Talking Heads

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        Isaiah, Micah, Zachariah, Malachi, David, and Jeremiah. If you had to pick your favorite Old-Testament characters, would these guys be on the list? So why do their faces appear at the tops of our stained glass windows?

        The answer lies in the Latin above their heads. Each one made a prophecy about the coming of Jesus, which relates loosely  to the scene in the window below.

        Starting from the left, above the Annunciation window on the St. Joseph side of the church, and using the Douay-Rheims translation of the Bible that would have been prevalent at the time, Isaias (Isaiah 7:14) announces “Behold, a virgin shall conceive…and his name shall be called Emmanuel.” The Adoration of the Shepherds window has Michaeas (Micah 5:2) quoting “And Thou, Bethlehem…out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be the ruler” while above the scene of life at Nazareth, Zacharaias (Zecharia 2:11-12) proclaims “Behold, I come and I will dwell in the midst of thee….in the sanctified land.”

        On the Mary side of the church, starting near the Vatican flag, above the scene of the Sermon on the Mount, Malachias (Malachi 3:1) says “I send my angel and he will prepare the way…Behold, he cometh.” As Jesus performs his healing ministry, David (Psalms 109) intones “The Lord hath sworn…thou art a priest…He shall judge among nations.” And finally, above the Agony in the Garden, Jeremias (Jeremiah 25:17) quotes “Then I took the cup at the hand of the Lord…”

        Many prophecies in the Old Testament relate to Jesus. The challenge for D’Ascenzo, Studios, creating the windows back in 1910, would have been to find six different quotes by six different people, which could be related to a series of specific scenes from the Life of Christ. Most of the quotes had to be shortened to fit in the space, and they remain in ceremonial Latin. Note that in one of the windows (see if you can find it!), a piece of a quote is upside down. This could be a simple error – or it could be part of a very old tradition, in which a deliberate mistake was introduced into a piece of art as an acknowledgement that God alone is perfect.

        We do live in an imperfect world. This Christmas season, let us all pray for light and peace!

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