Canterbury Cathedral’s Corona Chapel includes an early 13th-century stained-glass depiction of the Resurrection. As with all stained glass, the role of light is an integral part of the artwork. Light illuminates the colored glass in the same way God’s divine light illuminates the stories of salvation history to allow these to speak to each generation. Just like stained glass, our lives can only yield their true meaning if seen by God’s divine light.
The central depiction of the Resurrection is a straightforward image: we see the Risen Christ emerging triumphant from the tomb, flanked by two angels. This image is surrounded on four sides by selected scenes from the Old Testament that foreshadow the Resurrection and provide a depth of meaning to the overall scene. Again the dynamic of the medium of stained glass is echoed: like light on the window, the scenes of the Old and New Testaments illuminate each other for deeper understanding of the mystery of Salvation.
From the top and moving clockwise, the four scenes around the Resurrection are Jonah exiting the sea monster or whale, David escaping from Saul with Michal’s help, Moses standing before the burning bush, and Noah releasing the dove from the ark. The common thread among all these is leaving the confines of a difficult situation and finding freedom, hope, and possibility beyond. Whether the confines of the ark navigating the flood, the belly of the whale, the threat of Saul’s soldiers, or the oppression of Moses’s regrets and fears that led him to the wilderness, these are all types of tombs that tell us something about Christ’s tomb. The Old Testament stories also tell us something about the tombs in our lives, our own places of bondage and captivity that keep us from living life to the fullest. As Christ rose from the dead, we too are offered the hope and possibility to escape that which keeps us captive.
Returning to the center of the scene, Christ’s disposition is calm, composed, and confident. There is a sense of stability about his figure, a sense of having the final word, a sense of indisputability. This Easter, we are called back to this center to know and rejoice in Christ’s triumph.
Commentary is by Daniella Zsupan-Jerome, assistant professor of liturgy, catechesis, and evangelization at Loyola University New Orleans.
Image: Photographer Allan Kohl. Used with permission from Peregrinations: Journal of Medieval Art & Architecture.