Bible Review 6:4, August 1990
Jonah and the Whale

Through the Eyes of Artists

By James Limburg

During the Second World War,” the guide was saying, “all these windows were taken out and put in storage. We were afraid of bombs.”

We were standing in St. John’s Church in Gouda, just an hour’s bus ride from Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. Gouda is the town in the Netherlands famous for its cheese. “Erasmus spent much of his boyhood here in Gouda,” the guide continued. But we had stopped here to see this “tremendous Dutch church with a town around it,” as the guidebook put it, with its remarkable stained-glass windows. I was looking for one window in particular.

The church is “tremendous,” the length of a football field and a quarter, with 70 stained-glass windows, most of them from the late 1500s. The most recent is a window from 1947 depicting the liberation of Holland, with airplanes, a concentration camp and a man making a “V for victory” sign. The largest windows are more than 60 feet high. I was on the edge of the group, half listening, half looking for that window.

I knew something of the history of this church. In 1552 it had been struck by lightning and almost destroyed. The people of Gouda decided to rebuild it, and asked various individuals and groups to donate windows. A bishop donated a John the Baptist window. The local butchers donated Balaam and the ass. The Crabeth brothers crafted 14 of the windows. Finally, I found what I was looking for. High up in a corner, there it was: the Jonah window (above). There was the prophet, clothed in yellow, red and blue, emerging from the mouth of a huge fish.

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