In an approach which was widespread across significant buildings constructed during the Victorian era, especially commemorative monuments and memorials, the architects and contractors who designed and built the National Wallace Monument on The Abbey Craig at Stirling made extensive use of stained glass as a design feature.
In the Monument’s case, there are eleven significant stained glass windows, which were actually not installed until 1885, some 16 years after the opening of the building in 1869. The windows were the work of a company which had been founded at the very start of the Victorian era in 1837, James Ballantine & Son, and their charge for the work which they carried out at the Monument came to a total sum of £210. Their experience had included the armorial windows at the Scott Monument, and the west window of Dunfermline Abbey (1882), and it was Alexander, the son of the firm’s founder, who carried out the work at the Monument.
On the ground floor of the Monument visitors can see the Honours of Scotland (Scotland’s ‘Crown Jewels’ - symbols of nationhood discovered by Sir Walter Scott in 1818 in Edinburgh Castle, where they had remained hidden in a chest for more than 100 years), flanked by unicorns bearing the Lion Rampant and the flag of Scotland, the Saltire Cross on which St. Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland, was crucified.
The stained glass windows on the first floor, where the story of Wallace’s life is told for visitors, show the arms of Great Britain, of Scotland, of Wallace, and of the Burgh of Stirling.
Perhaps the best-loved windows of all, and those most admired by the thousands of visitors who come to the Monument every year, are the four which are found in the ‘Hall of Heroes’, on the second floor. Striking because of their size, and their bold colours, (all the more vibrant when pierced by the sun), these show Wallace himself, Robert the Bruce, and two warriors from the mediaeval period - an archer and a spearman, each equipped and ready for battle.
The stained glass windows in the National Wallace Monument are part and parcel of the story of Scotland - a story told by these priceless assets which symbolise the enthusiasm with which the country’s heroes were commemorated during the Victorian era.