There was strong opposition to this window in the early days of planning. Houshiary, the artist who won the commission, commented 'The brief would challenge and test any work of art'. The design selected by the St Martin's Advisory Panel was rejected by the Parish Church Council and only accepted after not insignificant changes. It took two years to get all the necessary permissions before the work could start.Opus Operandi, who oversaw the project on behald of the church, reflected that it was one of the most controversial commissions they'd handled. Now it appears that several of the strongest opponents are happy to tell the vicar publicly they were mistaken.
To see it if you are in Trafalgar Square, turn your back on Lord Nelson, the lions and the fountains and go up the steps into St Martins in the Fields church. At the east end behind the altar, holding the space most tenderly is Houshiary's window (made in collaboration with the architect Pip Horne). It replaces a window installed following World War II bomb damage and has been described as 'one of the most significant pieces of religious art commissioned in modern times'.
The window is made up of small panes. The surprise is that there is no colour. The glass, held within a stainless steel framework, is made of mouth-blown clear panels etched on both sides with a subtle feathery pattern derived from Houshiary's paintings. The panels graduate from a periphery of more transparent glass to a denser, whiter centre. Slightly off centre is an elipse, lightly etched, which stands out as a stronger source of light. It's tilted slightly to one side and the tiny panes spread away to suggest a cross. If you stand below the window to one side and look up, the window appears to bend like a gentle wave - or a Bridget Riley painting or one of Anish Kapoors' mystical sculptures.
The leaflet at the back of the church says that the Old Testament story of Jacob's Ladder was a possible starting point. The ladder linked heaven and earth by standing firmly on the ground while touching heaven ,and angels were busily engaged in going up and down. So too here in the church light floods through and gives us a shadowy image of the world outside: some trees, a grey building, dissolving the barrier beteen inside and outside. The glass itself seems to be reacting with the light outside, so that it shimnes and glimmers, dulls and glows. It's hard to put into words.
'For me there's no distinction between consecrated space and other spaces, as I feel the whole world is a sacred space.' (Shirazeh Houshiary)