Behold thy Mother

John the Evangelist leads Mary from Calvary in a window located on the east wall of the nave near the sanctuary. In the Gospel of John, while hanging on the cross, Jesus asked John to take care of his mother after his death. “When Jesus therefore had seen his mother standing with the disciple whom he loved, he saith to his mother: “Woman, behold thy son’. After that, he saith to the disciple: ‘Behold thy mother’. And from that hour the disciple took her to his own.” (John 19: 26-27). Jesus’ act of giving his mother to John reveals his love for the disciple, an honor of which John must have been keenly aware, as he alone recounts this exchange. The window presents a moving account of the event. It does not depict the moment when Jesus makes the request, as is customary in art, but rather the later one of John and Mary, along with Mary Magdalene making their way to the disciple’s home. In the center of the window the trio has stopped momentarily on a flight of stairs that winds through the city of Jerusalem. John, dressed in vivid crimson and leading the way, turns to help Mary ascend the steps. Rather than look at her, he turns his gaze to the hill where the three crosses, now empty, stand. John’s tender embrace of Mary’s outstretched hand and his nearness to her however reveal his concern for the woman who has just become his mother. If Mary should fall, John is ready to catch her. Bringing up the rear, Mary Magdalene supports Mary and appears to be speaking, possibly soft words of concern and encouragement, to her. The dark, somber colors of the Magdalene’s garments blend with the background and make her almost invisible. At the center of this highly charged drama—perhaps the most of the stained glass program—is Mary. Emotionally and physically drained from witnessing the cruel death of her only son on a cross, Mary falls heavily against John, as she tries to mount the stairs: her head is bent; tears stream down her ashen face; and her arms hang limply. Her blue dress expresses her interior state, blue being the color of melancholy. Beyond John, Mary and Mary Magdalene, nestled in a valley, is Jerusalem, and further beyond is Golgotha. At the top of the window is written one of the beatitudes,  “Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted,” (Matthew 5:1-120 while at the bottom is "And from that hour the disciple took her to his own." (John 19: 27)
The artist’s decision to concentrate on the later part of the event when John leads Mary to his home rather than the earlier part when Jesus makes the request perhaps suggests a theological truth discussed by many Catholic writers throughout the ages: Mary is the mother of us all. St. Alphonsus de Liguori in The Glories of Mary in speaking of Jesus’ request that John take Mary as his mother says, “Here observe well that Jesus Christ did not address himself to John, but the disciple, in order to show that he then gave Mary to all who are his disciples, that is to say, to all Christians, that she might be their Mother.” The window does not cast Mary as the mother of Jesus (for he is no longer on earth) but as the mother of his followers, here represented by John and Mary Magdalene.
The window also shows the suffering of Mary at the death of Jesus. It echoes the prayer Sabat Mater Dolorosa: “At the cross, her station keeping, stood the mournful mother weeping, close to Jesus to the last…Oh, how sad and sore distressed was that mother highly blessed of the sole begotten one!” The image does more than record Mary’s sorrow, however; it invites us to share her suffering as a means to true devotion to her son, Jesus. Thus Mary serves here as a role model for the Christian life. The Sabat Mater Dolorosa explains why we should look to Mary as a guide: “O sweet mother! Font of love, touch my spirit from above, make my heart with yours accord. Make me feel as you have felt: make my soul to glow and melt with the love of Christ, my Lord.”The window’s location above the stairs leading into the sanctuary might have prompted the window’s highly unusual depiction, especially the detail of the stairs. Visitors to the chapel cannot but notice that the sanctuary stairs connect visually with those in the window, blending the two sets of stairs into one and making salvation history more immediate, as if it is happening right in the Chapel. Some visitors might find that the dissolution of the real stairs into the fictive ones makes them feel to be actually present at the Gospel event. The Marian themes, highly emotional nature of the image and its formal connection to the chapel’s architecture make this one of the most memorable windows at St. John’s.