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It feels a long time since last week. At the end of February I was in discussions to hold a launch of Depicting St David at the Metropolitan Cathedral Church of St David in Cardiff, and although events were beginning to be cancelled or postponed, on Monday 16 March 2020 I gave a short talk after the lunchtime Mass to a small gathering. That afternoon, new government advice discouraged all events of this type and events for St Patrick’s Day on the next day were cancelled. Within days all church services were suspended until further notice as a result of the pandemic, prior to the requirement for us all to stay at home.
The reason why it seemed appropriate to hold a launch of the book at the cathedral – albeit not in such circumstances – was the presence of a unique set of scenes of the Life of David in the sanctuary. Two pairs of two-light windows contain eight scenes from the Life of David, more than any other set of scenes depicting David that I have come across in any other churches.
There is however some uncertainty surrounding the windows. The devastation of Llandaff Cathedral, not far from the city centre, in the Second World War and its subsequent restoration in the 1950s is well known, but St David’s, built as a parish church for the centre of Cardiff in 1885–6, also suffered, and was gutted by an incendiary bomb in 1941.
In June 1897, The Tablet reported on the intention to fill the windows of the chancel with stained glass depicting the saints. David, Teilo, Iltud, Cadog and other local saints, as a memorial to the Vicar-General, the late Monsignor Williams. Although small roundels of Dyfrig, Patrick, Illtud and Teilo are found in the upper tracery lights, the scenes in the windows now are all of David, with Latin inscriptions. Teilo does appear in one of the windows, but in the context of his visitto Jerusalem with David and Padarn, where they are consecrated as bishops.
The survival of these windows in situ, given the terrible destruction of the sanctuary in 1941, seemed unlikely, and I had wondered whether the windows had been saved from four of the two-light windows in the nave and moved there when the cathedral, which had been largely derelict for most of the 1940s and 50s, was restored in the late 1950s. The windows are commensurate with a date of around 1897, and the work of Mayer of Munich. I spoke to Canon Peter Collins, formerly dean of the cathedral, who thought that the windows had indeed survived the bombing in their present position. In support of this possibility, a small amount of stained glass can be seen in a photograph of the interior. It may of course be possible that the original intention to fill the windows with scenes or figures of Teilo, Illtud and Cadog in June 1897 was changed, and a set of scenes of the Life of the patron of the church would have been very appropriate.
My visit to the cathedral afforded me the opportunity to look more carefully at the windows now in the sanctuary, which revealed a couple of important discoveries. Firstly, the inscription to Mgr Williams remains at the foot of one of the windows on the north side, and all of the windows have lost a number of pieces of glass, including some figures, which have been replaced, although the majority of the panels are intact. An amount of restoration would be expected given the long period in which the church stood derelict.
However, comparing the very small amount of stained glass, faintly visible at the edge of the photograph taken after the bomb fell in 1941, with what is in that window now, seems to show that the glass that is there now was not there then. Furthermore, the foliate tracery lights do not clearly match the architectural tops of the present windows, which might suggest that these are the original tracery lights, with the scenes of St David inserted in the 1950s from elsewhere in the church. Although the inscription is present, its continuity with the surrounding glass is not altogether convincing, and could have been inserted into the lower decorative panel at the time of restoration. Some of the two-light windows in the nave have no stained glass, and the main lights are of a similar width and appear to be only slightly taller than those in the sanctuary. Correspondingly, the design of the architectural canopies in the tops of the main lights of the sanctuary windows seem slightly truncated, which would have been necessary if they had been moved from the nave windows, where the upper part of the arched top is taller.
Whether or not these windows are in their original position, and whether or not we have lost scenes of other local saints, these eight scenes include images of certain episodes in the Life of St David that are not found anywhere else, and are therefore a fortunate and important survival.
On 8–9 September I attended the Art and Christianity Enquiry (ACE) symposium in Cambridge: ‘In glass thy story‘, a two-day symposium addressing over 70 years of innovation and iconography in the glass art of British and European churches and cathedrals.
On the first day I contributed a paper on the change in direction that prompted the adoption of a more vivid and bold approach to stained glass design in the Llandaf diocese. This enlarged an observation made on pages 268–9 of Stained Glass from Welsh Churches, and presented the opportunity to show the work of Welsh artists Howard Martin, John Edwards, Tim Lewis, John Petts and others to a distinguished gathering of British and continental artists and scholars.
The symposium was held at Robinson College, Cambridge. This presented the opportunity to see works by John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens in the chapel of the college, one of which is a small and intimate window, the other a large and ambitious work occupying much of the wall behind the altar. After my lecture, the proceedings continued with a short performance by the pianist Patrick Hemmerlé in the chapel, offering the opportunity to contemplate the work in conjunction with music by Debussy and Ravel.
The opportunity to engage with another recent work in Cambridge was provided by a visit to St Catherine’s College Chapel, where the artist Tom Denny spoke about his work in conversation with Sophie Hacker, and in particular about his window in the chapel.
The final talk of the conference was about the windows designed by the abstract artist John McLean for Norwich Cathedral, installed since I last visited the cathedral. As I came away I couldn’t help thinking about the striking difference between these wholly abstract windows, saturating their aisle with colour, with the window we looked at by Tom Denny. This was also a work which was rich in colour, and might, in combination with two other windows in a similar kind of location, have also created a colourful immersive environment. But the work of Denny was figurative and suggestive, an intelligent interpretation of texts from Ecclesiastes, and also brilliantly painted.
Were the windows by John McLean, with their absence of any apparent message, suggestive of a church that does not know what to say anymore, or at least a church that chooses to say little? In glass no story?
Such things cannot be argued one way or another in a few lines here. I didn’t talk about theology or narrative in my talk and lots of us were perhaps on safer ground with style and form. But the rare opportunity to think about these things at the ACE conference was a welcome one.
It was good to revisit some churches in north Wales, and see some new places in Cheshire, while acting as a guide for the Stained Glass Museum Study Weekend, alongside Jasmine Allen and Penny Hebgin-Barnes.
The opportunity to see new things in familiar places, with the help of a knowledgeable and observant group of people, ensured that all of us went away with something new. In familiar churches there were some things that I had not seen before. In the case of the two churches in Buckley for instance, there were windows that were not there the last time that I visited: at St Matthew’s a new little window painted by Deborah Lowe has been added, and a window by A.L. Moore from a closed church in Manchester has found a new home in Emmanuel Church, Bistre.
As the tour included churches and private chapels that I had not visited before, there were a few things in particular that I learnt from the trip, and here are three of them.
1. The work of the big studios such as Heaton, Butler and Bayne could be tremendously diverse.
Well, that’s not a great start because I already knew that, but it was underlined by the work of this firm that kept cropping up at a number of the places that we visited. This seemed especially noticeable as we were fortunate to start at Eaton Hall Chapel, where the entire scheme of windows was made by the firm, but to the design of Frederic Shields, who evidently excercised considerable control over its production. These windows bore none of the recognisable features of stained glass by the firm, and at successive churches – Rossett, Gresford, Malpas, Llanfarchell as well as at Chester Cathedral – we found their work in a wide variety of styles from the 1870s to the 1920s.
Incidentally, on my return I found some similarities between a few of the poses found in the Eaton Hall Chapel glass and a window I know better, the east window at Llanbadarn Fawr, which Frederic Shields designed with J. P. Seddon and was made by Belham & Co in 1884.
2. There are very close parallels between some of the Flemish panels at Cholmondeley Castle and those at Llanwenllwyfo
I have written about the collection of Flemish glass from the Neave collection, now at Llanwenllwyfo, Anglesey, on these pages and elsewhere. While researching the Llanwenllwyfo glass I have come across references to, and a couple of small illustrations of, the stained glass now at the private chapel of Cholmondeley Castle, so once again, although the above statement was not really new to me, the chance to see the stained glass at Cholmondeley enabled me to see this for myself and make some further observations (too many to detail fully here).
The design of six scenes now in the east window of Cholmondeley Castle Chapel is very close to some of those at Llanwenllwyfo such as Christ with Veronica, the Raising of Lazarus, Abraham Visited by Angels and David with Abigail. These were probably made in Leuven and may have come from the Charterhouse there. As well as the overall design of the panels, some of the figures are painted in a closely related style, and probably by the same workshop, and there are two examples of lettering used on the edges of garments to state the names of certain figures, found in several panels at Llanwenllwyfo.
The detail illustrated here shows this and also the problems of identifying artists. It would seem that the head of the unfortunate prophet here does not match any of those at Llanwenllwyfo closely, but it also differs from that above it and the group to the right, raising the possibility of three hands at work in this single panel.
The heads of Samuel from Cholmondeley and of Simon the Pharisee at Llanwenllwyfo offer an example of a pair of heads that seem to match very closely, but not quite exactly. Since we really know very little about these panels, they could be by the same artist but separated by a number of years, by different painters in the same workshop, or the product of different workshops but closely following the work of the same designer. Whether they were originally made for the same location we will probably never know.
Three of the scenes at Cholmondeley retain their lower inscriptions, which may assist with further work on their origin and the workshops responsible for them, although none have any borders at their sides.
Finally, as an additional parallel to the stained glass at Llanwenllwyfo, a roundel at Cholmondeley also depicts Christ wearing a hat and holding a spade as he encounters Mary Magdalene after the Resurrection, a scene that is particularly distinctive at Llanwenllwyfo and was featured on the cover of the book about that church and its glass.
3. The firm of Ballantine of Edinburgh underwent a huge transformation in the first quarter of the twentieth century, or perhaps they didn’t
Visiting the Church of St Oswald, Malpas, brought me back to a window that had struck me on my first visit, a four-light window of the Adoration of the Magi. After I first saw the window I was surprised that the Pevsner (Clare Hartwell, Matthew Hyde and Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Cheshire, 2011) tentatively attributed the window to Ballantine of Edinburgh. Shortly before this discovery I had also been surprised that Peter Cormack, in his review of my little book on the stained glass at Tenby, had also suggested the firm as the maker of a window that I had been unable to attribute there.
Comparison of some of the faces in both windows suggests that they could perhaps have been by the same artist, although there was a little more painted shading in the little Tenby window. But were either of the windows products of the studio of Ballantine?
James Ballantine & Son (also Ballantine & Allen, and later Ballantine & Gardiner and then A. Ballantine & Son) was a long-lived firm that was established in Edinburgh by the 1830s and made stained glass for the House of Lords. Windows by the studio of the 1850s and 60s are found in north Wales, demonstrating a strong pictorial style with very fine painting and bright colours, but, by 1881, their window at Emmanuel, Bistre shows a duller colour palette in keeping with the times. A further window of 1890 at the Church of St Mary, Lenten Pool, Denbigh, also on our tour, demonstrates a very much more conventional Gothic Revival style typical of the period.
So after that recognisable change of approach, might they have embraced the Arts and Crafts Movement so convincingly that they were able to produce the beautiful window at Malpas? Many on the tour thought not, but no other attributions were forthcoming.
On Saturday 1 April the ‘Cult of Saints in Wales’ project collaborated on an afternoon of talks about St Padarn and the saints of Wales at the Church of St Padarn, Llanbadarn Fawr. My short talk focussed on three south transept windows of the 1930s by Heaton, Butler & Bayne, which depicted the saints Padarn, Teilo and David.
According to the Lives of all of these three saints, they journeyed to the Holy Land together, where they were met, and given gifts, by the patriarch of Jerusalem. As we were specifically remembering Padarn in the church that bears his name, I showed some more images of Padarn in other churches, but also took the opportunity to show windows of other saints by the studio of Heaton, Butler and Bayne.
When looking through my archive, I found a series of images of David, patron saint of Wales, made by the firm from the late 1880s up until the one at Llanbadarn Fawr of about 1930. What is interesting about all of these figures is that even though they use more or less the same kind of figure, none that I have seen are repeats of another, using the same cartoon. This use of the same cartoon for multiple windows is of course well-known among all stained glass studios, from Hardman’s to Morris & Co. to Celtic Studios and even some of the finest individual artists in the medium, such as Christopher Whall and Karl Parsons reused designs and cartoons. Note the range of unusual headgear provided for the saint, not a mitre in sight!
As part of my work on ‘The Cult of Saints in Wales‘ project, I have been co-curating an exhibition of medieval and early modern manuscripts of saints’ Lives, poetry addressed to saints and saintly genealogies at the National Library of Wales.
It has also been an opportunity to display a couple of the hundreds of cartoons acquired by the National Library from Celtic Studios in the late 1990s. The figure of Illtud from Mountain Ash, and the scene showing David, Padarn and Teilo leaving for Jerusalem from Ebbw Vale are displayed with illustrations of the windows on the interpretation panel.
In addition, John Petts’ design for his first window at All Saints, Penarth is included in the show, as well as the scale drawing by A.L. Wilkinson of his saints window at Peterston-super-Ely. The latter comes from the diocesan archives at the Library, which include many such drawings submitted as part of the process of obtaining a faculty.
I designed the exhibition displays which include my photographs of modern and medieval images of saints, and some of these are displayed as framed prints. To coincide with the exhibition, I will be speaking at the National Library about images of saints from churches in Wales on 17 May, as well as doing a gallery talk on 29 March.
The exhibition opens to the public on 18 February and runs until 10 June 2017.
I have mentioned the upcoming exhibition of the work of Margaret Rope at Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery on these pages before, and I was pleased to be able to attend the private view for the exhibition on 9 September.
This innovative exhibition includes drawings, cartoons and projections of many of her windows, as well as work in glass and sculpture. The exhibition includes coloured cartoons of all three of her windows in Wales, the pair of saints at Llanarth in Monmouthshire and the memorial window to her niece and nephew at Llandovery, who both died in childhood.
This exhibition view shows the Llanarth cartoons with (just visible!) my photograph of St Bernard projected on the wall. Also at the exhibition is a cartoon of the window depicting St Winifrede at the Church of St Peter and St Paul, Newport, Shropshire, which found its way to the museum at Holywell at some stage in the past, and has been lent by the Diocese of Wrexham.
I also took the opportunity to visit Shrewsbury Cathedral, where there are seven windows by Margaret Rope. and I will post a further piece about the imagery of Winifrede on the Saints in Wales project website.
I will be back in Shrewsbury, on the 17 November, if not before, to give a talk about David Evans, another important artist with Shrewsbury connections, for the Friends of Shrewsbury Museum. The exhibition continues until 15 January 2017.
The new window by Helen Whittaker for Abergavenny is described, with some justification, as ‘one of the greatest new works of church art in Wales since the Second World War’ on the Church in Wales website.
A crowned figure at York Minster dating to the mid-twelfth century is sometimes described as the earliest surviving painted panel of window glass in Britain, and probably came from a Jesse window. Other important medieval survivals include the later Jesse windows at York and Wells, as well as the most complete medieval window in Wales, at Llanrhaeadr-yng-Nghinmeirch, dating from 1533. But the subject is still returned to. The big east window of the Lady Chapel at Llandaff Cathedral also features the Tree of Jesse, and since it was made by Geoffrey Webb in 1951, it might also claim to be one of the most important commissions for church art in Wales. But in truth, there are plenty of others to choose from, such as Jacob Epstein’s Majestas in Llandaff, and other outstanding windows on the same scale or of the highest quality, but they are just not so well known.
The new window will be dedicated on 7 July by the Bishop of Monmouth.
As the the new window, designed by Helen Whittaker, is installed Canon Mark Soady reflects:
Stained glass windows came in to being in Medieval times as a means of educating the largely illiterate public about the Good News of the Bible through visual images.
Helen’s window does an amazing job in encapsulating the various themes and messages that run through the Bible. It will be a great aid to teaching and a wonderful compliment to the Jesse artefact itself.
The starting point for Helen’s design is the ‘centrality of Christ as God and man’. The dual aspects of Christ are explored through images and relationships connected with the five principal themes: Christ, Kingship, Prophecy, the Church and the Sacrament.
At the top of the tree sits the Virgin Mary with the Christ child on her knee. They are shown to a larger scale then other figures in the window, recognising…
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