A Catholic Monthly Magazine

The Apostles in Stained Glass

The feast of Saints Peter and Paul is on 29 June, and those for Saints Thomas and James are in July. This focusses attention on the apostles. They evangelised the world as they knew it in their lifetimes. But how can we picture them after two millenia?

Those who made this window in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin [1] made a brave attempt to do so. Six apostles are named, and each is holding a symbol of the work they did. Peter has the keys, Paul the sword, James and Thomas have their walking staffs - James is believed to have reached Spain, Thomas the south of India.


But the apostles had undergone a long journey leading up to their evangelisation. First, they were called by Jesus. These two windows portray how it might have been. The first [2] from St Mary Abbots, Kensington, London, shows the scene in a more traditional way, whereas the other [3] from my Northern Irish friend’s church (Westchurch Presbyterian) in Ballymena, shows the scene with a little more drama.

The apostles had the benefit of three years’ teaching by Jesus as they followed him about the Holy Land. This window [4] from St Andrew’s Wesley, Vancouver, raises questions about what is going on. Is Jesus calling them (Matthew 4:20), or teaching them (Matthnew 18), or is it the scene after the Resurrection when Jesus met them at the Sea of Tiberias (John 21)?


Immediately before he ascended into heaven, Jesus gave the apostles what is known as “The Great Commission” (Matthew 28:18-20). The words are shown for all to see in these windows from Sacred Heart, Mosman, Sydney [5], and Christ Church Cathedral, Nelson[6]. The latter shows two of the apostles, brothers Peter and Andrew. Peter has the keys to the kingdom, and became our first Pope. Andrew has the saltire, or X-shaped cross, on which he was martyred. This cross is now known as “St Andrew’s Cross”. According to tradition he was crucified on the saltire at his own request, as he deemed himself unworthy to be crucified on the same type of cross as Jesus.

Jesus’ promise that He would be with us always (Matthew 28:20) is illustrated in this window [7] from St Mary’s, Karori, Wellington. It hangs in the foyer of the church, and greets people as they enter. What a great reminder!


Finally, look at this colourful set of windows from Old St Paul’s, Wellington. How does what the apostles are holding relate to their lives? They are identified as [8] James the Less and Simon, [9] Thomas and Matthew, [10] Jude and Matthias, [11] Andrew and Peter, [12] Bartholomew and Philip, and [13] James the Greater and John.

We owe so much to their dedication, courage and what they managed to do under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

Lord Jesus, thank you for them.

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