Sacred Vision

Jonah, Canterbury Cathedral

 

The roundel of Jonah, probably dating from around

1200, is one of four surrounding a panel of the Resurrection at the centre of what has come to be known as the Redemption Window in the Corona. Some of the panels are the work of the nineteenth century restorer Austin.

The Jonah panel is probably by a Flemish craftsman, three of whom have been identified at work on the window (whose iconographical scheme must, nevertheless, have been the work of one man, probably a canon of the cathedral). Jonah’s three days and nights in the belly of the whale was a type of the Resurrection which had scriptural, indeed dominical, authority (Matt. 12:19), and was common throughout the middle ages. Here we see the moment when the sailors, having identified Jonah as the cause of the tempest, and with his encouragement, cast him overboard. The whale is there to receive him (obedient thereby to the divine providence) and Jonah enters it with a look of pious resignation.

The style of the corona windows has been compared to that of a number of contemporary manuscripts; but there is no need to see them as imitative or derivative. The use of colour and the overall design shows a mastery of the stained glass medium which owes nothing to painters either of frescoes or of books. The windows have a luminosity and a symphonic use of colour which singles them out as masterpieces of their genre. Each roundel is a balanced composition in itself, with telling detail. The whole is an equally balanced composition of discrete elements, binding the geometrical parts into an organic whole.

The typological windows in the ambulatory and the Corona are the glories of the Cathedral and among the most significant achievements in the whole of European stained glass.

Mark Stephens

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