Sacrifice in Stained Glass: Memorials of Three Canadian Wars

PHOTO: Dying Canadian Solder circa 1920 (detail) now at the Regina Armoury

Full Article  in Canadian Military History, January 2012  by Prof. Jonathan F. Vance, University of Western Ontario

Other examples of Canadian War Memorials.


“A particularly striking enunciation of the
unity between soldier and Christ is the
memorial window of Carmichael United Church,
now at the Regina Armoury, dedicated on Armistice Day 1928.
It is a stained glass rendering of James Clark’s painting “The Great Sacrifice,”
and depicts a dead soldier lying at the feet of Jesus. Peace and composure are
reflected on the face of the soldier. His hand
covers the wound on Christ’s foot, affirming the
link between his own suffering and that of the
Saviour. Above the soldier stands Jesus, His
palms facing out to display His stigmata. With
this gesture, He recognizes in the soldier’s
wounds and death a community of sacrifice: His
struggle is the soldier’s struggle, and vice versa.
Surrounding the central figures is the detritus
of war: to the right of Jesus, the ruined tower of
the Cloth Hall in Ypres and behind the soldier,
the remains of the market square of Loos, near
Lens. In the distance, two airplanes hover over
the desolate landscape.

It is a remarkable image, more effective in
stained glass than in the original painting, and
reveals the persistence of the religious
interpretation of 1914-1918 in postwar Canada.
It confirms the belief that the war was indeed a
struggle for the survival of Christianity, and that
each soldier who died shared a special bond with
Christ. The sacrifice of Jesus may have been
“solitary and unique,” as a Toronto clergyman
said in 1919, but the sacrifice of the soldiers was
“after the manner of Christ and also according
to his purpose.”

Jonathan F. Vance