In 2018, I was approached by members of the Nightingale family, and a number of anonymous donors, to design a window to celebrate the bicentenary of the birth of Florence Nightingale.
This modest Hampshire woman went on to have a global impact on many aspects of social care, health, sanitation and nursing.
Romsey played an important part in Nightingale’s life, where she met with friends, shopped and socialised with her family, and where her political interests developed. She cared deeply about, and worked to improve, the well-being of its residents throughout her life.
Romsey Abbey, one of the finest, most beautiful and significant churches in the diocese and county, is a fitting and historically appropriate location to honour a woman of such international significance.
The window reflects an historical event in Nightingale’s life, at the age of sixteen, when she received a clear ‘call’ from God.
Nightingale is seated on a stone bench in the grounds of Embley Park, turning towards a bright light breaking in between the twin trunks of a cedar tree.
Four words emerge, ‘Lo, it is I’. For Nightingale, these words summed up the essence of Christian faith, as Christ rises above the chaos of the world, walking on troubled waters, bringing consolation and peace.
The light radiates outwards, in the shape of the cross. For Nightingale, Good Friday represented the most important day of the Christian year, reflecting her life-long choice to place sacrifice and service above all things.
Four buildings can be seen in the distance, each with particular meaning in her life:
Scattered among the grass are primroses (birth flower for February, the month she received her call), lily-of-the-valley (birth flower for May, when she was born) and snowdrops (sent home by soldiers on the Crimean Peninsula).
In the right hand trunk is carved, ‘I was sick and ye nursed me’. Adapted from Matthew 25:36, this expresses her fundamental motivation for nursing – performing one of those practical acts of service that Christ commands that we do for all, in his name.
In the left hand trunk are words from the Beatitudes, ‘Blessed are the merciful’. These were set into a fine gold enamelled brooch, presented by Queen Victoria and designed by Prince Albert.
Nightingale had a strong Franciscan spirituality, with a particular love for birds as heralds of glory. The nightingale on the left side of the window is in full-throated song, praising God.
The bird on the right is Athena, an Owlet that Nightingale rescued as a fledgling, when she visited Athens in 1850.
There are many other symbolic references in the design, all of which can be found in an associated document available through the Parish Office.