History of the Stained Glass windows in St Paul's. Some of the windows are available on greetings cards from St Paul's office.
The Light of the World
Bessie Jones Centenary by Dr Simon Brook, St Paul's church archivist
December 21st 2004, symbolically the longest night of darkness, marks the centenary of the death of Bessie Jones. She was 84 when she died, and had been deaf, dumb and blind for 82 years. Her life became an inspiration to many other disabled people. Bessie’s life is commemorated in a stained glass window 'erected by her devoted sister Ellen' in St Paul's church, Cambridge. The window includes a painting that has become one of the most noteworthy Pre-Raphaelite paintings in all Christendom – Holman Hunt’s 'The Light of the world', with scenes of Jesus healing the deaf, dumb and blind on either side.
Born Elizabeth Jones, Bessie was the eldest daughter of Cambridge dentist, John Jones, who was later appointed ‘Dentist in Ordinary’ to Queen Victoria. Her life was to become an inspiration to many as an example of how it is possible to adapt to disabilities and live a full life despite them. Her own difficulties were the result of what might have been a severe attack of measles, at the age of two. Yet despite her blindness, she was able to produce beautifully stitched needlework and a purse she made was presented to Queen Victoria on the occasion of Prince Albert’s Installation as Chancellor of the University of Cambridge in 1847.
The Queen had been told of Bessie’s achievements by the Master of Trinity. Dr Whewell was fascinated by Bessie's ability and made a study of her life. He later wrote in a book about her that she "disclosed a perpetually growing sympathy with the other children of the family. She sat, dressed, walked as they did; even imitated them in holding a book in her hand when they read, and in kneeling when they prayed".
She communicated by a deaf and dumb alphabet using touch with the contact of fingers. In recent years, teachers of people with such disabilities have both researched, and taught from, her example. The year of 1847, and Queen Victoria’s visit to Cambridge, her first by train, proved to be a special one. It was this year that Bessie’s father was appointed 'Dentist in Ordinary to the Queen' and used the newly introduced anaesthetic, ether, for tooth extraction; and Charles Perry, the former Vicar of St.Paul’s, was consecrated in Westminster Abbey as the first Bishop of Melbourne, Australia. He preached the sermon on the Sunday morning before Prince Albert ‘s Installation in Great St.Mary’s.
Two years previously, both the Station and St Paul's school had been opened and Queen Victoria, as Head of the Church, had instigated the Parish of St Paul. How apt, then, that Bessie’s memorial window with its special painting should be placed in St Paul’s. Holman Hunt had first painted 'The Light of the world' for Keble College, Oxford. He gave his permission for another version in stained glass to be the centre of a tripartite memorial to Bessie. This was executed by Messrs Heaton, Butler and Bayne of London.
His final version of 'The Light of the world' was exhibited around the world including Charles Perry's Diocese of Melbourne where it was viewed in February 1906, the month after the dedication of Bessie's memorial. It is now on permanent display in St Paul's Cathedral, London and was borrowed for the National Gallery Millenium exhibition on ‘Seeing Salvation’.
Although this painting has been used for countless ways of introducing Jesus to person and people; for all who see it in relation to Bessie, there will always be the challenge of adaptation to disability and the assurance of Resurrection, for as her memorial brass plate concludes: "Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing." Isaiah xxxv, 5-6