Stump The Experts

While taking wild shots around St Mary‘s this morning, the problem of the following window once again provoked discussion:


The church inventory identifies it as The Flight Into Egypt, presumably because it shows a couple carrying a baby, though the man’s breadbasket seems incongruous, there’s no beast supporting Mary (not decisive, though it’s a common element), no sign of Egypt or even “flight.” Moreover, the other panels in the group show (upper left) the centurion imploring Jesus’ aid; (upper right) Jesus in a garden (perhaps answering the centurion’s prayer?); (lower left) the angel calling Cornelius to prpare a place for Peter (saying, “Thy prayers and thine alms are come up”, Acts 10:4); and this one.
No prize for solving the mystery, but all credit and glory will be unto you.

7 thoughts on “Stump The Experts

  1. There’s no donkey either.

    Though it has been suggested that perhaps what is being presented on the platter are donkey pies.

    There is just a dribble of a river at the bottom right, but whether it is the Jordan, Nile or the Kelvin is anyone’s guess.

  2. My guess would be the Holy Family taking Jesus to the Presentation at the Temple. It was customary to make an offering to the priest. That might explain the Middle Eastern archway through which they appear to be walking. Although, I am at a lost to explain the odd assortment of plants.

  3. Are you sure that’s bread in the basket? Looks like dairy product to me. And the infant? Are you sure that’s the Christ child? Regardless, lacking any other substantial clues, I’d have to say that this is a picture of parents, an infant, and cheeses. My word! Baby Cheeses!

  4. I love a good historical mystery! So far my investigations reveal an Italian practice of “St. Joseph’s bread” complete with recipe and the lucky baked in bean and the fact that Joseph is the patron saint of pastry chefs. The construction of St Mary’s corresponds to the revival of devotional interest in St J in the RCC in the 19 th c. My question is — who paid for the window? The hint may be there. At least 2 of the panels seem to have to do with eating/hospitality.

  5. a bit too much lateral thinking in my suggestion perhaps..
    Maybe Boaz? associations with grain, sometimes considered type of Jesus, along side Ruth and child?

  6. Holly Mc (above) writes with her further research:

    “Oh what fun it would be to work on this in a real library! For now, with only the internet to work with, this is what I’ve come up with.

    The stained glass designers of St. Mary’s, Hardman and Clayton & Bell, were known for their designs in the Gothic Revival style and often took motifs from the woodcuts of the Biblia Pauperum. (I know, wikipedia, but it is what I have to work with)

    Medieval motifs of the “Flight into Egypt” are of two types: the “active” with Mary on donkey, and the “resting” (Called “The Rest on the Flight into Egypt”) where Mary is dismounted and Joseph is providing sustenance for his family (usually in the form of a miraculously bending fruit tree).


    St. Mary’s window seems fairly clearly to be an example of the second type: The Rest on the Flight into Egypt. The fact that Joseph has a basket of bread seems to draw on a different legend than the fruit tree, but the V&A example does seem to include a loaf of bread and the St. Mary’s window does have that leafy vegetation that could be a fruit tree.

    To clinch the analysis, I would, if I could, look for examples from Biblia Pauperum woodcuts that depict Joseph with a basket of bread, as they might have in examples from Italy where the tradition of St. Joseph’s bread seems to have flourished. I would also look to Biblia Pauperum for the origin of the other windows.

    Thanks for the opportunity to use some rusty historical skills!!




    A spring, or water of some type, is part of the “Resting Flight” motif.

    With absolutely no support whatsoever, I’m guessing that the plant at the bottom is supposed to represent an acanthus which symbolizes Egypt.

    thanks again,

  7. also asked two of my other beloved medievalist friends, Richard Kieckhefer and Barbara Newman, for comment. Richard says:
    ‘Here’s Barbara’s take: Hmmm. It’s got to be the Holy Family, presumably with the Star of Bethlehem above, and Joseph seems to have brought a tray of muffins. Maybe we can call it “Rest on the Flight into Egypt” or just “The Holy Family.” If this is 19th-c. glass, artists at the time were fond of inventing sweet little domestic scenes for them.
    To which I [Richard] say: Hmmm. (We’re agreed on that much.) Sweet little domestic scenes were common even as early as the 15th century, and it wouldn’t be surprising to find them c. 1900, but it’s a really eccentric rendering of Mary and Joseph, and even if it is the Holy Family that doesn’t make it the Flight into Egypt, or even a rest en route.’
    So the mystery remains.

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