A Brittle Crazy Glass

A few years ago my dad got me a subscription to The Economist, a well-written, balanced, and compelling British news magazine with a world-wide circulation. Each issue features interesting stories, often on apparent minutiae, from all over the world; there's also a great arts section. But perhaps my favorite section of The Economist is the piece always to be found at the back: the obituary. Keith Colquhoun was obituary editor at The Economist until recently; he died this past summer. Although The Economist has moved their own obit of him into their subscriber's list, you can find a mirror here.

All that is by way of introduction. This morning I read Michael Lassen's obituary in The Economist. Mr. Lassen was a stained glass artist who worked on churches all over Britain. He died after falling from a ladder as he finished working on a piece depicting the Transfiguration.
Almost nothing is known of the men who built the great medieval cathedrals. A mason’s mark chiselled on a column; a game of nine-men’s-morris scratched on a stone; a gargoyle’s half-human face, of foreman or master of works, are all that remind observers of the crowds of labouring souls who raised Canterbury or Winchester, Beauvais or Cologne.
The dangers of such projects were legion. Contemporary illustrations show cathedral spires collapsing, vaults caving in, high scaffolding keeling over in a chaos of planks and poles. Casualties were expected, and were many, though the fabric accounts often could not name them. In modern times the labour is no less perilous; but in the days of health-and-safety and hard hats, accidents are rare. Hence the horror in Durham when, on September 3rd, Michael Lassen fell from a ladder as he helped to fix a new stained-glass window in the south quire aisle of the cathedral. He died some days later in hospital.
The obit piece does a beautiful job of bringing this labor in anonymity around in glorifying full circle, and is worth reading. He certainly died a poetic death. The more I think of his life's work and the way he died, the more meditative and content I become. I hope his family feels the same way.

George Herbert's The Windows was read at his funeral.

LORD, how can man preach thy eternall word ? 
        He is a brittle crazie glasse : 
Yet in thy temple thou dost him afford 
        This glorious and transcendent place, 
        To be a window, through thy grace. 

But when thou dost anneal in glasse thy storie, 
        Making thy life to shine within 
The holy Preachers, then the light and glorie 
        More rev'rend grows, and more doth win ; 
        Which else shows watrish, bleak, and thin. 

Doctrine and life, colours and light, in one 
        When they combine and mingle, bring 
A strong regard and aw :  but speech alone 
        Doth vanish like a flaring thing, 
        And in the eare, not conscience ring. 


  1. Wow. A life well spent. Beautiful poem. Thank you for sharing.


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