The Burning Bush Windows
The 'exquisite' light and shade created through the stained glass 'burning bush windows' in Hobart has been a source of pride for over 150 years.
Imported from London for installation in the Chalmers' Free Church in Hobart in 1857, the Mercury reported that the “manner in which the light and shade is carried through the window, is not only exquisite but it is extraordinary … as a work of art alone they are well worth viewing".
Congregations of the Presbyterian faith have held services in Tasmania from as early as 1823. As numbers grew, so too did the need for larger and more numerous venues. St Andrew's Church (the 'hall' at the current-day Scots Church) began services in 1835 and from 1852 services were also held at the Chalmers' Free Church on the corner of Bathurst and Harrington Street. The two churches united to form Scots Church in 1935 as the gothic structure on the site of St Andrew's was nearing completion. Ultimately, the newly constructed church was chosen as the centre of worship and Chalmers Free Church was closed and demolished in 1955. Thankfully, the 'burning bush windows' were relocated to Scots Church.
The windows consist of two panels of stained glass set into timber frames. Within the white border and tracery lights, are large vertically stacked diamond shapes in blue and yellow. The highest diamond shape in each of the panels frames the image of the burning bush. This image was made on glass panels in the manner of traditional oil paintings on canvas. Several layers of enamel paint were applied by brush to create pictures with tonal variations and the illusion of depth.
The craftsman behind this beauty, Thomas Wilmshurst, had been producing painted and stained glass windows in his London workshop for about 30 years when he was commissioned to craft the 'burning bush windows'. Wilmshurst was known as a “pictorialist", and quite a few of the windows attributed to him depict scenes from the life of Christ that were adapted from oil paintings.
The burning bush emblem is known to have been used by the Church of Scotland from 1691 and also features on the Disruption Brooch of 1845. The Disruption Brooch references important events in the history of the Church of Scotland from the Reformation to the founding of the Free Church in Scotland in 1843 by a number of notables including Dr Chalmers, after whom the Chalmers' Free Church in Hobart was named.
Thank you to Anne Wilmshurst for sharing her research and images, which included detailed explanations from stained glass artist and conservator Gavin Merrington.