The Book of Lamentations is a collection of five songs about the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 BC. They were written afterwards, to give expression to the grief felt by the people of the city, who by then were living in exile. As mourning songs, they were also an attempt to make sense of the disaster.
Traditionally, the Lamentations were thought to have been written by the Prophet Jeremiah (cf 2 Chronicles 35:25). The third song in Lamentations ― voiced by a man in anguish ― includes some possible parallels to his life. Like Jeremiah, the singer had been thrown into a pit and had shed many tears over the fall of Jerusalem (Jeremiah 9:1; 38:6; Lamentations 3:48-49, 53-55).
More recently, scholars have pointed out that the book of Lamentations actually features a range of voices, including those of women. The book describes Jerusalem as “the daughter of Zion” and refers to the experiences of mothers, daughters and widows. This is in keeping with the role of Israelite women as both singers and mourners (cf 2 Samuel 1:24; Jeremiah 9:17-20).
The strong note of repentance in the songs meant that they were traditionally recited on Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday (cf Lamentations 2:10,18-19; 3:40-42; 5:21-22). In a similar vein, we can also see parallels between the book of Lamentations and Christ’s own mourning over the destruction of Jerusalem, alongside the women of the city (Luke 19:41-44; 23:27-28).
This stained glass window of the Prophet Jeremiah is found within Buckfast Abbey, in Devon. It appears to have been inspired by a mosaic found within the church of St Maria in Trastevere, Rome. Due to the prophet’s association with Lamentations, it features a verse from the Latin translation of the book (verse 4:20).
Jeremiah holds a banner that reads: Christus Dominus, captus est in peccatis nostris, which means ‘Christ the Lord is captured in our sins’. In our modern bibles, translated from the Hebrew, this verse reads more along these lines: “The Lord’s anointed, our breath of life, was caught in their traps.”
Originally, this saying probably referred to the downfall of one of Judah’s kings – Josiah or Zedekiah. This is because Jewish kings, starting with Saul and David, were considered ‘anointed’ by God. However, since the word ‘anointed’ also means ‘Messiah’ or ‘Christ’, this verse has long been understood to also refer, in a coded way, to the death of Jesus.
The vibrant window was created during the 1920s by Harry Grylls of the Burlison & Grylls studio. Found within the North Transept of Buckfast Abbey, it forms part of a wider Gothic Revival scheme picturing various prophets from the Old Testament who foretold the coming of Christ.
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Where to find this work of art
Buckfast Abbey, Buckfastleigh
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On a similar theme
- From the Old Testament: As in this stained glass window, the Lamentations were traditionally associated with The Prophet Jeremiah.
- From the New Testament: The grieving women of the Lamentations find a parallel with the mourning women who followed Christ on the way to the cross.