Holy Grail Window
The General Composition
The story of the Search for the Holy Grail and of its final achievement, as told by Sir Thomas Malory, has been the inspiration of this window.
The wonderful possibilities in pure color which this medium offers, and its equally well-defined limitations, together with a reverent insistence upon the symbolism which lies so near the heart of the story, have largely determined the subject-matter and the compositions of the window throughout.
Architecturally, it consists of three lancets (of six lancets each, in pairs), with simple tracery between the first and second tiers, and more elaborate tracery, culminating in three graceful quatrefoils, above the third tier, crowning the window.
The lower tier introduces the subject with the first appearance of the Grail in Camelot, the beginning of the search, and early incidents significant of the courage and valor of all the knights and of the lofty spirit of devotion and sacrifice which characterized both the successful and the unsuccessful searchers.
The middle and upper tiers are devoted to the renewal of the search by Sir Galahad and its final consummation in the appearance of Our Lord with the Grail to Sir Galahad (upper center), Sir Bors (middle left center), Sir Percival (middle right center), and other knights prominent in the search.
The three goodly knights, Sir Galahad, Sir Bors, and Sir Percival, whose purity of heart and spiritual graces brought them very close to the Grail, are distinguished by halos in the middle and upper lancets, and are further recognized by the appearance of their coats-of-arms on shields held by angels in the three large tracery pieces at the extreme top of the window.
The Lower Lancets The compelling features of the lower tier of lancets are the first appearance of the Grail to Sir Galahad, who is surrounded by knights at the round table (through the bases), and the riding of the knights through the streets of Camelot (in the upper parts of the same lancets). The spiritual character of the first appearance of the Grail and the mystical signs and omens which accompanied it - the great sound, the white light, the sweet savor - are all suggested in ways peculiar to the craft, stained glass: the sound, by jagged, angular pieces recalling through lightning the sound of thunder; the light, by a great ray of white light and by doves in a wide circle; the sweet savor, by censers held by the angels who lead the bearer of the Grail. The angels are hooded and completely draped, to recall Malory's words, "but ther was none that myghte fee hit nor Who bare hit."
The identity of the nine famous knights and King Arthur who appear in this window is first revealed in the base panels by the traditional heraldic devices and the characteristic colors that mark their costumes and which are blazoned on their benches or chairs and (for Sir Galahad) on the table-cloth near-by. Thus, following some very early and very worthy precedents, each knight preserves his identity throughout the composition. These coats-of-arms were furnished by Mr. Pierre de Chaignon LaRose of Cambridge, and are among the many distinctive results of his thoughtful and scholarly researches in this interesting field.
Names by which these Knights are known From left to right in the bases of the lower lancets the knights are: Sir Gareth, Sir Uwain, King Bagdemagus, Sir Gawaine, King Arthur, Sir Ector de Maris (or Sir Hector), Sir Galahad, Sir Launcelot, Sir Percival, and Sir Bors.
The Significance of their Places in the Window Following other interesting precedents, the knights appearing on the left side are those who, though courageous and sincere, did not continue valiantly and with pure hearts to the end of the search, while those on the right came under the immediate influence of the Holy Grail.
Inscription: "In the myddes of thys blaft thenne ther Entred in to The Halle the Holy Graile couerd with whyte famyte but ther was none that myghte fee hit nor Who bare hit."
The Castle of the Maidens
Beginning on the left, in the lower lancets, the first composition is an L shape, which extends into the second lancet. It represents the victorious battle of Sir Gareth and Sir Uwain (in the first lancet) and Sir Gawaine (in the second lancet) with the seven wicked knights (the seven deadly sins), to rescue the seven maidens (the seven goodly virtues) at the Castle of the Maidens.
Inscription: "syr Gareth and syr Vwayne and syr Gawaine destroye the seven wycked Bretheren of the castel of the Maydens."
King Bagdemagus Loses the White Shield In the second lancet, above the one just mentioned, occurs the incident which marks the end of King Bagdemagus' brave effort to keep the white shield.
Inscription: "And ful actually dyd Kynge Bagdemagus yelde the whyte shelde."
Sir Launcelot at the Cross of Stone In the fifth lancet is shown the beautifully significant vision of Sir Launcelot at the Cross of Stone, where the blessed atonement is revealed through the miraculous power of the Grail.
Inscription: "Alle this syr Launcelot sawe and beheld to fore the Stony Crosse."
Sir Launcelot Passing the Lions Below it Sir Launcelot is passing the Lions at the perilous gate. In response to the voice which summons his spiritual rather than his physical courage, he holds his sword powerlessly in his left hand.
Inscription: "syre Launcelot passyng the lyons."
Sir Bors Rescues the Maid In the sixth lancet is given the rescue of the maid by Sir Bors in his fierce battle with the black knight at sunset.
Inscription: "syr Bors rescowed the Mayde."
Sir Percival Rescues the Lion Sir Percival appears below in that quaintly significant incident, the rescue of the lion and cub from the evil snake.
Inscription: "syr Percyual rescowed the lyon."
Details of the Middle and Upper Tiers of Lancets
The Renewal of the Search The middle tier of lancets introduces the renewal of the search by Sir Galahad in a composition which includes the two base panels of the center lancets. It represents (left) the White Knight calling Sir Galahad to renew the search, and (right) his farewell to his father on the ship in which they had voyaged so long together.
Inscriptions: "Come sayd the knyghte and starte upon this horse." ~ "Soo syr Galahad departed from hys fader."
Sir Percival's Vision The vision of Sir Percival - the Four Lions and the White Hart - forms the smaller composition at the base of the center lancets. The White Hart is the symbol of Our Lord, while the Four Lions are the Four Evangelists; therefore occurring, as it does, this vision serves to link this legend of the search for the Grail with the noble religious thought of the Middle Ages, and to show the Divine approval of the high spirit of the adventure, as it was shown in Sir Galahad, Sir Bors, and Sir Percival.
Inscription: "Thys thenne is the Holy aduysyon that syr Percyual sawe."
Castle of the Strange Custom This incident, in common with the other subjects shown in the middle tier of lancets, is significant of the exalted spiritual character of the searchers as they neared the final consummation. A suggestion of this fact is found in the color, which contains a noticeable influence of white and violet.
The composition runs through the upper base panels of the middle tier of lancets and shows (right) Sir Galahad and Sir Bors confronting the black warriors, while (left) Sir Percival's sister, with Sir Percival, hears the plea for the rescue by the blood sacrifice of the princess who is ill unto death in the great castle.
The story of the self-sacrifice of Percival's sister is surely one of the most gracious and beautiful of all those incident to the search for the Grail and it was evidently the thought of Sir Thomas Malory that this pure-hearted maid had a place of honorable distinction with the three most ardent searchers for the Holy Grail.
Inscription: "The good knyghtes & Percyual's syster tofore the castel of the straunge custom."
Restoring of King Mordrain's Sight This incident, at the base of the left panel, significant of the spirit of light which banishes all darkness, is closely allied to the one next to it, "The Healing of the Maimed King." They both suggest the nearness of the Holy Grail, and therefore in the latter composition the "Angel with the Marvelous Spear" appears, clothed in light.
Inscriptions: "Kynge Mordrayns receyued his syghte." ~ "The maymed Kynge is helyd."
The Cripple made Whole at the City Gate Another warm and human instance of the gracious power of the Divine Spirit as symbolized in the Holy Grail is the healing of the cripple at the City Gate by a ray of light from the Grail carried by Bors and Percival, under the leadership of Sir Galahad.
Inscription: "Soo that a Cryppyl was made hole by the Sancgreal."
The Holy Grail Ministers to the Three Knights in Prison, and Sir Galahad's Last Farewell At the bases of the right lancets are two small compositions which are significant of the sustaining power of the Divine Spirit in adversity, and of the closeness of the bonds of friendship founded upon Spiritual ideals.
Inscriptions: "The grace of the Sancgreal in pryson." ~ "Syr Galahads laste adieu."
The Final Consummation of the Search
This subject is introduced by the figures of the Angel with the Spear, and Joseph of Arimathea, the first Bishop of Christendom, in the upper parts of the center lancets of the middle tier. The knights are grouped on either side holding banners which extend into the upper lancets. The figure of Our Lord holding aloft the Holy Grail is surrounded by seven cherubs, and He stands above seven flying doves, while seven haloed doves dart in the rays of the Holy Grail. Thus are symbolized the Seven Theological Virtues, the Seven Goodly Virtues, and the Seven Gifts of the Spirit. Doves and cherubs throughout the upper part of the window reflect the same symbolism. Angels of light, with candles, are on either side of Our Lord, while angels with the symbols of the Passion complete the composition. (There are seven Angels of the Passion, including the Angel with the Spear.)
The Symbolism of Color
The traditional symbolism of color has been observed throughout the window, and it has been pleasantly modified by the constant use of heraldry, with its demands for pure colors and whites, in quaint and unusual juxtaposition.
In brief, color symbolism may be epitomized as follows:
White: purity, poise, joy, light, Spiritual power.
Gold: wisdom, learning, riches, achievement, the harvest.
Green: spring, youth, hope, happiness.
Blue: Heavenly love, loyalty, friendship, eternity, faith.
Violet: deep human love, humility, penitence, suffering. (In a sense it is also used to take the place of black, and in this window the "black knights" are violet and red-violet.)
Red: Divine Passion, ardent love, courage, pure zeal, passionate devotion, self-sacrifice.
Stained Glass as a Medium
This noble craft is supreme among all mediums in its power to express character and emotion in pure color. It is severely restricted, but in the hands of a master even its restrictions add vitality and scope to its great power. Black leads and heavy stay-bars, with the stone mullions that hold them, all contribute to the glory of transparent glass in light.
A stained-glass window can never be a picture. It is essentially a flat decoration through which light must play. Whatever its richness of detail, its component parts of glass and lead determine its simplicity and directness and its tendency toward the silhouette rather than the subtleties of tone which are associated with pictorial art in general, and especially with painting.
It is the privilege of the master craftsman in stained glass to sing in terms of pure color and light, and so to make a direct and searching appeal to emotions which lie very near the human heart, even before the subject-matter may be appreciated by the understanding.
This window was designed by Charles J. Connick, and was made in his studio at Nine Harcourt Street, Boston. The following artists, painters, and craftsmen were his assistants: J.G. Reynolds, T.P. Rudd, T. Mainini, A. Marena, W.M. Francis, K.O. Svendsen, C.T. Watson, J.H. Rohnstock, M. Andresen, W. Hudson, C.W. Vollmar, E.J. Mooney.
"The Holy Grail Window", c. 1919; from the Historical Subject Files, Grounds and Buildings; Box 5A; Princeton University Archives; Department of Rare Books and Special Collections; Princeton University Libraries.