The priory’s treasure is its windows. It has the largest collection of fifteenth century glass in England which means that the parliamentarians didn’t get there during the English Civil War. It also means that although the parishioners of Great Malvern were able to buy the priory for £20 they were unable to remove the coloured glass and replace it with plain Protestant panes in later years.
I was told that the glazing of the East Window began in 1430 and although the pieces of glass no longer tell a story because of the impact of time and ivy the panes are still medieval having been moved around from other locations within the church. Wells suggests that the window was originally given by Richard Beauchamp, earl of Warwick and his wife Isabel Despenser because of the roses and circle stars that appear there and which also feature on their coat of arms.
Looking to the west, the arms of Richard III, then Duke of Gloucester can be found. This was probably moved from the West Window which was originally donated by him and his wife Anne Neville. Her coat of arms can be found in the western choir aisle in the so-called museum window which is largely plain with sections of medieval glass being inset there. The heads of two bear supporters – referencing the bear and ragged staff can be seen. The West Window told of the Day of Judgement. Depending upon your viewpoint of Richard III there may well be some irony in his donation and the fact that of all the windows this was the one which survived least well into the modern era.
The west window of the transept is known as the Magnificat Window and was donated by Henry VII. I shall do a separate post on that as it contains images of Henry, Prince Arthur and some of his leading henchmen.
However, in Queen Anne’s Chapel a treat awaits. Most stained glass involves a crick in the neck but here the windows are substantially lower so the glass is much closer. The crucifixion window is Victorian but the rest of the glass is medieval. One window tells the story of the Creation, another the stories of Noah and Abraham whilst the third relates the stories of Isaac, Joseph and Moses. It is a reminder that in an age where most people lived in small dark buildings that churches were full of light and colour. It is also a reminder that the word of God came not only from the priest but from the pictures that surrounded the congregation.
The tradition of donors, some of whom are pictured above, giving windows continued in Great Malvern Church through the Victorian era with Princess Charlotte, the only child of George IV who died in childbirth, donating a window amongst others. The Friends of Malvern Priory donated the Tom Denny windows which celebrate the millennium. They can be found in the north choir. Their theme is psalm 36. Denny has used the Malvern hills as part of his inspiration as well as colours which echo the medieval windows. Denny was also commissioned in Leicester for the Richard III memorial windows. Once seen, his style is instantly recognisable.
Wells, Katherine. (2013). A Tour of the Stained Glass of Great Malvern Priory. The Friends of Malvern Priory.