Birches Head Memorial Window

Published: 6th November 2014

 I showed up in at St Matthews in time for an elevenses brew. There were cut foam boards on the floor, but nothing on the windows, and no hint of what the final image might be.

Weve got two weeks to go, and I do wonder if Ive bitten off more than I can chew. Its going to be six times the size of the Post-It Messiah at St Marks.

Frank McGregor is no stranger to putting big art in the service of God. But the St Matthews memorial is among the biggest commemorative art projects ever attempted.

Jesus is at the heart of it. When I saw those famous images of the men silhouetted against the night sky, I saw Jesus carrying the cross, at the heart of all that horror. The theme is laying down your life for others. And the way of peace is to be found through Jesus. War starts in the human heart. When Jesus comes in and changes our hearts, the world can change. The church plays its part in the local community in doing that.

Forty-eight windows have now been covered with a memorial bearing the words from John 15:13 Greater love hath no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.

Its a stained glass effect, but rather than spending millions, were using simple materials foam, laminate, stick-backed colour film and Velcro to hold it up! But the result is amazing.

 I went out a few weeks ago with a little leaflet, asked if businesses would like to sponsor a window for 20, and I had 500 in my pocket by the end of the day. Local support has been incredible and they all want to come and see it.

St Matthews opened in 1958 and is the only church in the Hanley team without a stained glass window or a war memorial of any kind. The first time I was in here for a service, the sun through the windows was blinding, and I thought that would be great for a stained glass window.

I started asking questions about where the men and women of Birches Head are commemorated, as there was no one commemorative plaque listing all the casualties. The whole design is a memorial.

Three windows are covered by a photographic image of Harry Biddulph. Harry lived round the corner, was wounded in World War One and died aged 20.

We will install the piece every November until 2018, so we can build on it, and raise money for Help for Heroes and the Royal British Legion.

Its about bringing the community together: local schools, businesses, church, all pulling together to create a lasting memorial to the people who have lived in this place. 

The St Matthew's, Birches Head remembrance service is at 4 pm on Sunday 9 November. There is a map here.

Frank McGregor was in conversation with Neill Harvey-Smith

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