There is a final jewel at Selby Abbey; the great East Window. I told how the great fire of 1906 had put it in imminent danger of shattering and how a dedicated fire crew had protected the fragile panes with water. Of course, there has been damage over the years and subsequent restoration, but even so, the window is thought to be one of the finest medieval survivals in the country, second only to the West Window at York Minster.
Personally, although the tracery of stone in the upper reaches of the York window may be finer with the heart shaped centrepiece, I have to say I prefer the one at Selby… as much, perhaps, for its history as anything else. Somehow it seems more approachable and human, but then it is not set so far out of reach.
It is known as the Jesse window and dates from c.1330 AD. There are a number of medieval Jesse windows, or fragments of them, that survive through the country. A few small panes survive of the Jesse window from York Minster, dating back to around 1170AD, which is thought to be the oldest surviving stained glass in England. The Selby window, however, is thought to be the most complete and finest of its period. In later centuries, with the Gothic revival, the subject once more became popular and we have seen some fabulous Victorian examples. But nothing as old as this.
The seventy panels of the main window are arranged over seven vertical lights. These panels trace the royal line of the kings of Israel, leading eventually to Mary and Jesus, thus establishing the claim that He was King of the Jews, of the Royal House of David. The inspiration for this motif, common in manuscripts in the medieval period, is a line in the Book of Isaiah:
“And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots” (King James Version).
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