A Catholic Monthly Magazine

Jesus and the Sea in Stained Glass

by Glen McCullough

This issue of the Messenger has those who work at sea as its focus, so it is a good chance to see how Jesus and the sea, namely the Sea of Galilee, have been portrayed in stained glass.

The first glimpse of the sea was when Jesus called Peter and Andrew as they were fishing. This window [1] from St Peter’s, Queenstown, shows the scene as it might have been. He said “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men,” as shown in the window [2] in Westchurch, Ballymena, Northern Ireland.



Jesus then walked on, and called James and John, who were in the boat with their father. Particularly touching is this scene in a window [3] in St Andrew’s Wesley church, Vancouver.


Their father is in the background, still in the boat, no doubt wondering how he is to work the boat without his two sons. Try putting yourself in his place.

As Jesus went around the shores of the lake he was pressed by the crowd, and on more than one occasion was forced to get in a boat, put out from the shore a little way, and preach from there. These two very colourful windows from St John the Evangelist, Balmain, Sydney [4] and Sacred Heart, Mosman, Sydney [5] tell the story.



Chapter 8 of both Luke’s and Mark’s Gospels tell of a great storm that arose while the disciples were crossing the lake with Jesus, and when they panicked and begged Jesus to save them, Jesus calmed the storm. On the one hand Jesus questioned their faith, on the other they were amazed at His power. Two windows from St Luke’s [6] and St Mark’s [7] in  Remuera, Auckland, show the event.



But to my mind the one over the page [8] in St Mary of the Angels, Wellington portrays the sheer terror of the disciples the best.



The other incident on the lake was when the disciples were crossing the lake without Jesus and he came towards them walking on the water. I have seen several windows that try to portray the event, and none do it truly adequately. The nearest is perhaps [9] from Holy Trinity Garrison Church, Sydney. I could imagine the water white as the wind blew the top off the wavelets. Note the disciples cowering in the boat.

In Matthew’s account of the incident, Peter started walking on the water after Jesus called to him, but he lost his nerve and started sinking. Jesus rescued him, of course, and the rescue is shown in this window [10] from St Mary of the Angels, Wellington. Jesus asked Peter why he doubted. Which brings me to the point that strikes me whenever I read the story or see the window: how many times have I doubted, and been saved?


Jesus’ final glimpse of the sea was in John’s Gospel. After Jesus’ resurrection the disciples had fled to Galilee and were fishing fruitlessly. Jesus called to them from the shore and told them to put down their net, which was promptly so full of fish they couldn’t get it into the boat. That’s when they recognized Him. This window [11] from Holy Sepulche church, Grafton, Auckland shows the scene. Harking back, the window [3] from Vancouver could also be interpreted as portraying this scene.


In both the walking on the water and fishing scenes, the disciples did not immediately recognise Jesus. When he did something significant, though, they recognised him.

Which brings me to the question: do you recognise him in your own life?

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