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The Alexander Hamilton Window

By Gardiner Pearson

The stained glass window over the pulpit and the door leading to the Cloister of the Colonies is the Alexander Hamilton Window. It bears the inscription:

“To The Glory of God
In Tribute To
Alexander Hamilton
And in Loving Memory Of
William Brice
This Window Is Given
By His Wife
Mary Regina Brice
1924”.

Like all the windows in the Chapel, it has both a central theme, “Freedom through Truth”, and a companion text from the Bible. The text is from the Gospel of St. John, Chapter 8, verses 31-32, “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free”. Burk’s titles for the first two medallions – “The New Earth” and “The New Heavens” – is drawn from the Book of Revelations, Chapter 21; “Then I saw the new heaven and the new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away;” and it goes on to describe “the new Jerusalem”, which some of the early settlers hoped to build in America. Note that the predominant color of the window is a glowing red. First installed in 1924, the Alexander Hamilton Window was completely cleaned and restored through the generosity of Susan K. McDaniel in 2018. A brass plaque commemorating this is placed to the left of the door to the cloister of the colonies and reads:

“Restored In Loving Memory Of My Departed Husband
Ernest O. Goelz
And
Dedicated To His Christian And Educational Philanthropy
May 2018
Susan K. McDaniel

The window consists of eight medallions and it illustrates what the Rev. Herbert Burk described as “the quickening effects” of what he termed “the Abundant Life which our Lord came to bestow” as demonstrated in the Renaissance. “In this window”, he wrote, “We deal with the Life as it quickens the intellectual and social life of the Peoples of the World”. The scenes are explained below from left to right and top to bottom.

Medallion 1: The New Earth – This medallion shows a navigator standing on the deck of a caravel such as Columbus sailed in, “taking the elevation of the sun as Columbus took it” with an astrolabe or quadrant. Behind him is the helmsman steering his course by compass. Burk’s point is that the innovative idea to use a compass to steer a ship’s course and the development and refinement of the astrolabe, which enabled a mariner to determine his latitude, (determination of longitude had to await the development of the chronometer in the 18th century) opened the way to the exploration of the New World. The astrolabe has a long and complex history, appearing in various forms and for various applications in the Greek world, B.C. in the Byzantine era, among the Arabs and Persians in the 8th century A.D. and ultimately, doubtless through the influence of the Crusades, in Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries.
Medallion 2: The New Heavens – This medallion shows Galileo pointing his 20 power telescope skyward in 1609 and ushering in a new understanding of the solar system and the stars, discoveries that led to the Age of Reason, the Enlightenment and the Scientific Revolution. Galileo’s observations and discoveries confirmed Copernicus’ earlier theories and led to the refutation of geocentric astronomy.
Medallion 3: The Fall of Constantinople – This medallion shows Greek scholars fleeing the burning city of Constantinople, “laden” in Burk’s words, “with their Greek books and manuscripts, bearing their precious gifts to the Western World.” The figure in the center bears a Greek New Testament, while the others are carrying the Greek classics, books and rolls. Above, in the background are the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet – Alpha and Omega. Constantinople, the capital of what little remained of a feeble, decaying Byzantine Empire, fell to the Ottomans in 1453. Although the significance of the fall of Constantinople has been debated, it had two general effects. The Greek scholars, fleeing to Italy, brought with them knowledge, particularly Greek texts that reinforced the Renaissance, ending the Middle Ages. Burk quotes the 19th century Anglican theologian, Arthur Stanley (“Dean Stanley”); “To the Greek exiles from the fallen city of Constantinople we owe the purest and most enduring element of the Reformation, namely, the New Testament in its original language.” In addition, Ottoman occupation of the eastern Mediterranean land mass reduced access to the trade routes to Asia and drove Europeans to seek direct access to the “Indies” by sea. This led, of course, to the discovery of North and South America thirty-nine years later.
Medallion 4: Type Founding and Printing – This medallion shows a Dutch printer, Laurens Janszoon Coster of Haarlem, making lead type for his printing press, the printing press itself, and assistants inking the type and turning the screw of the press. At the time the window was designed, many people believed that Coster in the 1420s, not Gutenberg in 1454, was Europe’s first printer to use movable type. No printed work attributable to Coster has ever been found. Whether by Gutenberg or Coster, however, the invention of movable type and the printing press made books available on a scale never before known. This contributed significantly to literacy and, as Burk observed, “marks a most important step in modern education.”
Medallion 5: Dante, The Poet of the People – This medallion shows the Italian Renaissance poet, Dante Alighieri, reading one of his poems. To his right is Arnolfo di Cambio, a Florentine sculptor and architect whom Burk mistakenly believed was the architect of the Bargello of Florence. Seated on his left is Giotto, the early Renaissance painter. The Bargello is in the background. The Bargello was built as the residence/seat of power for the “Captain of the People” to celebrate the successful popular uprising in 1250 by the merchants, traders and shop keepers of Florence against the feudal nobility. The theme of this window is complex. Dante and Giotto represent the early flowering of the Renaissance which created the conditions for the flowering of the art, literature and knowledge of Western civilization. The Bargello represents the early Florentine uprising of the people (merchants) against the nobility. Dante represents for Burk two threads leading to the emergence of democratic government. In “The Divine Comedy”, written in Italian, not Latin, he essentially created a national language, nationalism being a critical step away from feudalism and toward the power of the people. Dante was also a member of the Guelph political party, the party that represented the merchants and shop keepers in the uprising of 1250. The Guelphs successfully agitated for the establishment of a Florentine city constitution in 1292 and subsequently sought to establish a Guelph commonwealth.
Medallion 6: The Morning Star of the Reformation – This medallion shows John Wycliffe (also depicted in the Benjamin Franklin Window) the Oxford scholar and translator of the Latin Bible into English, in the library of his rectory at Lutherworth. He is holding a scroll and pointing to a Bible. He is surrounded by barefoot priests holding parchment scrolls of the Gospel in English. Wycliffe was born in about 1328 and died in 1384. He was a theologian, preacher, reformer, university teacher and early dissident in the Roman Catholic Church. He was the inspiration for the Lollard movement whose followers were anti-clerical and favored biblically-centered reforms. Considered a precursor of the Protestant Reformation, Wycliffe has been called “The Morning Star of the Reformation”. Wycliffe was an early opponent of papal authority influencing secular power. Wycliffe preached and wrote in English for the common people as well as in Latin for scholars. To teach the people he trained “poor” and “simple” itinerant priests who, in Burk’s words, “went up and down the land . . . preaching everywhere the freedom of truth, and bringing home to the people their Great Charter of Religious Freedom, the Word of God in their own language.”
Medallion 7: The Oxford Reformers – This medallion shows three key individuals in the development of Christian Humanism; John Colet, Sir Thomas More and Erasmus, who met one another at Oxford. Colet is in the center holding a copy of the first Greek New Testament, Sir Thomas More is on his left, and on his right is Erasmus of Rotterdam. The three were contemporaries in the first decades of the 16th century. Colet was a reformer from within the Roman Catholic Church, who believed in education and in following the Scriptures as a guide to life. Having visited Florence under Savonarola in 1493-94, he was influenced by the latter’s passion for moral reformation in the Church. Colet returned to Oxford where he lectured on the Epistles of St. Paul, attacked the immorality of the Popes and founded St. Paul’s School in London that taught a classical curriculum in which “sound learning and rational religion were to unite in the preparation of the pupils for their life work.” Colet’s lectures at Oxford influenced Erasmus, the great Christian humanist, who spent a year at Oxford in 1499. Erasmus in turn spoke highly of Colet and like him believed that the New Testament should be translated accurately so that the reader could understand for himself Christ’s message. Erasmus’ own translation in 1516, while not entirely accurate, reached England in 1516 and laid the foundation for future translations into the vernacular. Sir Thomas More, later executed by Henry VIII for refusing to acknowledge the King as head of the Church, was also a great Humanist , the author of the book Utopia which postulates an ideal society, and a believer in education for both women and men.
Medallion 8: Luther Before the Diet of Worms – This medallion shows Martin Luther standing before the Emperor, Charles V, with Archduke Ferdinand by his side at the Diet of Worms in 1521. Luther was called before the Diet, the Assembly of the Holy Roman Empire, to defend himself against charges of heresy. The medallion depicts Luther at the critical moment when, asked to recant his writings he stated, “I am conquered by the Holy Scriptures quoted by me, and my conscience is bound by the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant any thing, since it is unsafe and dangerous to do anything against the conscience. Here I stand: I cannot do otherwise. God help me. Amen’”
Washington Memorial Chapel