinary power he possessed of taming these wild creatures, so that during the period of his life as a hermit on Fame Island sea birds and seals would come at his call and eat out of his hand. St John of Beverley, the last of the series, who was at one time Bishop of Hexham, is said to have been the object of greater reverence than any Northern Saint excepting Cuthbert. Bede speaks of him with fervent affection.

The five panels beneath these represent St Oswald raising his cross on the Heavenfield; St Wilfrid examining the drawings of the master mason for the Great Church at Hexham; St Etheldreda giving to Wilfrid the title deeds of the land for the building of his Church (Etheldreda’s steward Owin, or Ouini, takes part in the transfer); St Cuthbert on Fame Island, and St John being received by the priest at Lee, where he was in the habit of retiring for devotional meditation. In the tracery is seen the triumph of the Church; angels adoring Christ in Majesty; the source and inspiration of the pious labours of these great founders of our church.

The style of our window is a free rendering of that of the 14th century, with bright rich colours appropriate to the period and position of the window. This will become more apparent when the fine south range of windows has been filled with work of the same character [still waiting after100 years!], and the glare of. light thrown into the Nave modified accordingly. In such a softened light the beauty of the architecture also will be greatly enhanced.

The artist is Mr H. T. Bosdet, who executed the east window in the Choir, and the smaller west window in the north aisle of the Nave. Right well has he executed his work. He has been entrusted with a great opportunity, and he has been worthy of the trust. It has been a work of real devotion!

This great West Window is one of the largest and most important windows of all time in the North of England.

E. S. Savage,
Rector.