The Crucifixion window depicts the death of Jesus and is opposite The Nativity window in the cathedral. This highlights the contrast and anguish of the two events. Wealthy Birmingham resident Emma Chadwick Villers-Wilkes paid for both these windows, requesting that there should be no blood in the scene of Christ’s death.
Partially concealed initials of a sign scorning his claim of being the son of God is behind Christ’s head. The crown of thorns also mocks him as the ‘King of the Jews’. An elaborately detailed halo encircles his head. A strong white light shines through the cream and yellow tones during the day. The tortured state of his body is emphasised by the sharp fragmentation of glass over the expanse of Christ’s torso.
The sky in the top of the window begins as a deep navy, fading into a paler shade towards the bottom. The vibrant blue of the sky contrasts with the vivid blood red of the flags, which fill the space under the cross and Christ’s outstretched arms.
The harsh features of the stern Roman soldiers contrast with the distress and grief of Christ’s followers. Onlookers are curious in their expression, set against the serenity of Christ. Jesus’ mother Mary wears a characteristic blue robe. She looks up in anguish at her dying son. Mary Magdalene, a close friend of Jesus, is at the foot of the cross. She bends over in grief with her head in her hands.
Jesus on the cross
The window is dominated by an image of Christ who hangs lifeless from the cross. He is framed by a deep blue sky and a mass of red Roman banners, which reflects patterns also found in The Ascension window. The colours link the image of Christ with the onlookers and soldiers who are also clad in blue and red.
Floral patterns can be seen in Christ’s halo and on his loincloth. Jesus is nailed to a large cross which directs the eye of the observer from the foot of the image to the head and arms of Christ and the letters INRI. These are the initials of the Latin words which Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea, had placed on the cross over Christ’s head when he was sentenced to crucifixion by the authorities. In translation, the words mean Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.
Christ wears a crown of thorns and a loin cloth with a foliage design. His halo is also patterned with flowers.
Mary mother of Jesus
The onlookers include three standing women. Mary, the grieving mother of Jesus gazes towards her son. She wears a delicately patterned blue dress and her head is framed with a red halo. A second woman in a white veil provides comfort. A third supports the second and holds a piece of brown cloth.
The most striking image in the lower section of the window is the mourning figure of Mary Magdalene kneeling at the foot of the cross, dressed in a peach-coloured robe. She kneels beneath the feet of Jesus at the base of the cross, cupping her head in her hands in a gesture of deep sorrow.
The green stones on which she kneels are the same colour as the walls of Jerusalem in the centre of the window. Mary Magdalene’s striking pose, her downward gaze and the bright colour of her garments contrast with the figure of Mary, who stands erect and fixes her eyes upwards on her dying son.
Together, they are the dominant images in this part of the window
The disciple John gazes at Christ and presses against the cross. He wears green and has a green patterned halo.
A crowd of people inhabit the rear of the scene. They wear turbans and direct their eyes towards the cross and the Roman soldier who stands behind John and aims his spear at Christ’s side.
A second soldier on the other side directs his lance towards Christ. Other soldiers hold the banners which frame the figure of Christ. The walls of Jerusalem rise above the heads of the onlookers.
Emma Villers-Wilkes, who funded the window, specifically requested that there was to be no blood in the scene. While this is the case, there is a sea of deep and vibrant reds in the flags of the Roman Soldiers surrounding Christ.
The clouds are represented as circles and connect visually with the turbans of the onlookers at the foot of the cross. This depiction of a ‘heavenly firmament’ can also be found in the scene of The Ascension window.