The Benjamin Franklin Window

Freedom Through the Word

By Gardiner Pearson

The stained glass window above and to the right of the lectern as you face the altar, directly over the door to the “Porch of the Allies” is the “Benjamin Franklin Window”. It bears the inscription “To the Glory of God and in honor of Benjamin Franklin and in tribute to all who made the Word free and opened the Scriptures to the English-speaking Nation”. It was given by John Wanamaker in 1922. Like all the windows in the Chapel it has both a central theme, “Freedom through the Word”, and a companion text from the Bible. This text is from the Gospel of John, Chapter 8 verse 32, “And ye shall know the truth and the Truth shall make you free.” In keeping with the red/blue color scheme dictated by our first Rector, W. Herbert Burk, it is predominantly red in color. When completed, however, Fr. Burk complained to Nicola D’Ascenzo, the creator of the windows, that it was not red enough.
The window has eight panes (“medallions” in stained glass terminology) depicting eight scenes in the history of the English Bible, starting in the 7th century and ending in the 18th. The scenes are depicted in order from left to right, top to bottom.

Medallion 1: Caedmon at Whitby: Caedmon was an illiterate herdsman working for Whitbey Abbey who composed what is now the oldest recorded Old English poem sometime between 658 and 680 AD. The text and the music came to him in a dream, and from then on he composed hymns based on Biblical passages. He subsequently became a monk and a religious poet. The medallion shows him demonstrating his newfound skill to the Abbess of Whitby Abbey, who holds a Bible in her lap.

Medallion 2: The Death of the Venerable Bede: Bede c. 673-735 AD, also known as St. Bede, was a Benedictine monk living in the kingdom of Northumbria. He was the first great English scholar and is best known for his Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Among many accomplishments, he is credited with bringing about the dating of historical events from the year of Our Lord’s birth (Anno Domini – AD). According to a contemporary, Bede died upon completing an English translation of a portion of the Gospel of John.

Medallion 3: Wyclif Translates the Bible Into English: John Wyclif (c. 1320-1384) was an Oxford scholar who advocated the translation of the Latin Bible (Vulgate) into the everyday language of his time, Middle English. He completed a translation of the New Testament and, with collaborators, of the Old Testament between 1382 and his death in 1384. Convinced that the scriptures were the only reliable guide to the truth about God, he is considered a forerunner of the Protestant Reformation in England. He is shown in this medallion with his two collaborators in the translation of the Bible, Nicholas Hereford and John Purvey.

Medallion 4: The First Printed English Bible: William Tyndale printed the first Bible in English in 1524-26 in Germany. Tyndale’s translation was the first English Bible to draw directly from Hebrew and Greek texts, the first English translation to take advantage of the printing press the first of the new English Bibles of the Reformation, and the first English translation to use Jehovah (“Iehouah”) as God’s name as preferred by English Protestant Reformers. For his trouble, he was executed by strangulation in 1532. However, the 47 scholars who produced the King James version of the Bible in 1611 drew heavily upon Tyndale’s translation. The medallion shows Tyndale examining, with the printer, a freshly printed sheet of his Bible.

Medallion 5: The Burning of the English Bible and Its Translator: This medallion, with flames in the background, depicts the burning of Wyclif’s English Bible and Wyclif himself by order of Pope Martjn V in 1428. Wyclif had been dead more than forty years when the Pope ordered his bones dug up and burned along with a copy of his manuscript Bible, many of which were circulating by then.

Medallion 6: The Open Bible in St. Paul’s Cathedral: Only six years after Tyndale’s execution for translating the Bible, In September 1538, the King’s minister, Thomas Cromwell, ordered an English Bible to be placed in every parish church in the country, so that “your parishioners may most conveniently resort to the same and rede.” This medallion illustrates one of the early, authorized translations of the Bible, called “The Great Bible” on display in old St. Paul’s Cathedral in London following Cromwell’s edict.

Medallion 7: The Bible in America – Reading the Bible at Jamestown: The point of this medallion is to illustrate the arrival of, and important part played by, the English-language Bible in Colonial America. The scene shows the Jamestown colony’s first preacher, Robert Hunt, reading the Bible to Captain John Smith and his fellow settlers. The Bible, according to Smith’s account, was placed on a bar of wood nailed to two trees and protected by a sail.

Medallion 8: Washington Gives the Bible to the Youth of America: In his will, George Washington left a Bible to each of his step-children, George Washington Parke Custis and Nellie Custis. This medallion in the lower right-hand corner of the window shows George Washington giving Bibles to them. But, like Medallion 7, it is intended to show the importance of the Bible to Americans.

Washington Memorial Chapel