Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John Windows
The next time you’re in church, take a good look
at the two large windows above the doors between the
chapel and the sanctuary. Each one is about 12 feet long
and six feet tall, comprised of dozens of individual pieces
of glass in multiple shapes. There are four round panels
in these windows that are made of stained glass with
painted details. Starting on the left as you face the windows
from the sanctuary, they represent the authors of
the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
You’ll notice there is an “s” before each of the four
names, an abbreviation for the word “saint.” It is common
to see “saint” preceding the name of the authors of
the four Gospels in a Catholic church, but it is very unusual
to see in a Protestant church. From earliest times,
the man on the far left, who looks like an angel, has represented
Matthew; the winged ox represented Mark; the
lion represented Luke; and the eagle represented
John. These “symbols” are first mentioned in Ezekiel,
chapter 1, which describes a vision that Ezekiel has of
God riding in a throne like chariot that is being pulled by
these four creatures. These creatures are again described
in Revelations 4:6-9, as surrounding the throne of God.
However, neither of these Biblical sources link the creatures
to the four Gospel writers. That took place later in
the history of the Church.
Each of these symbols is depicted with angel’s
wings. These creatures may have originally been seen
as representing the highest forms of the various types of
animals: man, the king of creation made in the image of
the Creator; the lion, the king of beasts; the ox, king of
domesticated animals; and the eagle, king of the
birds. In the Middle Ages, these images took on additional
meaning. The man symbolizes Matthew because
his Gospel begins by stating the genealogy of the ancestors
of Christ. The lion symbolizes Mark, who early in
his Gospel speaks of a voice crying in the wilderness.
The ox, the sacrificial animal of the old covenant, symbolizes
Luke, whose Gospel opens with the sacrifice
offered by Zacharias. The eagle,
which was believed to be the only
creature that could gaze straight
into the light of the sun, symbolizes
John, who, in his Gospel, soars
into the mystery of the incarnation
of God and contemplates it so profoundly that he seems
like an eagle flying toward the sun.
In early European cathedrals, stained glass windows
were used to tell stories and teach the illiterate parishioners.
By the 12th century, the church had enlarged
upon the symbolism of the four beasts to help parishioners
recall the major events in the life of Christ. The man
(Matthew) became the reminder that God became man in
his Incarnation. The lion (Mark) became a symbol of vigilance
because lions were once believed to sleep with their
eyes open. (This was meant to symbolize the Resurrection
in that Christ died, but he rose from the dead and his divine
nature never dies and remains watching.) The ox,
(Luke) recalls the sacrificial nature of Christ, and, finally,
the eagle (John) rises to the unknown heights in the sky
just as Christ rose to heaven in the Ascension.
Later yet, there developed a third meaning for
these figures, which was intended to teach what virtues a
good Christian must practice. All Christians on their paths
through life to heaven must be like the symbol for Matthew,
a human, because God gave humans alone the gift of
reason, which must be used to achieve heaven. We need to
be like a lion, the symbol for Mark, courageous and noble.
Like the ox, the symbol for Luke, we need to be a
sacrifice because it is necessary to make penance. And
finally, we must pray and contemplate God and the things
of eternity like the eagle, the symbol for John, which soars
to the heavens and can look straight in the sun.
This same iconography of the man, the lion, the
ox, and the eagle was also adopted by the Masons. In
Freemasonry, the four symbols are used to represent the
four seasons: man is Aquarius, or winter. The bull is Taurus,
or spring. The lion is Leo, or summer, and the eagle is
Scorpio, or autumn.
Those of us working on the fund raising campaign
to restore our stained glass windows are so grateful for
your fantastic response to our pledge campaign. Over 55
pledges have come in so far and our pledge total is just
over $110,000! We’re two-thirds of the way there because
of your generosity. If you haven’t pledged so far, please
consider making a pledge. It’s a wonderful way to honor
someone in your family. By the time you read this, the
restoration work on the windows will be underway! It will
be fascinating and exciting to see the work progress.
Thanks from the members of the Pledge Fund Committee:
Jim M., Darrel R., and Paul V.P.