Memorial Altar Windows : A History

Memorial Altar Windows : St. John’s Episcopal Church

From the Studios of J. & R. Lamb : Tenafly, NJ

Dedicated to the Glory of God on Sunday, July 17, 1966


Window of St. Luke, the Evangelist, a Memorial
to the Family of Dr. and Mrs. Howard O. Smith

Born at Antioch in Syria, St. Luke is well known to Bible readers because of his gospel account and the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. He was a constant companion of St. Paul and faithfully recorded his life. It is said that after St. Paul’s death, he continued preaching alone, and was crucified in Greece, although a stronger tradition says that he died peacefully.

St. Luke is also called the beloved physician, in reference to the medical profession of which he was a practicing member.

There is a legend to the effect that St. Luke was a painter, and that he did several portraits of the Virgin Mary and of Jesus. By showing these to his listeners, he is said to have made many converts.

St. Luke is often symbolized, as in this window, by the Winged Ox. This is because St. Luke emphasizes the priesthood of Christ, and the ox is the symbol of sacrifice. (c.f. Rev. 4)

In the lower left-hand corner of the window is the Star of David, reminding us that Jesus’ lineal descent was from that great King. In the lower right-hand corner of the window is a Fleur-De-Lis, which is a type of lily and is a symbol for purity. The little, and consequently the fleur-de-lis, has become the symbol for the Virgin Mary. It is also a symbol of royalty and is assigned to Mary as the Queen of Heaven.

In the very apex of the window (top) is Fire, a symbol of the Holy Ghost, as portrayed in the Acts of the Apostles in the episode at Pentecost. (This is seen in all of the windows.)

Next down is the Alpha (complementing the Omega in the right window). It is the first letter of the Greek Alphabet (Omega, being the last). Together they symbolize God the Son. (See, Revelation 1:8).

Below this is the Escallop Shell with Drops of Water, which is used as a symbol for the Dominical Sacrament of Holy Baptism. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

The Angels (in this and in the other side window) represent the adoring hosts of Heaven, worshipping Christ the King. They swing a Censer, which is a vessel in which incense is burned. In the Old Testament, the censer represented the plea of the worshipper that his prayer would be acceptable to God. (Psalm 141:2) In Christian symbolism, the smoke of the incense symbolizes the prayers of the faithful ascending to God in Heaven.

The Wings of the Angels are the symbol of divine mission. This is why all angels, archangels, seraphim and cherubim are painted with wings. Note also the symbols of the four evangelists: the ox of St. Luke, the lion of St. Mark, the eagle of St. John and the man of St. Matthew, all have wings.

Behind the Angel in this window, symbolizing the donor, is the Caduceus, the staff with twining snake. The staff suggests the itinerant nature of the physician’s work, the snake is the pagan symbol for wisdom suggesting the prudence necessary to a physician.

The large flower below the symbol of the Evangelist is the Daisy, which is a symbol of the innocence of the Holy Child, Jesus. On the sides of the window are more flowers (three on each side). These include: Violet, the symbol of humility; the White Rose, the symbol of purity; the Pansy, the symbol of remembrance and meditation; the Daisy, the symbol of innocence; the Red Rose, the symbol for martyrdom; and the Blue Bonnet, chosen simply because it is the flower of Texas in which State the window is located.


Window to Christ the King, a memorial
to Mrs. F. Percy Goddard (Mae Selina Bennett)

This is a symbolic representation of Christ as the ascended, reigning King of Heaven and Earth. His arms are extended, not in suffering as on the Cross of Calvary, but in Priestly Benediction, drawing the whole world unto Himself. He wears, too, the priestly garments of amice, alb, stole and chasuble, signifying both His High Priesthood and His sacrifice upon the Cross ─ “for the sins of the whole world.” The crown upon His head is not only the symbol of kingship, but also the symbol for the victory, which He won over sin and death. Around Him is the Aureole, which is the symbol of divinity, supreme power, used only for Christ or the members of the Trinity. It consists of a field of radiance, which encircles the whole body and seems to emerge from it. When the extended rays of the aureole are enclosed in an almond-shaped framework, it is called a mandorla (Italian for almond).

The Dove, above Christ the King, recalls our Lord’s baptism in the Jordan River when he Heavens opened and the Spirit like a dove descended upon Him. It is the symbol for the third person of the Holy and Blessed Trinity.

Below the figure of Christ is another favorite symbol for the second Person of the Trinity: the Lamb upon the Book with the Seven Seals or Markers (see, John 2:29; Revelation 14:1). The book represents the Book of Life symbolizing that salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ; the Christ is the Lamb of God, slain for the sins of the world. The Seven Seals or bookmarks represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit; power, and riches, and wisdom, and might, and honor, and glory, and blessing (Revelation 5:12).

The large flower at the bottom of the window is the Lily, here used as a symbol of the Resurrection ─ the conquering of sin and death by Christ.

In the lower left-hand corner of this center window is a cross, which is the type of the Chi Rho. These are the first two letters of the Greek word for Christ. The Chi in Greek looks like an “X,” here it is turned like the more familiar cross. Through it runs the Greek letter for Rho which looks like our “P.” It is a monogram standing for Christ.

In the lower right-hand corner is the Cross on Orb which is a symbol representing the spread of the Gospel throughout the whole world and/or the fact that the Gospel is for all time, everywhere and for all men.

The Vine and the Grapes throughout the window are more symbols for Christ. The grapes are a symbol for the Blood of Christ; the vine is the symbol for the Saviour as the true vine (see John 13:1, 5, 8). The vine is often used to refer to the work which Christians should do in the world, which is the vineyard of the Lord.


Window to St. John, the Apostle and Evangelist,
a memorial to Mr. John R. Taylor

St. John was the youngest of the Apostles, the brother of James the Great. He is called “the disciple whom Jesus loves.” Mary is said to have lived with him after the Crucifixion of Jesus. (See John 19:26, 27). He is said to have journeyed into Asia Minor, where he founded the seven churches mentioned in Revelation. Settling in Ephesus, he suffered persecution during the reign of the Emperor Domitian. It is said that once when ordered to drink poisoned wine, the poison left the cup in the form of a snake. He is supposed to have died a natural death at Ephesus at an old age. He is known, of course, for his Gospel account (the most spiritual of the four) and for three Epistles.

St. John is often symbolized as in this window by the Winged Eagle (see Ezekiel 1:5, 10). This is because St. John in his Gospel soared upward in his contemplation of the Divine nature of the Saviour. The Eagle also represents the new life begun in the baptismal font and the Christian soul strengthened by grace (see Isaiah 40:31). It stands also for virtues of courage, faith, and contemplation, as well as for generosity, since the eagle, no matter how hungry, is said to leave half its prey for food for the other birds the follow.

In the lower left is the Pomegranate, a symbol of the Resurrection. In the lower right, the Celtic Cross, a type of the cross said to have been taken from what is now Ireland to the island of Iona by Columba in the sixth century. Thus, it is considered as a missionary cross.

At the top is the Omega, which goes with the Alpha in the left window. It is the last letter of the Greek alphabet. Together they symbolize Jesus, the Son of God.

Below it is the Chalice, which reminds us of the Last Supper and the Sacrifice of Christ upon the Cross (see Mark 14:23, 24). It stands for the second of the two Dominical Sacraments (generally necessary for salvation): The Holy Communion.

The Angels (in this and in the other side window) represent the adoring hosts of Heaven, worshipping Christ the King. They swing a Censer, which is a vessel in which incense is burned. In the Old Testament, the censer represented the plea of the worshipper that his prayer would be acceptable to God. (Psalm 141:2) In Christian symbolism, the smoke of the incense symbolizes the prayers of the faithful ascending to God in Heaven.

The Wings of the Angels are the symbol of divine mission. This is why all angels, archangels, seraphim and cherubim are painted with wings. Note also the symbols of the four evangelists: the ox of St. Luke, the lion of St. Mark, the eagle of St. John and the man of St. Matthew, all have wings.

The large flower at the bottom is the Christmas Rose, a symbol of the Nativity and of Messianic prophecy ─ a white, hardy rose that blooms at Christmas.

On the sides of this window are depicted various fruits which have gained symbolic meaning throughout the centuries (except for the Cotton Boll which was included because of Mr. Taylor’s connection with the agriculture of this region). The symbolic fruits include: The Apple of salvation (depicted with Adam it means “sin;” with Christ, “salvation”); the Peach, the symbol of the silence of virtue and of a virtuous heart and tongue; the Orange, which is often seen used in place of the apple tree in the Fall of Man scenes, and which is a symbol of purity, chastity and generosity; the Lemon, which symbolizes fidelity in love and, as such, is used of the Virgin Mary; and the Cherry, which symbolizes the sweetness of character which is derived from doing good works. It is often called the Fruit of Paradise.