A modern stained glass window – the “Window of Peace” – was installed in St Cuthbert’s in September 2015 by its designer, the Edinburgh stained glass artist, Emma Butler-Cole Aiken. This new stained glass window, the first to be installed in over seventy years, was funded by a legacy which the late Robert Elliot left St. Cuthbert’s because of his admiration for the caring ethos and practice of the congregation.
The window celebrates the peacefulness and serenity that our Christian faith promises us. It is situated on the right of the nave, is at a distance from the existing end-of-19th/early 20th century windows and faces south.
COMMISSIONING THE WINDOW
The decision to use some of Robert Elliot’s donation to create a new stained glass window grew out of the belief that it should fund something tangible and enduring that would enhance the beauty of the church and be an aid to worship. A new stained glass window met this goal.
Once Vestry approval for the window was given, a small informal committee consisting of the Rector, Maurice Houston, Anne Houston, Jan Shepherd and Faith Elliot, was formed, a design brief was drawn up and the task of choosing an artist began. To this end the Scottish Stained Glass Trust was consulted, the website galleries of stained glass artists were evaluated and modern windows in churches in and around Edinburgh looked at. Three artists were invited to submit design sketches and, the committee together with James Holloway, the retired director of the Scottish National Portrait Gallery who had kindly agreed to advise us in evaluating designs, met with the artists to see their designs. Members of the congregation as well as Vestry were also asked to comment on the designs and voice their preferences. The design submitted by Emma Butler-Cole Aiken was generally loved and chosen.
The artist and design chosen, the formal process of consulting the congregation as required by Canon 35 was set in motion and consent duly given. Planning consent was then sought and granted and diocesan approval obtained. Work on the window began in March 2015. The installation in September 2015 was undertaken by the designer with the assistance of Les Barrie. Bob Pritchard, St Cuthbert’s property manager, together with David Willis, our church architect, were on hand to orchestrate the logistics thereof. The installation was accomplished speedily – within three days – and without fuss.
The window was consecrated by the Rector, Maurice Houston, in a moving service on All Saints’ Sunday, 1st November 2015.
Emma Aiken’s design has as its starting point the notion that, in her words, “true peace is not the absence of trouble but is the gift of peacefulness” that comes from the belief that God is by our side “even when life is frightening and chaotic”. Her design draws on Psalm 121 and the story in Mark’s Gospel (chapter 4) of Christ calming the stormy waters of Galilee.
In Psalm 121, the writer says “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help” and finds that “help cometh from the Lord” who will not suffer “the sun to smite thee by day nor the moon by night”. This beautiful psalm declares that God is “there for us” – always.
Mark’s gospel story illustrates this. In this story, Christ and his disciples are on Lake Galilee when a furious storm blows up. Roused from sleep by his terrified disciples, Christ says to the raging winds and billowing waves “peace, be still” and immediately they were.
The window depicts this moment of transition from storm to calm. Hills (the Pentlands) rise out of swirling waves and above the hills are the sun and moon. In the left light, a faint Celtic cross emerges from the waves, symbolising our trust in the Lord, but faintly as our faith is often vague and weak because our life is so troubled. In the right light, clasped hands signify God reaching out to someone in the stormy waters. A dove representing both peace and the Holy Spirit flutters serenely over the calm waters.
Echoes from Mark’s Gospel story are found in the hymn “Be Still, my Soul” and lines from it “Be still my soul: the tempests still obey his voice” were chosen as the text for the design.
Emma Butler-Cole Aiken grew up in Carlops. She trained at the Edinburgh College of Art and now lives and works in Edinburgh. She is an associate of the British Society of Master Glass Painters and is stained glass consultant to the Church of Scotland Art and Architecture Committee. Her ecclesiastical windows include windows in Church of Scotland churches in Carlops, Whitburn and Broxburn. She was awarded a Saltire Society Art and Craft in Architecture commendation for the Broxburn window.
Robert Chesters Elliot LLB (31st July 1940 – 2nd April 2013) was born in London and grew up in the Home Counties. He studied law at the London School of Economics and in due course became an academic lawyer. He moved to Scotland in the 1970s and for nearly twenty years lectured in English Law at the University of Dundee where he was course leader for the only Qualifying English Law Degree in Scotland. On retirement in 1998, he and his wife moved to Colinton, Edinburgh, and became members of the St Cuthbert’s congregation.