Obscured by the men’s choir vestry is one of two hidden windows in St Mary’s Church in Swanage. The picture depicts Elijah being fed by the ravens. It is a lovely window and it is a shame that it is so little seen. It brings to life that episode in Elijah’s life when he announced the edict of God (which we read at the beginning of 1st Kings chapter 17) that, “there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word”.
God then commands Elijah to turn eastward and hide himself by the brook Cherith, from which he can drink, whilst he will be fed by the ravens. It is a deserted place that the artist of this window demonstrates by a barren tree and the bare rocks that line the stream, and form its bed. A single bow of green in the foreground gives the hope that is still present, both for Elijah himself, and ultimately also, for the faithful people of Israel. There are decorative stylised flowers and foliage below, with some tufts of grass, but these frame the words of the text and are not integral to the picture.
With the sense of lonely abiding in the picture, there is also an element of supplication. Elijah’s hand is raised in need, and to receive the morsels brought to him by the birds; the bread looking remarkably like large communion wafers. The prophet looks upwards in contemplating this time of testing. It is a picture of acceptance, and yet trust; of patience and receiving. It announces to the person who looks, that faithfulness it not necessarily easy, but brings with it a renewed vision and some understanding of the providence of God.