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A booklet titled ‘The story of the Church of the English Martyrs’ (unknown author) stated the beautiful features of the exterior and interior of the church building, which bear a strong Italian influence. It is considered one of the most beautiful Catholic Churches in Birmingham. However, attention was drawn to the architectural disappointment of the Church's windows.


This all changed on the 21st of April 2002, when Fr. Gilsenan approached local artist and parishioner, Anthony Naylor and asked him to consider "brightening up the windows of the Church as the centenary of the founding of the parish approached in 2008”. Tony and his wife Janet then embarked on a journey of repairing some of the stone-throwing-damaged windows, designing, and creating the artwork. They were joined by their daughters Ester (who designed and painted the Celtic Cross Window) and Rachel (whose field is in ancient manuscripts).

Altogether, there is a series of 14 windows. Each window takes us in a journey through the past and present, and into the different aspects in the life of the Church and community.


Inspired by Fr O’Hagan’s commitment to education, and his efforts in building English Martyrs' Catholic School, and later St Bernard’s, a window was designed to express the importance of learning. The centenary window commemorates the foundation of the parish in 1908. The light of the world window symbolises humanity’s interconnectedness with God as ‘the light of the world’.


The English Martyrs window serves as a symbolic reminder of the sacrifices made by the English Martyrs, and the dedicated workers in the parish, both in the past and present. Justice and peace are themes very much in focus today, thus a window to depict these was created.


The Celtic cross window celebrates the inputs of the Celtic people, not only in the parish but throughout Christian history. The star of Bethlehem window represents the dawn of Christianity, while the incorporated star of David reminds us of the unity and the significance of the Hebrew scriptures in God’s plan. Symbolising the Irish as the main builders of the parish, the more Anglo/European offerings, and an acknowledgement of the Asian contribution to Sparkhill.


Then, we move onto seven windows that take the name from the sacraments: Baptism, Reconciliation (reminding us of the Christ’s sacrifice), Eucharist, Confirmation, Matrimony, Holy Orders, and Anointing of the Sick.




The grey bars signify the dark days of imprisonment, war, and
violence that humanity has endured. In contrast, the white flower
buds in front of the bars depict freed spirits, ascending towards the
universal symbol of peace—a dove carrying an olive branch. This
imagery is inspired by a 1950s lithog
raph by Picasso, which has
become a widely recognised international symbol of peace. Justice
and peace are themes very much in focus today.



This window expresses our hunger for knowledge. It features a nest with
hungry little chicks. Opposite to the nest is ‘cheeky monkey’ with mortar
board, representing the nursery stage, when life is full of fun and endless
possibilities. The branches of the sapling tree display the badges of our
local schools: English Martyrs’, St Bernard’s, Bishop Challoner,
Archbishop Ilsley, symbolising the progression from primary to
comprehensive education. All are crowned by the Christian symbol of
Christ, the Chi Rho. This one taken from an ‘old graffiti’ carving no bigger
than a 50 pence piece, on a stone slab at Chedworth Roman
Villa in
Gloucestershire, dating back to the 4th century. The presence of the Cassini
Pro and mock barcode signature represents that our pursuit of knowledge
never ceases.



This window portrays, in graffiti style, the phrase Ego Sum Lux
Mindi taken from St John’s Gospel 8:12, ‘I am the light of the
world’, illustrating the transition from English Latin to Modern
English. A 1960s image of the Earth seen from space, with no
discernible landmass, emphasizes the concept of unity without bias
towards any specific country. The vibrant, colourful shapes in the
main part of the window represent nations and cultures,
highlighting our interconnectedness. Surrounding the Earth is a
halo, symbolizing the preciousness of our planet and the spiritual
essence of our lives here. The four large outer diamonds represent
the cross, and the pink colour in the glass is created using real gold.
The squares in the background represent the necessary order
within humanity for a healthier future for our planet.


This window commemorates the foundation of the parish in 1908.
The lower section of the window depicts the parish's first chapel,
alongside the present-day church building. Two spectacular events
one hundred years apart frame the images of the parish’s past and
present. At the bottom is the first navigated aeroplane flight by
Frenchman, Henri Farman in 1908. Contrasting this with the
present-day space shuttle! The Hebrew inscription at the top of the
window is taken from Psalm 148, ‘Praise the Lord from the skies’,
as translated by Dr Bird.



This window is dedicated to the English Martyrs and features its
traditional symbol of a crown and palm. The jewels in the crown
represent merits and serve as a symbolic reminder of the sacrifices
made by the English Martyrs. The crosses commemorate these
martyrs, with their names inscribed in the squares. All crosses are
gilded with gold leaf and contain a ruby at their centre. The three
diamonds with crosses in the border represent the sacrifice of
individual lives. The beehive at the bottom symbolises all the
dedicated workers in the parish, both past and present.


This window celebrates the input of the Celtic people, not only in
English Martyrs parish but throughout Christian history. It takes a
spiritual journey from base to top of the cross. First, the tree of life
complete with shamrock leaves, celebrating Ireland. Then, it
portrays the fall of humanity, resulting in the fragmentation of
unity depicted by the broken Celtic knot. The next section serves as
a reminder of the lost unity, featuring the depiction of loaves and
fishes, showing us that nothing is impossible with God, this is
shown with the trinity symbol leading to the oneness of God at the
centre of the cross. The Blue Tit peeping through the broken
window, broken by the golf ball in the rough, are signs of the
difficult times we all must face in life.



The Bethlehem star represents the dawn of Christianity, while the
incorporated star of David reminds us of the unity and the
significance of the Hebrew scriptures in God’s plan. The twelve
points of the star evoke the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve
apostles, the hours of the clock, and the months of the year. At the
top of the window, there are smaller stars representing the
brightness of heaven, while at the bottom, we see depictions of the
magi’s gifts. Gold as an 8th century Irish casket (centre),
frankincense as a thurible (left-hand side) and Myrrh as a copy of
14th century Middle Eastern vase. Symbolising the Irish as the
main builders of the parish, the more Anglo/European offerings,
and an acknowledgement of the Asian contribution to Sparkhill.


Luke 3.22"Heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended in
the bodily shape of a dove". The dove is an ethereal image cleverly
created by layer upon layer and acid etching. The baptismal waters
show a progression from darkness to light symbolising our own



A total eclipse symbolising dark moments in our lives but as
darkness shifts the diamond ring effect shows a spark of returning
light. The light brings with it forgiveness through the Sacrament.
The symbol of hope for us all is the illuminated cross standing on
Calvary. The specialness and richness of our lives is represented by
the four gold pink diamonds in the border.


Like the English Martyrs’ window, this window tells of sacrifice.
The golden chalice turning red (are painted symbols like the one
used at Sunday Mass) representing the body and blood of
Christ’s sacrifice, with the simple translucence of the host above.
The very light-coloured diamonds in the border reflect the
properties of the host. The host has been acid etched to create its
unusual effect. This window portrays the simplicity and
complexity of life



This window shows two wedding rings encircled around a cross,
based on St Cuthbert’s Pectoral Cross. The equal size of the
rings represents the equality between man and woman. The
marriage bouquet immediately below represents both the
permanent yet fragile quality of this Sacrament. It requires
continuous work. The four diamonds in the border are for the
four evangelists.


This window shows the seventh Century illuminated version of
the introductory page of St Matthew’s Gospel, taken from the
Lindisfarne Gospel Book. In the circle above is the ornate Chi
Rho, from the same book. These works are a fusion of Roman,
Celtic, Anglo Saxon and Pagan art, with the introductory page of
the 4th Century Greek version of St Matthew’s Gospel in the
background. The sky lark shown on the top diamond is a very
old symbol of the priesthood.



The seventh sacrament – the anointing of the sick and the last
rites. The vessel of Holy oil is shown in front of olive leaves in
some distress and agitation, while others, more serene reach
upward to the light where the triple border and blue
background give way to a golden dawn of hope. Here the
Alpha and Omega are united in Christ, “I am the beginning
and the end". The Alpha and Omega symbols on the circle
aren't visible on this photograph - you can only see them if you
look at the real-life glass!

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