Winchester Cathedral's West Windows: Beauty from Destruction

The tragic destruction of cultural history has been much in the news of late, what with crazed fanatics (who won't be named here - why give them more press?) destroying irreplaceable ancient artifacts.

A recent visit to Winchester Cathedral served as a reminder that the unfortunate practice of iconoclasm has a long history, and has been practiced with insane fervour by rabid factions purporting to represent religious traditions of sundry types.

Witness the fact that in 1642 Oliver Cromwell's forces shattered the 14th century west window of Winchester Cathedral, as part of their campaign of destruction of religious imagery.

Based on a very literal interpretation of the Second Commandment ("Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image", in case you've forgotten), the Roundheads broke religious statues, whitewashed paintings and smashed stained glass masterpieces into shards in churches throughout the country.

Following the destruction of the west window at Winchester, the glass fragments were collected and reassembled as a mosaic - accidental abstraction! Far from diminishing the windows' impact, the absence of a Christian narrative enhances the more universal pleasures of colour and light. Could Sigmar Polke have been thinking along those lines when he created his wonderful windows for Grossmünster in Zurich?

Sigmar Polke, Grossmünster in Zurich. Photo: Roland zh