Roger Hall is an expert in deciphering the symbols and allusions in church windows of a century ago – particularly the windows of Margaret Agnes Rope, which are rich in meaning.
Here in this article he looks at how Margaret’s close relationship with her extended family influenced her designs for a particular church.
The east window in the Anglican church of St Peter at Blaxhall in Suffolk, was designed and made by Margaret Rope about 1913. It commemorates her grandparents George and Anne Rope, their sons Henry John (Margaret’s father) and Richard Frederic, and their grandson Arthur George Michael. The Rope family, on Margaret’s paternal side, were worshippers here.
It is fitting that a window commemorating a family should depict the Holy Family; and some of the other figures in the scene have a family significance too, as will be explained below.
The window also contains allusions to the everlasting life in heaven which Christians believe awaits them, another appropriate theme for a memorial.
So far as we know this is the only one of her windows which Margaret ever signed: her monogram ‘MAR’ (Margaret Agnes Rope) with the Latin word ‘fecit’ (made) is at the bottom right corner below the memorial inscription.
To Mary’s left is St Stephen, one of the first deacons of the Church. Over his shoulder is a martyr’s palm, and he is holding the stones which killed him. He was stoned to death in Jerusalem only 2 years after the Crucifixion, making him the first Christian martyr to experience a ‘second birth’.
Once more there is a second, family, significance to his inclusion: he was stoned to death and is the patron saint of those with headaches. We know that Richard Frederic Rope died in his early twenties after diving into the River Alde and striking his head on a stone.
To the right of Mary sits St Luke the Evangelist with pen and book, recording the scene in the stable. He has been included here for two reasons: firstly, because he was a physician (to commemorate Margaret’s father who was also one), and secondly because his Gospel is the only one to tell the story of Christ’s birth in the stable.
On the ground where Luke is seated there are cornflowers. These are associated with Mary, an old name for them being Mary’s Crown, and they are also an appropriate flower for a physician because they have many traditional medicinal uses.
If you look closely at the blue circular band surrounding St Luke’s symbol, the winged ox, you will see an inscription. It is in Latin and reads ‘REQUIEM AETERNAM DONA EIS DOMINE’ (Eternal rest grant to them, O Lord).
Around the hem of St John’s robe is more Latin: ‘ LUX PERPETUA LUCEAT EIS’ (Let perpetual light shine upon them). These together form a prayer from the Catholic Requiem Mass.
And there’s more! Around the hem of St Mary’s cloak (pic, above) is the inscription ‘DIGNARE ME LAUDARE TE VIRGO SACRATA DA MIHI VIRTUTEM CONTRA HOSTES TUOS’ (Let me praise you, holy Virgin. Give me strength against your enemies), which is a prayer to Mary from the Catholic Office of Compline.
These Catholic invocations are somewhat unusual prayers to find inscribed on an Anglican church window; and Margaret Rope – who had converted to Catholicism in 1901 – seems to have made them as inconspicuous as possible, by putting them in places where one would not expect to find them.
Perhaps these were her “private” prayers, which she put here because of this window’s special significance for her.
[ The prayer to Mary also appears in another of her windows of St Mary and the Christ Child – at Kesgrave Catholic Church – in an oval band encircling a kneeling nun, who perhaps is a self-portrait of Margaret herself.]
St Michael & St Peter
Below St Luke are St Michael and St Peter.
St Peter is there because Blaxhall Church is dedicated to him: in his left hand he is holding the keys of heaven, symbols of the powers which were given to him by Christ (Matthew 16:19), and over his shoulder is fishing net, because he was formerly a fisherman. His red robe indicates that he, like Stephen, died for his faith.
St Michael is included in memory of his namesake Arthur George Michael Rope. He is a warrior angel, shown here with blue wings, wearing armour and holding a sword. The halo around his head bears the inscription ‘WHO IS LIKE UNTO GOD?’, the literal meaning of his (Hebrew) name.
Margaret Rope’s model for St Michael was her brother Frederic Michael, known as Michael, an aeronautical engineer who was to die in the R101 airship disaster in 1930.
Just visible on the extreme right of the scene is a sea aster, a close relative of the Michaelmas Daisy: both come into flower around the time of the Feast of St Michael, 29th September.
This post is an edited version of a much longer interpretation of Margaret’s windows at Blaxhall. Roger hopes to be publishing his extended researches at some time in the future.
Photos: Arthur Rope
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