The Washington Window

The Washington Window

Selby Abbey

Three red stars above two red bands on a white shield are the charges on the Washington family coat of arms and the model for the American Flag:

The Washington Window, containing the Heraldic arms of the Washington family, is to be found in the south clerestory window of the choir and is the original fourteenth century glass. When Glover the Herald visited Selby in 1584-5 he described the escutcheon as 'Argent, two bars and in chief three mullets pierced, gules'.

The shield is white with two red bars across and three red mullets (spur-rowels) in chief each with a hole in the centre. This piercing is necessary to the true representation of the Washington mullets. At Great Brington in Northamptonshire, where the first President's ancestors formerly dwelt, the Arms are also represented with pierced mullets, the colours being identical with Selby though the shield is much smaller.

In 1891 Harpers magazine showed two seals and a book-plate used by Washington which are virtually exact replicas of the Wessington family coat of arms.

The Washington shield at Selby probably represents some kind of benefaction made to the Abbey to commemorate John Wessington, Prior of Durham (1416~1446) the most distinguished collateral ancestor of George Washington. John Wessington made important additions to Hemmingborough church which was a collegiate under Durham. Beneath the battlement of the tower at Hemmingborough is a succession of washing tubs or tuns... a rebus of the priors name.

The Reverend Dr JS Littell in his book 'George Washington: Christian' says; 'The decorated choir of seven bays,--the knave has eight --is unsurpassed for loveliness, and Americans should be proud to know that the finest example of the Washington Arms has such a beautiful and appropriate setting'. The Washington Shield is thought to form the basis of the modern day American flag.

Visit the BBC website for a condensed history of the window.