Stained Glass from Welsh Churches

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Llywelyn, Siwan and the Tree of Life

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Window and effigy at the Church of St Cybi, Holyhead

Morris & Co., Tree of Life, 1897, over the tomb of William Owen Stanley by Hamo Thornycroft, Church of St Cybi, Holyhead

Diolch i Rhys Mwyn am dynnu sylw at fy llyfr yn ei bost diweddar. ‘Mae’n lyfr swmpus, yn gorlifo o wybodaeth ac yn frith o lyniau lliw’.

The post on his blog reflects on two windows in north Wales that are both included in the book, that of Llywelyn ab Iorwerth and Siwan at Trefriw and the window at Holyhead above the effigy of William Owen Stanley by Morris & Co. Why are these windows not better known, he wonders?

What struck me about both of them is that although he is (rightly) impressed by their colour and design, as works that are of gallery quality, neither might be thought of as art historically interesting to the stained glass historian. I identified the maker of the Trefriw window after consultation with the Church in Wales records at the National Library of Wales. It was made by A.W. Mowbray of Oxford, an example of the kind of ecclesiastical furnisher that seems to have been frowned upon by the British Society of Master Glass-Painters, which was formed in the 1920s. Similarly, the window of the Tree of Life at Holyhead, although made by the firm of William Morris, was made after Morris had died and was not the work of one of the firm’s most accomplished painters. ‘Morris’ firm with Morris dead is quite hopelessly bad’, was a quote from 1908 that I found recently when researching a booklet of the stained glass at Tenby (more on this to come shortly).

So why are these windows worthy of attention?

In the case of the window at Holyhead, wallpapers made by Morris & Co. have a broad appeal today, and although foliate panels such as this would have mainly been used as padding for larger windows in the nineteenth century, we are better able to appreciate its abstract design today. The patronage of both William Owen Stanley and his nephew Henry Stanley, third Baron Stanley of Alderley, is also of interest here and elsewhere on Anglesey.

Llywelyn ab Iorwerth and Siwan at Trefriw are rare depiction of Welsh national figures in ecclesiastical stained glass, commissioned as appropriate subjects for the church that they reputedly founded in the thirteenth century. As far as I can recall I have not come across images of either of them in any other churches (the medieval grave slab of Siwan rests in the church at Beaumaris of course), and neither have I seen Llywelyn ap Gruffydd or Owain Glyndŵr (but I would be pleased to hear of any). Henry VII, on the other hand, is not so rare. There are reasons for this, such as the Anglicisation of most of the gentry patrons commissioning stained glass, and the preference, naturally enough, for biblical and other religious subjects. But the quality of the glass and the significance of these figures for contemporary Wales, even in a week when a poll has suggested that support for an independent Wales has hit a new low, can be recognised even in a modest work by a little-known Oxford ecclesiastical furnisher.

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2 Comments

  1. So great to see this Morris Window in Holyhead ! I remember at as a very early formative experience of seeing stained glass (whilst being cold waiting for the ferry!). Looking at it now I think it is interesting to see a wholly foliate design which I agree appeals more to a modern eye than I suspect it would have at the time.

    • martin says:

      you did well to get in – the church is only open on certain days at certain times during the summer. But worth it for a good range of stained glass and medieval stone carving.

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