Have you ever noticed the odd ladder-like borders around some of our stained-glass windows?
The designs could be a nod to the Biblical story of Jacob’s Ladder (Genesis 28:10-15).
The story is a surprisingly important one around the world and across cultures. Exhausted Jacob, fleeing his brother Esau, laid down by the roadside, pillowing his head on a stone. Falling asleep, “he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south.. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land…”
The dream has been interpreted as foretelling Jewish exile, and as describing a bridge between heaven and earth. It is also thought to represent the Muslim “straight path” of a virtuous life. Some suggest that a three-rung ladder could represent the virtues of faith, hope and charity; while a seven-rung ladder could evoke seven moral virtues. An old legend claimed that the Stone of Scone, used in the ritual to crown British monarchs, was the very same stone on which Jacob rested his head!
Our patron, Saint Francis de Sales, offered his own perspective, directing readers of his Introduction to the Devout Life to “contemplate Jacob’s ladder, for it is the true emblem of the devout life. The two sides, between which we ascend, and in which the rounds (rungs) are fastened, represent prayer…and the sacraments…” The rungs of the ladder offer a route down to action, performing good deeds “to the help and support of our neighbour,” and up for meditation and “blessed union with God.” Both directions of action and thought are important to spiritual development.
Why do we think the ladder designs might be significant in our church?
The clue is right there in plain sight: the inscription on the back wall of the sanctuary — “Indeed, the Lord is in this place” (Genesis 28:16) — is what Jacob said upon awakening from that dream!