The sorry remains of Thomas Johnes’ collection of sixteenth-century continental glass at Hafod seem to have escaped any scholarly attention since their arrival in west Wales in about 1803. Even the distinguished local antiquarian, George Eyre Evans, in his description of the church published a hundred years later, hoped that a ‘reader, who is well up in glass of this kind, would furnish an account of this window, at once full and reliable. My own opinions about it are as yet too crude and too immature for exportation.’ He was writing of the east window at the Church of St Michael, Eglwys Newydd, Hafod, and within thirty years the window was alomost completely lost in a devastating fire.
His faith in his knowledge about the glass matched my own when I added the panels to the online ‘Stained Glass in Wales‘ catalogue about five years ago, and I managed to fill a page of Stained Glass from Welsh Churches with two ilustrations and some information and references.
So when my colleague, Mary-Ann Constantine, was seeking contributions for speakers and contributors for a day of talks, performances and interventions at Hafod for an event as part of the Coleridge in Wales Festival, I didn’t think that I would be able to manage much more than ten minutes at best, which I was told would be fine. I then thought that a little picture book on the glass would be a good idea, and would help visitors to see the fragments, some of which are quite high up in the sanctuary windows that contain glass salvaged from the east window in 1932.
A newspaper report related the sorry story. ‘The Flemish window above the chancel lay beneath our feet, a mass of molten metal and coloured glass, intermixed with what remained of the Jacobean altar chairs and the slates from the roof.’ Today, reading the information about the stained glass in the displays and leaflets at the church can seem contradictory. There are stories that suggest that it was brought from a German convent, others that it came from Holland during the French Revolution, another tradition says that the glass was brought from the former Priory Church of St Mary of Cardigan. Although the glass was formerly in chancel window, earlier sources located the stained glass, given by Thomas Johnes, in a transept window or a north-west window.
So I have risen to the challenge of making something of these fragments, and produced not only a picture book of all of the main diamonds and roundels, but also a fuller account of what can be deduced from the glass and reconciling the few sources that mention it. This will be published shortly in the online journal Vidimus, and I am also very grateful to Joseph Spooner for sending on a transcription of a letter (discovered by Marie Groll) mentioning the stained glass bought by Thomas Johnes that sheds new light on its acquisition.
If only George Eyre Evans had troubled to explain even the subjects and arrangement of the panels, and perhaps discovered whether or not it had been recently moved, we would know rather more about the glass. I hope that my attempts to draw attention to the glass at Hafod may yet encourage a ‘reader, who is well up in glass of this kind’ to add to our knowledge of these fragments of Renaissance stained glass.
The book is available from me for £5 plus postage, but I will put a link up before long to a new website for my imprint Sulien Books, I will also add a note when the next Vidimus is published.