Stained Glass from Welsh Churches

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Looking for windows by Tim Lewis and Glantawe Studios

It is always good to receive about windows in Wales that I did not know about, and these discoveries are nearly as good as finding them for myself, something that I have been unable to find much time for recently. Neither has it been easy to visit churches as many have been locked over the last eighteen months that used to be open regularly. This has been all the more apparent as I have arranged a few visits recently in order to photograph a few additional examples of stained glass and sculpture for my forthcoming book on Welsh saints. Although this takes more time and effort, clergy and keyholders have been helpful and generous with their time as ever.

So I was pleased to hear from Sally Davies at All Saints, Rhiwbina, Cardiff, about the two large windows at the church, a church that I have not visited. She noted that she could not find them on the online ‘Stained Glass in Wales‘ catalogue, and I replied, as I usually do, by saying that (a) I have yet to visit all of the churches in Wales and (b) that hundreds of windows that I have photographed have yet to be catalogued on the website.

Tim Lewis, West Window, 1990–1, Church of All Saints, Rhiwbina, Cardiff (photo courtesy Sally Davies)

The windows turned out to be large windows by Tim Lewis, one of the most important artists in the medium working in Wales in the second half of the twentieth century, who was still making windows until recently. It might reasonably be asked of someone like me, who has been researching stained glass in Wales for more than fifteen years, why I didn’t know about these windows. An easy answer is that if you haven’t visited a church you wouldn’t know, but there are some sources that list stained glass, notably the ‘Buildings of Wales’ series (or Pevsners), and I’m sure that the author of the Glamorgan volume (1995), John Newman, might well have mentioned windows like this, although space in the volumes is so tight. However, the church itself, built in the 1930s, is not even mentioned in the book. Neither is it included in Coflein, the online catalogue of the built heritage in Wales.

The appendix listing all of the windows by Celtic Studios in Maurice Broady’s A Vision Fulfilled is a very rare (99.7%) complete list of a single firm’s work, and the huge number of windows not listed in any other sources is testament to the amount of unrecorded stained glass not only in Wales but across Europe and beyond. A huge proportion of the windows that can be found on the online ‘Stained Glass in Wales‘ catalogue are not found in any other sources, sometimes not even the church guides – whether professionally printed or photocopied notes – that can be obtained in them.

I have also been accumulating notes on stained glass in churches from chance finds on websites or diocesan newspapers (spotting windows behind photographs of new incumbents or episcopal visits), and sometimes skirting around the outside of churches when I have been passing by but found them locked. I learned of windows from talking to artists working in Wales, not least Tim Lewis himself during the process of researching Stained Glass from Welsh Churches.

Tim Lewis, The Healing Power of God’s Love, 1986, Church of St Samlet, Llansamlet, Swansea

It has often struck me that, while we are fortunate to have a list of the windows made by Celtic Studios from the 1940s until the 1990s, there must be many by Tim Lewis, and many made at his Glantawe Studios that were designed by others such as Colwyn Morris, John Edwards and Bryan Tobias Evans, that remain unknown to the researcher beyond those that know and use the buildings.

The windows at Rhiwbina would have been installed in the church not long before the time that John Newman was visiting and researching for his Glamorgan volume. Unlike his predecessors who wrote the Powys (first edition) and Clwyd volumes. he took the trouble to selectively list examples of recent stained glass. For example, he mentions Colwyn Morris’ window made by Glantawe Studios for Hebron Welsh Independent Chapel, Clydach (the window has since been moved to Capel y Nant), and Tim Lewis’ window at Porth, a church that has now been closed and sold.

Glantawe Studios, Christ Stilling the Storm and the Miraculous Draught of Fishes, 1995, Church of St Cattwg, Port Eynon, designed by Colwyn Morris

However, windows have continued to be made for churches that John Newman visited over the course of the last thirty years, so Bryan Evans’ window at Porth (1998) is only found on the ‘Stained Glass in Wales‘ catalogue, and although the windows by Celtic Studios at Port Eynon are mentioned in Glamorgan, the subsequent windows made by Glantawe Studios (1995 and 1996) are not. The Church of St Joseph, the Catholic church in Neath, has many windows made at Glantawe Studios over the years, mainly designed by Colwyn Morris, but, as in the case at Rhiwbina, the church is not even listed, even though John Newman made some note on the church that are found in his archive at the Royal Commission on the Ancient and
Historical Monuments of Wales. The Catholic church in Whitchurch is briefly described in the book, but the set of windows by John Edwards was made in 2004. A couple of windows at these churches, or details of them, can be found in my book, Stained Glass from Welsh Churches.

More recent volumes of the Buildings of Wales have been better at listing works by Glantawe Studios, such as Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion, and the second, and much expanded, edition of Powys. So, for example, the window by Bryan Evans at Llangynidr of 2003 is listed, although those by Colwyn Morris at St Harmons, of 1990 and 2000, are not.

Glantawe Studios, Virgin & Child, 2000, Church of St Garmon, St Harmons, designed by Colwyn Morris

The second edition of Powys was published in 2013, two years after the ‘Stained Glass in Wales’ catalogue first appeared, and I am increasingly finding that Coflein entries refer to windows that I have recorded on the catalogue. I am therefore unable to escape the conclusion that, here in 2021, I am now part of the problem, as people come to the site hoping to find information that I have yet to add, or, as in the case of Rhiwbina, did not know about. Just as the windows by Colwyn Morris at St Harmons that I found when I visited are ‘not there’ in the new edition of Powys, they are ‘not there’ on the ‘Stained Glass in Wales’ catalogue. There are probably still many dozens, perhaps hundreds, of windows listed in the Buildings of Wales volumes that I have yet to visit or add to the website, and although the site has continued to grow, I have been unable to keep pace with all of the windows that I have found and recorded, and that is just in places of worship. Not only that, windows have also been installed at churches since I last visited them. I can think of examples at St Dogmaels and Prestatyn for example.

I have detailed the current position regarding what is and is not yet on the site, and my hopes to see it grow, in a previous post, so there is no need to explain the reasons for this again, and the benefits that would come from better recording of stained glass.

At the time of writing, searching for St Harmon on the catalogue finds a brief record of the east window that I probably added to the database many years ago when I did an initial trawl of old guide books as part of the initial research on the ‘Imaging the Bible in Wales’ project in 2005–6. Looking at it now, it always feels easy to just process and add my images of the window, or add the attribution to Robert Newbery (not Burlison & Grylls as suggested in Powys), but then I would want to process and add the photographs of other windows, check my written notes, write descriptions, transcribe inscriptions and subject index them, and suddenly it’s a couple of hours work – just for one fairly small church.

For this reason it’s a mixed blessing to receive information about windows that are not on the catalogue, because it reminds me about all the windows that I have recorded – on accidental and targeted visits – but have not published on the catalogue yet. But without such information, these windows would only be known by their local congregations and communities, and I will endeavour to steadily increase the amount of information on the ‘Stained Glass in Wales’ catalogue, or hopefully find the funding to make it happen faster. Even then, the work that remains to turn such information into biography, history and thematic studies, such as my forthcoming book on the imagery of Welsh saints, also awaits.

In the meantime, the windows by Tim Lewis at All Saints, Rhiwbina, can now be found on the catalogue thanks to Sally Davies taking the trouble to get in touch. They serve as a reminder that there will be more windows by Tim Lewis at Glantawe Studios, and by other artists and studios of all periods, still to find.

In Glass Thy Story

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.

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John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens, Robinson College Chapel window, 1979

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.

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Tom Denny and Sophie Hacker discussing his work in St Catherine’s College Chapel, Cambridge, with his recent window above.

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.

British Art Journal

Cover of the British Art JournalSometimes books go out for review and it takes a little while for any result, and in some cases things happen without my knowledge. Back in the summer I was in touch with Robin Simon, the editor of The British Art Journal, who had kindly offered to do something on Stained Glass in Welsh Churches in the journal, and I sent some pictures for illustrations. Time passed. Looking up the back numbers recently, I found my photograph of Tim Lewis’ Lifeboat Memorial window from Oystermouth on the cover of the Summer 2015 issue (vol. xvi, no. 1).

Inside, not a review, but ‘Editor’s Choice’, with a few illustrations. I don’t know how many others he has seen but he posits that it ‘may well be the most beautiful book ever on stained glass.’