The story of this window spans five centuries, crosses Europe, delves into archives and glazier records. As a result it appears to be a jumble. There are two main sections to the window.
The lower half is 16th century English medieval glass, which originally would have filled the entire window. The five larger figures above are also 16th century glass, but from Germany, and installed in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
The Window: Its History
The Original 1533 Window
In the late fifteenth century the church became unsafe. Between 1500 and 1533, in the time of the Vicar, Dr Capp, the chancel, east end and window were rebuilt, as can be seen by the date 1533 on the right of the lower inscription. When the window was re-glazed, glass from the earlier window was reused.
When medieval glaziers had five lights (panels) to fill, it was a common practice, at that time, to have the three central lights depict a significant New Testament story, with the lights to left and right filled by scenes from the Old Testament, foreshadowing this significant event. This was done here. The theme was –
- Main Lights 2,3,and 4 were the Crucifixion
- Light 1 was the Sacrifice of Isaac
- Light 5 was the Brazen Serpent
Unfortunately, in the “Great Blow” of 1648 an arsenal in Bethel Street blew up. Glass in the nearby buildings shattered, including in St. Stephen’s Church. Much glass was lost. The panels were repaired as best as possible to the original theme. The highlighted parts are the 1533 glass in their correct positions. Other original glass was reused, but not in its right place. The rest was infilled with other glass.
Light 1 –The Isaac Sacrifice
This tells the story of how God told Abraham to sacrifice his son. Abraham believed that God would raise Isaac back to life. As he lifted the knife, God told him to stop, and showed him a ram behind caught in a thicket, which he was to sacrifice instead. The lower section of the light shows Abrahamtelling his servants to wait there for them. Above him, Isaac is carrying on his back the faggots for the burnt sacrifice. Higher up to the right are the feet and loins of Abraham.
Lights 2,3 4, – The Significant Crucifixion
The middle light’s important cross and body are totally missing.
The left light shows a man, beard jutting out, gazing upwards towards the cross. Higher up are a soldier wearing a helmet looking inwards and a horse and rider looking the other way.
The right light appears to be someone being paid with coins, to remove the body. Above them are two figures, one a horse and rider.
Light 5 – The Brazen Serpent
During the wilderness journey, the Israelites spoke bitterly against God. He sent serpents to bite them and many died. They cried to Moses, who prayed for them. God told Moses to make a brass serpent and put it on a pole for those who were bitten to look at and live. Whoever believed God’s word and looked, recovered. The light shows a snake wrapped around two men. The pole with its serpent is missing. The rest of the light is infill.
The Significance of the two outer lights
The medieval glaziers chos these O.T. incidents, because of their rich symbolism:- God accepts substitution – The ram for Isaac, Jesus for all mankind. God provides the sacrifice – The ram for Isaac, his own beloved son for mankind. God forgives a person because of his faith – just look at the snake, just believe that Jesus paid teh penalty for my sinds. Salvation is by faith alone.
Then in thankfulness to God Christians do the good works God has planned for them to do.
The 1799 and 1842 Gifts
Norfolk Record Office – SSC- PD 484/161/2
The middle light 3 that bears the date 1610, is said to be of St. Stephen and of German origin. It was given to the Church in 1799 by William Stevenson, Sheriff, and a resident of the parish.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the Vicar the Reverend Dundas Harford began to research the large figures. On the second light there was a shield, which was identified as bearing the arms of the Counts of Mandesrscheid-Blankenheim, the most powerful of the nobility of the Eifel. On the fifth light was the date 1513.
With these clues Mr Harford visited Germany and lights 1, 2, 4 and 5 were identified as being once in the Monastery of Mariawald in the Heimbach. This was suppressed in 1802 by the French, and its rich store of stained glass sold or otherwise disposed of. Light 1 depicts the grandmother of Anne of Cleves. Light 2 is Saint Christopher staff in hand carrying the Christ child. Light 4 is Saint John the Baptist praying and an angel blowing the last judgement trumpet. The fifth light depicts the mother of Anne of Cleves. These four panels were put into the window in 1842 a gift from John Norgate, a Church member.
During the Second World War the east window glass was removed. After the war it was replaced. It’s hiding place forgotten. In 2005, when the pathway to the south of the Church was being re-laid, a flat-topped concrete vault was exposed under the path. As this curious vault was in the way, it was opened and found to be empty except for a bottle containing the following note.
The east window saw out the blitz safely buried in the churchyard.
There may be many more discoveries concerning the east window. It has a fascination all of its own, not least because it gives up its secrets slowly, and draws the gazer towards meditation.