Far above the pulpit, baptistry, and choir loft of the First Baptist Church of Sulphur Springs, Texas (SSFBC) rests a beautiful stained glass window. I often find myself wandering into the worship center merely to sit in a pew, gaze at the window, and reflect on God’s goodness and greatness.
The window was a gift from J Harlan and Doris West when the sanctuary was built in 1954.
When I recently posted a picture of the window on social media, I was sent a list of the images and the corresponding disciples that the images represent. I have transformed that list into a fuller, yet brief, sketch. The additional information is taken from sources such as Fox’s Book of Martyrs and other documents that describe the life of the disciples and the traditions regarding their martyrdom.
The sanctuary window is a reproduction of a window by Michelangelo. The symbols depict the life story of each of the disciples of Christ, with Jesus Christ in the center:
Matthias: The open Bible with the ax
Matthias, chosen to replace Judas Iscariot (Acts 1:15-26), was one of Jesus’ original disciples, having been with Jesus since the baptism by John the Baptist. He is thought to have been either stoned or beheaded for preaching the gospel. His often represented by an ax and an open Bible.
Simon: The book with a fish on it
Simon, also called Simon the Zealot, was frequently the companion of Jude on missionary journeys. He preached the gospel in Mauritania, Africa, and England. Tradition tells us he was crucified in A.D. 74
James, the son of Alphaeus: The saw
Tradition says that James was thrown at age 96, from a pinnacle of a temple in Jerusalem, beaten or clubbed, and then stoned. Near death, he rose to his feet and asked for forgiveness for his enemies. He then collapsed and his attackers sawed him asunder.
Peter: The inverted cross
It is believed that Peter died by crucifixion in Rome on an inverted cross because he felt he was not worthy to die on a cross in the same position as his Lord.
Thomas: The carpenters square and spear
Thomas preached the gospel in Parthia and India. He built churches by his own hands, and is often represented by a carpenter’s square. Tradition tells us that in India he was martyred by being thrust through with a spear.
Bartholomew: The flaying knives
Bartholomew is believed by some to be the same as Nathanael. According to tradition, Bartholomew preached the gospel to King Polymus of Armedia, but so angered the king’s brother in doing so that he had him flayed, crucified head down, and then beheaded. Bartholomew is also known for translating the Gospel of Matthew for the people of India.
Jude: The ship at sea
Jude, referred to also as Thaddeus and as Judas, son of James, traveled with Simon the Zealot on missionary journeys. He is often represented by a boat as an acknowledgment of his sea journeys.
John: The chalice and the serpent
John was a close companion to Jesus from the beginning of his ministry. There were many attempts on John’s life, but none successful. He was the only apostle to die a natural death. There is a legend that tells of John being given a cup of wine which had been poisoned. Yet, the poison came out in the form of a snake and John drank the cup unharmed.
Phillip: The cross and two loaves of bread
Philip is often represented by the budded cross, the ends of which are in trefoil form symbolizing the Trinity. The loaves of bread signify his presence with Jesus at the feeding of the five thousand.
Matthew: The three purses
Tradition teaches that Matthew, the tax collector who became a disciple, preached the gospel in Ethiopia. He was martyred there, crucified on a tau cross (shaped like a T) and beheaded. The three purses symbolize his time as a tax collector.
Andrew: The X-shaped Cross
Andrew’s most common symbol is the shape of an X, on which he is believed to have been martyred. It is said that while Andrew was dying, he continued to preach until his last breath.
James, the brother of John: The escallop shells
James (also called James the Greater), the son of Zebedee and brother of John, was the first to be martyred. King Herod had him beheaded around A.D. 44. The escallop shells are a sign of his pilgrimages by sea.