Stained Glass from Welsh Churches

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St Nons windows, Pembrokeshire

StNons_DSC1225_52AFor some years I have been pondering on the attribution of four windows at the Chapel of St Non, which stands on the cliffs above St Nons Bay, near St Davids. The chapel was built in 1934 adjacent to St Non’s Well and the ruined medieval chapel, and was intended to provide a focus for Catholic devotion to St David and his mother, St Non.

The east window is signed and dated, both of which are something of a surprise. The window is dated 1920, before the chapel was built, as it was originally made for St Non’s House, while the name of the maker, ‘William Morris Westminster’, is not the William Morris known to most as the celebrated Victorian poet, artist and socialist, but an entirely unconnected designer of stained glass, whose work was popular in the 1920s and 30s.

The reason for my interest in other windows in the chapel is that they also depict Welsh saints and for some time I have been working on a book on the imagery of Welsh saints. One of the windows is a particularly fine one of St Brychan, who stands with the Nevern cross behind him. There is also a window depicting St David, and while I prepare the book, I have been working on a smaller study in the interim, on the imagery of St David, which is far more plentiful than the imagery of any other Welsh saint. So I wanted to include this window of David at St Non’s in this smaller book, which will be published shortly under the title Depicting St David.

There is a rather simple charm to the execution of the windows, and the figures have largely plain quarries around them and quite distinctive borders. I wondered whether they could be the work of John Hardman & Co., makers of many windows for Catholic patrons, but could not find any direct correlations. Another maker that I considered was Frederick Charles Eden, although none of the windows by him that I had come across appeared to be quite the same. I found that some had quite similar border patterns, but a similar kind of edging around the frame of a window was also used for windows by other studios, such as Burlison & Grylls and C.E. Kempe & Co. I even found a window that was almost certainly by the same maker, also in south-west Wales at Marros, although I could find no attribution for this window either, or any trace of any records that might help.

Not far away from Marros in Carmarthenshire is a complete set of windows at Eglwys Cymun that are thought to be the work of Frederick Eden, and span a period from 1906 to 1915. There are various differences in execution: some have none of the coloured bands and silver stained patterns around the edge of the windows, the style of text is different, and some have more decorative painted detail. This can be accounted for by the fact that during this period, in about 1909–10, Eden established his own studio to make the windows that he designed. As the last are nearly twenty years earlier than the windows at St Non’s, direct correlations need not be expected, even if the same designer or maker was responsible. Nonetheless I kept returning to what little I could find by Eden online and in my archive, because I sensed similarities in the painterly style and in the borders and lettering found at St Non’s, and at Marros.

As a result of this search, in which I also sought to find out about the studios that Eden worked with prior to the establishment of his own (I’m sure that I have come across or been told about a reference to a firm that he worked with somewhere before!), I discovered that a summary catalogue of Eden’s drawings from c. 1909–44 in the V&A Art and Design Archive was available online. I was delighted, and lucky, to find an entry for ‘Four grouped lancets’ for ‘St. Non’s Chapel, Pembrokeshire’. Nothing is included in the list for Marros, or Eglwys Cymun, so the list is far from a complete list of his windows. I did however note a design for St Deiniol and St Christopher, which I surmised would probably be in Wales somewhere, and concluded that it was one of the porch windows at the Church of St Deiniol, Hawarden. This window had been attributed to Haswall or (possibly Frank) Haswell in Malcolm Seaborne’s list of stained glass in Flintshire Churches, even though its companion window of the same date was attributed to Eden by Seaborne.

Another researcher who has used the V&A Art and Design Archive for researching windows in Wales is Peter Jones, who had kindly provided confirmation of my tentative attribution of Eden’s work at Llanfairfechan, and submitted another window by Eden at Llanbedr-y-cennin to the Stained Glass in Wales catalogue some years ago.

StNons_DSC1245_52A

Frederick Eden, St David, c. 1934, Chapel of St Non, south wall of the nave.

While continuing to search for more windows by Eden online, I did discover a very good match for the figure of David at St Nons, in the guise of Nicholas at the Church of St Peter, Henfield, and dated 1935, which has been added to Wikipedia. It also shares the same kind of lettering, painterly style and borders as the St Non’s windows. But as Peter Jones noted in his comment on the Llanfairfechan window, Eden had a severe stroke in 1934, around the time that the St Non’s windows were made. That a window so similar was made by Eden’s studio in 1935 suggests that by this stage the studio was able to continue to produce windows in his idiom without his direct involvement, and that a house-style was in full swing and could be replicated as required.

Plenty of questions remain, such as the name(s) of the studio that made Eden’s windows prior to the establishment of his own stained glass studio, and also the identities of the painters and glaziers who worked for him into the 1930s. But at least I am convinced that the four windows in the north and south walls of the chapel at St Nons are his designs and almost certainly the product of his studio, and I can attribute them as such in the book.

Windows with Welsh Saints

For well over ten years I have been collecting images of Welsh saints from churches on my travels, mainly around Wales. The majority of these images are in stained glass and there is more variety in the windows than there is in sculpture and occasional murals, as windows sometimes feature scenes from the saints’ Lives, as well as standing figures. I have given a couple of lectures about images of saints in Welsh churches and been writing about them for a while, with the intention of publishing a book on Welsh saints from Welsh churches in the future, although it will not be finished before next year.

In November I joined the ‘The Cult of Saints in Wales‘ project as a part-time Research Fellow at the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies, where I am working on the beginnings of an online dictionary of Welsh saints, and setting up four dayschools around Wales with a small touring exhibition. The principal aim of the project is the publication online of editions of all of the medieval Welsh-language poetry related to saints in medieval Wales, and of the Welsh-language lives. This includes material relating not just to Welsh saints, but also to saints with more widespread cults such as the evangelists Mark and Luke; Mary Magdalene; and Margaret of Antioch.

A few posts back I wrote about the Stained Glass in Wales Catalogue, which was launched in 2011, and as part of the project I hope to find some time to add some further examples of images of saints to the resource. Recently I have added the windows at the Church of St Elvan, Aberdare, which includes a large window with scenes from the story of the patron saint of the church. The window is one of many in south Wales by the studio of Robert Newbery, and his association with the patron Lord Merthyr is underlined by the number of other windows by the firm at the church.

Three standing and kneeling saints depicted in stained glass.

Celtic Studios, Saints Cyfelach, Rhidian and Gwladys, probably 1959, Church of St Gabriel, Swansea

I have also added the windows at the Church of St Gabriel, Swansea, a church that I visited some years ago when photographing windows for the book by the late Maurice Broady on the Swansea firm Celtic Studios. The church boasts a west window that may contain more Welsh saints than any other (about 27, depending on whether you count Brychan and all of his family), and is a significant work by Celtic Studios. Two large details from the window occupy the centre spread of the colour section in A Vision Fulfilled, and partly for this reason it did not get included in Stained Glass from Welsh Churches. I included the east window at the church and a detail from one of the Lady Chapel windows by A.K. Nicholson’s studio. The church is perhaps unusual in having two good sets of windows by just two firms: six by A.K. Nicholson from 1925–6, and four by Celtic Studios 1949–71.

You often see new things when cataloguing windows, and unfortunately I realised that the caption of the east window in the book is incorrect. The window is in fact a representation of the ‘Te Deum’ and the standing figures in the outer lights are Peter and Paul, Isaiah and Stephen. The detail of Mary reading the Bible from the Lady Chapel windows, open at the same verse of Isaiah that Isaiah holds on a scroll in the east window, is one of many that deserved reproduction at a much larger size in the book.