The Stained Glass Windows of the Cathedral

Entering the Cathedral the beautiful stained glass windows throw a wonderful medley of colours on the marble aisles and benches. Far above our heads at intervals may be seen the symbol windows to right and left. Those opposite each other have the same general theme. The first to the left over the Organ Gallery shows a net and fish. The fisherman’s net is a symbol of the Church.
– “The kingdom of Heaven is like a net cast into the sea and gathering together all kinds of fishes.” (Matt. 13:47). The fish represents the faithful, recalling the words of Our Divine Lord to His Apostles:
– “Come after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.” (Mark.1:17).

To the right the first symbol window has the ‘Crossed Keys’ symbolic of the power of the Pope, Vicar of Christ and Visible head of the Church on earth. To St. Peter, the first Pope, Our Lord said: “I will give thee the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.” (Matt.16:19).

The second window on the left has a symbol of the Holy Trinity, namely three interlinked circles and opposite it we see the window with the Greek letters, Alpha and Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. In the Apocalypse we read: “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, saith the Lord God, who is and who was, and who is to come -the Almighty.” (Ap.1:8).

The Pelican, which, according to legend, feeds its young with its own blood is a symbol of our redemption through the sufferings of Our Lord and particularly of the Blessed Eucharist in which He nourishes our souls with His Body and Blood. St. Thomas Aquinas uses this image in the Adoro Te:

“Deign, 0 Jesus, Pelican of Heaven,
Me, a sinner, in Thy Blood to lave,
To a single drop of which is given
All the world from all sin to save.”

The window opposite with the Chalice and Host reminds us of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in which the bread and wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. It is for the celebration of this Sacrifice that every Catholic Church is built. In it are the Altar and the Tabernacle where Our Lord lives in the Blessed Sacrament-truly it is the House of God.

The Anchor represents the virtue of hope. St. Paul reminds us: “Hold fast the hope set before us which we have as an anchor of the soul sure and firm” (Heb. 6/19). This is one of the oldest Christian symbols and is to be found frequently in the Catacombs of Rome. Under this form too the cross was represented in the days of persecution.

Its counterpart on the other side is the ship, the barque of Peter, a symbol also of the Church. It is interesting to note that the nave of the church, reserved for the faithful, takes its name from navis-the Latin word for a ship.

Wheat and grapes on the next two windows opposite each other suggest the bread and wine for the Sacrifice of the Mass and are a symbol of the Holy Eucharist. The monogram of Christ takes many forms but all are formed by using certain letters from the Greek words for “Jesus” and “Christ”. The fish is a symbol of the name of Christ. The letters of this Greek word for fish “Ichthus” make up an acrostic for the phrase “Jesus Christ, Son of God and Saviour”. We now come to the four symbols of the Evangelists. The winged creatures that represent them are thus described by the prophet Ezechiel: “And as for the likeness of their faces: there was the face of a man and the face of a lion on the right side of all the four: and the face of an ox on the left side of all the four: and the face of an eagle over all the four.” (1:10).

The lion represents St. Mark because he commences his gospel with an account of St. John the Baptist whom he describes as: “A voice of one crying in the desert” (Mark. 1:3), the desert being the home of the lion. On the opposite window is the eagle, symbol of St. John. The eagle soaring far into the heavens represents St. John who carries us in the opening words of his Gospel to heaven itself: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (Jn.1).

The man represents St. Matthew who begins his gospel with the human ancestry of Our Lord. The ox opposite represents St. Luke because it was the animal of sacrifice. St. Luke stresses the atonement made by the sufferings and death of Christ and furthermore he mentions the priestly functions of Zachary.

We now come to the Sanctuary. There are eight large windows with small symbol windows over each. From left to right the windows are the Immaculate Conception to commemorate the fact that the Diocese of Johannesburg is dedicated to Our Lady under the title of the Immaculate Conception. It serves also to remind us all that the Oblates of Mary Immaculate were the Pioneer Missionaries in the Transvaal.

Over this window is a rose-Rosa Mystica-symbol of the Blessed Virgin and is one of the titles given to her in the Litany of Loreto.

The Nativity is pictured in the second window. Over it is the symbol of Christ, the “Lamb of God”. This was the name given to Our Lord by St. John the Baptist, “Behold the Lamb of God, behold Him who taketh away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29).

Then follows the Flight into Egypt with the symbol of Our Lady as Virgin Most Powerful. Our Lady is powerful because of her influence with her Divine Son and also because of her humility, her trust in God and her conformity with His Holy Will.

The last large window on the left-hand side of the Sanctuary as you face the altar is the meeting of the Son and His Mother on the way to Calvary. The symbol window shows the cross and nails. The nails used in crucifying Christ are found in all symbols of the Passion, sometimes three, sometimes four.

It will be seen that these pictures on the left of the Sanctuary lead up to the Crucifixion represented by the huge Crucifix over the High Altar. This crucifix is carved wood. On or over the altar on which Mass is offered there must be a crucifix which can be seen by all the faithful to remind us that the Mass is the same Sacrifice as that of Calvary.