Monday, 14 September 2009

Enlargissez Dieu

Last Saturday the Urban Unitarians made a trip to the chapel of Harris Manchester College Oxford. It happened to coincide with the official heritage weekend so we could hear a short lecture on a the history of the famous William Morris and Burne-Jones windows. I knew a little about these windows because a minister from Manchester once told me how there were six windows, each one representing an episode of the days of creation. She once said how she was disappointed that given there were six windows, you did not actually see God resting up on the seventh. (Actually, William Morris thought of this. You can see a reposing angel with a musical instrument squeezed into the bottom right). Interestingly, even in the nineteenth century the addition of a series of windows depicting the biblical story of creation were enough to rankle a few unitarians, who had been quick off the mark in embracing Darwin's new theories. Hence it was pointed out that the Manchester college creation windows, were the first to readily acknowledge tha they were depicting Genesis as a poetic, rather than a literal truth. If you look, you can also see the quote from the sceptical writer Diderot, "Enlargissez Dieu" in gothic letters above the angels. Roughly translated, this means "enlarge your concept of God". This strikes me as an appropriate motto to appear in a liberal chapel, particularly within an academic institution that never seeks to limit the search for truth.
Posted by Scott