Situated towards the eastern end of the north aisle of the church of All Saints, York is a remarkable stained glass (painted) window. The window consists of 3 lights with 6 image panels in each light, totalling 18 panels. There is light tracery also. The images panels read from left to right, starting at the base. The base row of 3 panels, across the lights, features the donors of the window. It is possible that the Henryson and Hessle families paid for the window. They were prominent families in York, related by marriage. The other 15 panels relate to the signs of the end of days – the countdown to the Apocalypse or Last Judgement of mankind.[i]
The window dates from c. 1410-20[ii] and is based on an anonymous 14th-C Middle English poem called the Pricke of Conscience. The poem describes the final 15 days of the world, each panel contributing to a paraphrase of the poem. The window was carefully restored in the 19th C by John Ward Knowles.[iii] Many of the inscriptions for each scene have been lost over the window’s history. These inscriptions were in English rather than Latin. It is interesting that such literacy and literature was embedded in a painted window. It suggests a secular elitism to appreciating the window, requiring knowledge of the poem and being able to read English. Perhaps it could have even been used as a tool to develop literacy. The images, however, would be well known and recognisable by all. Parishioners would have familiar the 15 signs of the end of the world.
I have made the images of the panels on the large side as the detail is rather wonderful and instructive!
Reading from left to right (on the panels above the donors at the base) across the lights:
1st 9 PANELS – Concerned with the physical destruction of the earth
Light 1, Panel 2a – 1st sign: the sea rises to the height of the mountains
Light 2, Panel 2b – 2nd sign: sea levels fall so low that they can barely be seen
Light 3, Panel 2c – 3rd sign: the sea returns to normal
Light 1, Panel 3a – 4th sign: the fish make a roaring noise
Light 2, Panel 3b – 5th sign: the sea burns
Light 3: Panel 3c – 6th sign: plants and trees exude a bloody dew
Light 1: Panel 4a – 7th sign: buildings fall down (newly-built spire of All Saints falls)
Light 2: Panel 4b – 8th sign: the earthquake continues with rocks and stones sinking together all at once
Light 3: Panel 4c – 9th sign: the earthquake hits every country
(there is the figure of a man, repeated, on each side of these panels. He indicates the scenes)
LAST 6 PANELS: Panels concerned the death of all living things and the fate of mankind.
Light 1: Panel 5a – 10th sign: the earth becomes level and flat
Light 2: Panel 5b – 11th sign: traumatised people come out of the caves where they have sought refuge and run about.
Light 3: Panel 5c – 12th sign: dead men’s bones be set together and rise from their graves
Light 1: Panel 6a – 13th sign: day in truth shall stars fall from the Heaven
Light 2: Panel 6b – 14th sign: the death of all living things
Light 3: Panel 6c – 15th sign: the end of the world, consumed by fire
UPPER TRACERY LIGHTS
The tracery lights continue the theme of the Last Judgement. St Peter (holding his large keys) welcomes the faithful into Heaven on the left and demons push the damned downwards to the right (not that distinguishable). The central upper tracery light previously displayed the figure of Christ.
The register across the base shows the probable kneeling figures of the families who donated the window. Their faces and hand positions express the shock and terror at the events of the Last Judgement. Behind them is panelling with painted golden stars, giving an indication of the interior decoration of the early-15th C. The inscription below the donors appears to be from the 19th C restoration.
This early-15th C window is a fine example of the growing wealth and education of families. The inscriptions are in English and not Latin. This is meant for the laity and donated by wealthy members. The parish church is where communities came together. In this window there is a display of wealth, of individuality, of learning and perhaps it could be reasoned, some responsibility towards society. It tells its audience that all men are equalised by the Last Judgement and to reflect on their earthly life.
[i] Roger Rosewell, ‘The Pricke of Conscience of the Fifteen Signs of Doom Window in the Church of All Saints, North Street, York’, Vidimus, Issue 45 <https://vidimus.org/issues/issue-45/feature/> [accessed 19 February 2021].
[ii] Rosewell, ‘The Pricke of Conscience of the Fifteen Signs of Doom Window in the Church of All Saints, North Street, York’.
[iii] Rosewell, ‘The Pricke of Conscience of the Fifteen Signs of Doom Window in the Church of All Saints, North Street, York’.
‘Pricke of Conscience Window’, The Stained Glass of All Saints, All Saints Church, North Street, York <https://www.allsaints-northstreet.org.uk/stainedglass.html> [accessed 19 February 2021]
Rosewell, Roger, ‘The Pricke of Conscience of the Fifteen Signs of Doom Window in the Church of All Saints, North Street, York’, Vidimus, Issue 45 <https://vidimus.org/issues/issue-45/feature/> [accessed 19 February 2021]