The Dr Johnson Window, designed by John Lisle for Kempe, sixth window in the north nave aisle in Southwark Cathedral, 1907. This must have been one of Kempe's last works, as he died in April 1907. Below a roundel portrait of Dr Johnson is a representation of the New Testament episode in which Pontius Pilate asks Jesus, "What is truth?" (John 18, 38). The rest of the Latin text here means, literally, "the man who is present." In fact, Jesus himself makes no response to Pilate, who, impressed by his innocence, leaves to address the people outside. So this answer is only implied, but an earlier response in John 17, 17, where Jesus says that God's word is truth, also comes to mind. All this is so appropriate for the subject of the window, whose great life's work was to determine and establish the true meanings of words.

As in the other windows in this series, the author celebrated here had a connection with Southwark, in his case through his friends the Thrales: Mr Thrale had a brewery business there. He got to know Oliver Goldsmith here (Monroe 55), and indeed it is likely that both of them worshipped at this very church.

The lower part of the window shows the figure of Christ in Majesty, with the text, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." The "great lexicographer," as Johnson is described in the inscription below, is known to have suffered from a deep consciousness of sin — and is known as well for the courage with which he finally faced death.

Photographs by Colin Price, text and formatting by Jacqueline Banerjee. You may use the images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one. Click on the images to enlarge them.

Related Material


Eberhard, Robert. "Stained Glass Windows at the Cathedral, Southwark, Inner London." Church Stained Glass Windows. Web. 24 February 2019.

Monroe, Horace. The Story of Southwark Cathedral. London: Raphael Tuck, 1933.

Created 19 February 2019