The book of Esther tells the story of how Esther, the queen of Persia, bravely saved her fellow-Jews from certain death. It’s a tense political drama with a young woman as its central character.
The book begins by explaining how the king of Persia, Ahasuerus, divorced his first wife. Afterwards, he ordered that a search be made throughout the Persian empire for potential new brides to replace her. The wife Ahasuerus eventually chose was a young Jewish woman, Hadassah, who went by the Persian name ‘Esther’ to hide her true identity. The king threw a great banquet in her honour and she was crowned queen.
At the same time, there were other developments in the Persian court. The king promoted an official named Haman to be his second-in-command and instructed everyone to honour him. However, Esther’s uncle Mordecai (who also worked for the king) refused to do so. Haman learnt of this and then became Mordecai’s sworn enemy.
On discovering that Mordecai was also a Jew, Haman ordered that he be hanged. But not only that; he also obtained an order from the king that all Jews living in the empire be put to death. When Mordecai found out, he informed Esther and insisted that she go to speak to the king. This was a very dangerous thing to do. People who approached the king without being summoned risked the death penalty.
Nevertheless, after prayer and fasting, Esther bravely decided to try. When she went to the throne room, Ahasuerus took pity on her and said he would give her whatever she wanted. So she invited the king, as well as Haman, to a special banquet that she was throwing in their honour. Pleased with this suggestion, they both accepted the invitation.
However, during the banquet, Esther raised the issue of the planned massacre with the king and revealed that she herself was Jewish. When he realised that this meant that his beloved wife would have to die, he became angry and ordered that Haman be executed instead. Ahasuerus also cancelled the death sentence on Mordecai and the Jewish people.
After this reversal of fortune, Mordecai was made the king’s second-in-command in place of Haman. Esther and Mordecai then sent an order to Jews across the empire to celebrate their survival by starting a new annual festival, called Purim.
This stained glass window contains seven scenes from the life of Queen Esther. It was installed in the Cathedral of St John the Baptist in Norwich as a memorial to the Duchess of Norfolk, who had a middle name of Esther. The window, found in St Joseph’s chapel, dates to the late 19th century and is by the Hardman & Powell studio. It’s divided here into three sections.
In the first section, from the top of the window, Esther is seated on a throne clutching the royal order to celebrate Purim. In the second section, (from bottom left and then anti-clockwise), in four scenes she becomes queen, learns about the king’s order, sends out messengers and then pleads with him for her people. In the third section, from the base of the window, she prays all night before approaching her husband the king.
The cathedral contains a second image of Queen Esther approaching King Ahasuerus. Also by the Hardman & Powell studio, it forms part of the ‘Queen’s Window’ in the North Transept. She sits alongside two other Old Testament heroines – Judith and the Queen of Sheba. You can also find the other image of Esther below.
And the other image of Esther and Ahasuerus:
Where to find this work of art
Cathedral of St John the Baptist, Norwich
Read the relevant passage