St. Martin of Tours

Archdiocese of Mobile

Newman Connetion


The Stained Glass Windows

Serious thought went into the selection of these stained glass windows.  The following is an explanation of what lay behind each choice, beginning with the two windows in the daily Mass chapel, then the four in the sanctuary, and finally the eight in the nave (or body) of the church.
There are two saints celebrated in the daily Mass chapel: St. Ansgar and St. Martin of Tours.

St. Ansgar

St. Ansgar, a missionary in the ninth century, was born in France and preached the Gospel in what is now Denmark and Sweden.  This is why the “Viking ship” is in the lower portion of his window. He experienced success in his missionary efforts (becoming a bishop) and his reputation was based on personal holiness of life and effective preaching.  His feast-day is 3 February, but because of the popularity of St. Blaise (also on that day), his memorial is almost never celebrated.

St. Martin

Opposite him is St. Martin of Tours, our patron saint. He is shown clean-shaven because he was a soldier of the fourth century in the Roman legions.  He is in the act of cutting his cloak in two pieces, to give one piece to a beggar. The legend tells us that that night Martin had a dream in which Christ was wearing that other piece of his cloak, telling him, “Whatever you do the least of these....”  And so Martin was converted, abandoned the military life and became a monastic solitary.  His reputation for holiness and prayerfulness led the people of Tours to insist, against his will, that he become their bishop.  One legend has it that he tried to escape from the people, but a goose’s honking led them to his hiding place.  This is why the goose is in the lower portion of his window.  Martin was a great pioneer of monastic life in Europe even before St. Benedict.  All of what we know about him derives from the writings of Sulpicius Severus, who was a personal friend.  His feast-day is 11 November.


The four windows in the sanctuary are the emblem-symbols of the Four Evangelists-- Mark, Matthew, Luke , and John.  They are shown “hovering” over the books that they wrote.  They are depicted as they are because their images were taken from the Book of Revelation’s description of the “four living creatures (Rev. 4:6-9).  This description is itself borrowed from the prophet Ezekiel (1:4-14).  The logic for assigning these images to the Evangelists is as follows: John is the eagle because his Gospel soars into the heavens of mystical vision and insight.  Luke’s Gospel begins with the cultic details of the Temple with Zechariah and the appearance of Gabriel to announce the birth of John the Baptist, and so his symbol is the ox, an animal of sacrifice.  The voice of the lion is said to roar in the desert, and Mark’s gospel begins with John the Baptist roaring in the desert.  Finally, Matthew is represented by the human because his Gospel begins with the human genealogy of Christ.  Admittedly, these interpretations are pushing it a bit, but they became traditional since the earliest days of Christianity, and they have been “symbolic shorthand” for the Evangelists ever since.

The themes of the eight windows in the nave of St. Martin church are specially selected according to two principles.  First of all, beginning near the choir, walking toward the back, and up the other side to the baptismal font, one passes the whole cycle of time: Creation, Tower of Babel, Abraham & Isaac, Moses, Baptism of Jesus, Crucifixion, Pentecost, and finally the Parousia or Second Coming of Christ.  The second principle is that each window of the Old Testament is a symbolic foreshadowing (or “type”) of the New Testament window directly opposite it.  Thus, it is helpful to look at the windows in pairs.

Stained Glass Windows

The Creation window is the Beginning.  From the top of the window down, the images are ordered according to the order of creation in Genesis 1, from light to animals and people.  The bottom panel, the Mogen David (or “Star of David”) is the sign of God, calm and at rest on the Sabbath.  This is paralleled by the Second Coming, the End.  Christ the King, crowned with glory (Heb. 1:8-9), with glorified wounds from the crucifixion in His hands and feet.  His foot is on the world.  In the lower panel is the two-edged sword which is the living Word of God (Heb. 4:12), flanked by the trumpets of the Last Judgment (I Cor. 15:51ff.).  The banners are the traditional banners of resurrection.

Stained Glass Windows

The Tower of Babel is the story that marks the divisions of language that separate the human race.  Quarreling and conflict characterize this window, with jarring combinations of architectural style in the middle, men below in the lower panel arguing, workers falling off the scaffold (look carefully for this one!), and the whole left unfinished.  Opposite this window of conflict is Pentecost, the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Acts 2 tells us that the sign of the Spirit is the forming of unity from diversity, and so the Apostles’ first preaching is a miracle of translation, undoing the babble of Babel.  Acts 1: 14 tells us that Mary the Mother of Jesus was with the Apostles in the upper room, and so she is highlighted here.  The two apostles in the panel below are a perfect contrast to the two works at odds with each other in the Babel panel.

Stained Glass Windows

There is no more poignant scene in the Old Testament than the sacrifice of Abraham (sometimes also called the Binding of Isaac) in Gen. 22.  For centuries this scene has been interpreted as a direct foreshadowing of the Crucifixion, as in both cases an only-begotten beloved son is offered up.  Parallels like this have led to this reading being used during the Easter Vigil in the Catholic Liturgy of Holy Saturday night.  The altar, the fire, and wood are in the lower panel (Gen. 22:7).  Most striking here is the eye-contact between father and son--the trust in Isaacs’s eyes, the pain in Abraham’s.  But our redemption is secured through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross,  and the skull in the lower panel is the representation of an ancient tradition that the site of Calvary was none other than the grave of Adam.  So in Adam we have all sinned, in Christ old Adam comes to life, washed clean.

Stained Glass Windows

Moses splits the Red Sea to save God’s people, and the divided waters can be seen in the lower panel, with the pathway of dry land in-between (Ex. 14).  This reading is seen as symbolic of all baptism, and especially the baptism of Jesus--so much so that this is the one reading from the Old Testament options that is required to be read at the Easter Vigil on every Holy Saturday night, since this is THE great night for baptisms of adult converts.  The shell below the window of the Baptism of Jesus, a scallop, is identical in form to the shell we use for baptisms here, and the three drops of water suggest baptism “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19).

The windows celebrate more than just the “moments” of salvation history they represent.  Especially by means of the parallels, or “types,” they tell us that God’s plan for us is “a plan of weal, and not woe” (Jer. 29:11).  It is our destiny for all to be made one in Christ in glory (I Cor. 15:20-28).  Divisions will be ended, and we will be reconciled to God and one another in Christ (II Cor. 5:18ff.: Eph. 2:13-18).  We are redeemed by Him who for our sakes did not spare His own Son, taking the faith and love of Abraham one step further (Rom 8:31-39).  He sets us free from slavery to sin, bringing us into the glorious freedom of the children of God through the waters of Baptism (Rom. 8:21; Col. 1:12-14). The Word who is God (Jn. 1:1) is proclaimed in the writings of His Evangelists and in the lives of His faithful like St. Ansgar and St. Martin.  In Him we celebrate the promise, and we rejoice with a joy that no one can take from us (Jn.16:22).