Virtual tour

The Windows of the Shrine

The whole rich and complex iconography of the Memorial culminates in the seven windows in the Shrine. Unlike the luminous windows in the Hall of Honour, these windows are rich in colour and dense in imagery. They are also more emblematic in style, more abstract even, so that the forms of the compositions fill the whole field of each window with extraordinary decorative unity. There is no plain glass in them at all. Dominated by dark blues, shading even to purple, and by rich greens, their light is dark and solemn.

The First World War was universally thought of as "the war to end all wars". This provides the overall theme of the windows, the triumph of peace over war, which was the only ambition that could seem to make the terrible sacrifice of the First World War worthwhile. Stated so movingly in the beauty of this stained glass, this message represents the underlying purpose of the whole Memorial, the Nation's reconciliation with its grief.

Like the frieze beneath them, the iconography of the seven windows is designed so that the two on either side lead towards the apse where the central window, the climax of the scheme, stands above the Casket and the Sword of Honour. Each of the individual windows is also divided into three registers however, one above the other. The result is a scheme of extraordinary richness and complexity.

On the left, the central register of the first two windows shows the origins of war in the story of Cain. First, Adam and Eve finding the body of Abel and then, Cain an outcast in the wilderness, one of the most powerful images here.

Above it is the story of the Creation and beneath it is the story of Abraham and Isaac which continues the theme of sacrifice as the answer to the evil of strife.

The equivalent scenes on the opposite side show the establishment of tyranny and the enslavement of mankind, the things that make war necessary in the search for freedom and justice. Above them hovering angels and the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse point towards the resolution which is offered in the three central windows. On either side, these show figures of the civilising arts and the arts of peace.

In each window however, these are supported in the lowest register, and thus the point nearest to the Casket and the Rolls of Honour that it contains, by Scottish heroes, Galgacus, Wallace, Robert the Bruce and Alexander III, flanking the modern Scottish soldiers and so representing the soldiers' calling as protector of peace and freedom.

The central window, completing the scheme, comes closest to Christian imagery, but is also distanced from it. At the top is the Dove of Peace and immediately beneath this is a figure that echoes that of Christ on the Cross. It is in fact not a crucified figure hanging on the cross, but a triumphant one, arms upraised in a gesture of freedom. This is the triumph of the spirit.

Immediately beneath this the Pelican appears, personifying sacrifice, and then Peace herself with the dead figure of war at her feet. Finally at the foot of the window, immediately above the Casket, supported by a comrade, a dying soldier looks up towards this vision of Peace.