The Five Sisters Window


 The Five Sisters Window

The north wall of the North Transept is filled with the imposing mixture of stone and glass that forms the Five Sisters Window. It is the oldest complete window in York Minster and dates from around the year 1260. In comparison to other windows in the building the Five Sister can appear quite dark and confusing. This is, in part, due to the excessive amount of repair leads which confuse the image, and the protective outer glazing that cuts down the amount of light entering the building from the north.

 The Five Sisters is made of “grisaille” glass fashionable in the thirteenth century England. Grisaille or Cistercian glass was typically formed by painting complex foliage patterns on pieces of white or silvery grey glass. The pieces were then formed into strong geometric patterns with the skilful use of the lead cames that hold the pieces together, the lead being as integral a part of the design as the glass. Each of the magnificent lancets stands 16.3m tall and is 1.55m wide. In total the window contains over 100,000 individual pieces of glass

– Dean & Chapter of York 2006


The Chapter House of York Minster is the largest in England. It was begun around `1270. While smaller Chapter Houses have a support column in the middle of the vaulted ceiling, York’s is self-supporting. I suspect the builders were particularly proud of themselves (I know the present inhabitants are).

Interior of the York Minster Chapter House. (photo is not mine)

Preaching is a performance art. You learn by doing and the doing is always in public. Congregations have been remarkably tolerant  and kind to this preacher.  The first decade of my ministry found me physically sick most Sunday mornings.  When I am anxious I talk too fast and I have labored for over 30 years to slow down.  It is still a work in progress.  At least I get another chance next week.  The living of our lives is performance art and the rumors of our performance follow us.

As an example of performance art, I submit the Chapter House windows of York Minster. But first a bit of explanation; the Chapter House is the place where the monastic community gathered to hear a chapter of the Rule of Saint Benedict read aloud.  The builders of York Minster built the largest and most beautiful Chapter House in all of Britain.  It is Octogonal and all but one  bay is filled with stained glass.  It is perhaps my favorite building. It is perfection in style and spirit.  And yet…

… notice the windows in the side that has less traffic being the opposite from the town.  Yes, you are right a couple of the windows are off, actually they are misshapen.  These were practice windows for appreciates to the Guild of Stone Masons.  The only way they could really learn the skill was to do it and the windows they built worked (and have of almost a thousand years) but perfection eluded them.  You would think they would have rebuilt them and why they didn’t is a mystery.

Windows that work but windows that perfection has eluded.

These men very likely learned the skills to do build precisely and perfectly as they spend their lives adding to the 250 years of construction to make the Minster.

The living of life is done in public.  For good and ill we learn by living. We live in a laboratory of the Christian faith and the good news is that we don’t have to always get it right.  That’s good news.  In the 13th and the 21st Centuries.