Stained Glass from Welsh Churches

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St David panels at Cardiff Cathedral

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.

CardiffCathedral_DSC0046BHowever, 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.

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.