Sarah, the wife of Abraham, is an important figure in Jewish history. Her story is told in the book of Genesis. Through her son Isaac, she and her husband were the original ancestors of the nation of Israel, as well as its later kings.
Originally named Sarai, she was from the Sumerian city of Ur. She married Abram, who also lived in Ur. The couple moved around a lot – first to the city of Haran, then to Egypt and finally, to the land of Canaan. Sarai was known for her beauty, yet was unable to have children. As they grew old, it seemed like the couple would never have a child together.
However, one day God spoke to Abram, appointing him “the father of many nations.” He renamed him ‘Abraham’ and promised the land of Canaan to his family forever. At the same time, God also gave Sarai a new name – Sarah – which means ‘princess’. God said that this was because “she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.” (Genesis 17:15-16)
Later, three mysterious visitors to their home told Abraham how this would happen. They said that Sarah would give birth to a son in her old age. Eavesdropping on the conversation, Sarah laughed out loud at this idea. Since she had already gone through the menopause, she couldn’t see how it would be possible. However, one year later, she miraculously gave birth to a son. She named him Isaac, which means ‘he will laugh’.
Despite her faith, Sarah wasn’t perfect. She mistreated her Egyptian servant Hagar, who had previously borne Abram a son called Ishmael. She viewed Hagar and Ishmael as a threat to her own son, Isaac. As a result, she sent them both away from the family home.
Eventually, Sarah died, leaving Abraham a widower. He mourned her loss and buried her in a newly-purchased tomb. But he wasn’t the only one to grieve for her. Her son Isaac was also deeply affected. Only when he married Rebekah did he begin to recover from her death. (Genesis 24:67)
This stained glass image of Sarah is found within the Lady Chapel of St Mary’s, Clapham. It dates to 1888 and was produced by the artist Ion Pace, working to a design by John Francis Bentley. It sits alongside windows of other Old Testament women who each foreshadowed the Virgin Mary, such as Rebekah and Abigail. For her part, Sarah’s miraculous birth was understood to point towards the great miracle of the Virgin Birth of Christ.
In this finely detailed scene, Sarah is pictured holding a star. This is because God promised that the descendants of the couple would be “as many as the stars of heaven” (Hebrews 11:12). She is also expensively dressed, as might be expected of the wife of wealthy Abraham. (Genesis 13:2)
See the full image:
Where to find this work of art
St Mary’s, Clapham
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