In the right hand light of Thomas Denny’s stained glass window the female figure of Wisdom emerges from the shadows to take ‘her stand beside the gates in front of the town’ (v.3). In a tender gesture that evokes Proverbs 3:16 (‘Long life is in her right hand; | in her left hand are riches and honour’) she greets the seeker, who prepares not so much to leave the city as to enter upon a life pilgrimage that evolves upwards. Beyond the foliage, pediment and coat of arms—allusions to the architecture of St Catharine’s College—the landscape is a visionary one. It is lit by glowing pinks and ambers that link it to the pilgrim; talking figures move along a path which becomes a river, finally losing itself in a sea transfigured by a bright pale moon and stars.
The left hand light of the window echoes this theme of imparted knowledge and revelatory wisdom. An older, balding man engages a younger in conversation; they could be father and son, tutor and student; what matters is the passing on of the eternal, whispered truths. The young man carries a staff: he too is set upon a winding road that threads past the pollarded willows and water meadows of Cambridge in a deep pool of blue, counterbalancing the warm lights on the other side. The top panel promises the radiance of the setting sun. The iconography of Denny’s windows is inlaid with the local landscape to remind us that the Christian spiritual life can only be fulfilled through the accidents of our everyday and personal histories.
Rising up through the centre of the window are the tall trunk and spiky crown of an all-embracing tree, sheltering the searchers after knowledge and wisdom below; even the little dog thrusting his muzzle towards the young man at the gate of life is not left out. The tree’s top is in the firmament, its roots amongst bright stones and cobbles that show us how Wisdom transforms all, even base earth: ‘My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold, and my yield than choice silver’ (v.19).
8Does not wisdom call,
Does not understanding raise her voice?
2On the heights beside the way,
in the paths she takes her stand;
3beside the gates in front of the town,
at the entrance of the portals she cries aloud:
4“To you, O men, I call,
and my cry is to the sons of men.
5O simple ones, learn prudence;
O foolish men, pay attention.
6Hear, for I will speak noble things,
and from my lips will come what is right;
7for my mouth will utter truth;
wickedness is an abomination to my lips.
8All the words of my mouth are righteous;
there is nothing twisted or crooked in them.
9They are all straight to him who understands
and right to those who find knowledge.
10Take my instruction instead of silver,
and knowledge rather than choice gold;
11for wisdom is better than jewels,
and all that you may desire cannot compare with her.
12I, wisdom, dwell in prudence,
and I find knowledge and discretion.
13The fear of the Lord is hatred of evil.
Pride and arrogance and the way of evil
and perverted speech I hate.
14I have counsel and sound wisdom,
I have insight, I have strength.
15By me kings reign,
and rulers decree what is just;
16by me princes rule,
and nobles govern the earth.
17I love those who love me,
and those who seek me diligently find me.
18Riches and honor are with me,
enduring wealth and prosperity.
19My fruit is better than gold, even fine gold,
and my yield than choice silver.
20I walk in the way of righteousness,
in the paths of justice,
21endowing with wealth those who love me,
and filling their treasuries.
22The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
the first of his acts of old.
23Ages ago I was set up,
at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24When there were no depths I was brought forth,
when there were no springs abounding with water.
25Before the mountains had been shaped,
before the hills, I was brought forth;
26before he had made the earth with its fields,
or the first of the dust of the world.
27When he established the heavens, I was there,
when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
28when he made firm the skies above,
when he established the fountains of the deep,
29when he assigned to the sea its limit,
so that the waters might not transgress his command,
when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
30then I was beside him, like a master workman;
and I was daily his delight,
rejoicing before him always,
31rejoicing in his inhabited world
and delighting in the sons of men.
32And now, my sons, listen to me:
happy are those who keep my ways.
33Hear instruction and be wise,
and do not neglect it.
34Happy is the man who listens to me,
watching daily at my gates,
waiting beside my doors.
35For he who finds me finds life
and obtains favor from the Lord;
36but he who misses me injures himself;
all who hate me love death.”