I love stained glass – and incidentally the little diamond shaped panes are called quarries. It turns out that glass has been around since the third millennium BC – leading us to the inevitable question of What did the Romans ever do for us?
The gallery depicts modern glass which can be found in St Mary’s Church, Richmond, North Yorkshire. it won’t come as a surprise to learn that much of the medieval glass was somewhat knocked about during the English Civil War and Commonwealth period. Restoration commenced under Sir George Gilbert Scott during the Victorian period.
The ones pictures below are modern and dedicated to Ruth Gedye who was just eighteen years old when she died. The artist Alan Davis of Whitby created the image based on Ruth’s favourite hymns.
The last image in the gallery comes from a different window in the church. Alan’s work can also be found in Manchester Cathedral. Hicks notes that the abstract designs with which we are familiar these days were popularised after World War Two thanks to commissions for Coventry Cathedral and the Catholic cathedral in Liverpool. She lists some examples and although I have seen the ‘Prisoners of Conscience’ window in Salisbury I can’t remember it particularly clearly, unlike the Richard III window at Leicester.
For those of you familiar with the area just beyond Ripon you’re probably thinking Marmion! A medieval gatehouse near the church is all that remains of a medieval manor house. It’s possible that there was a Norman castle first but nothing remains. Licence to crenelate (fortify) was granted in 1314. The family associated with the area were the Marmions.
So starting with Robert. Our first Robert died in 1216 was married twice and had families with both his wives – and thought that it would be useful to call both of his first sons Robert. Thankfully he was part of the Staffordshire elite so lets just leave him as 3rd Baron Marmion of Tamworth.
In 1215 Robert the Younger (the son from the second marriage) Marmion of Tamworth paid the avaricious King John £350 and five palfreys to marry Amicia/Avice the daughter of Jernigan or Gernegan FitzHugh of West Tanfield – a minor heiress with lands in Yorkshire. Needless to say starting the conversation with King John results in revolting barons, confiscations and general unhappiness especially when King John gave the order to demolish Tamworth Castle. Fortunately for the Marmions the contractors didn’t move in.
Eventually the Marmions got themselves back on track with the younger Robert coughing up more cash both for his own lands and his elder half-brother’s estates as he was continuing to rebel. By 1220 Robert the Elder was in control of Tamworth. There followed a series of male Marmions until yet another Robert Marmion died leaving his sister Avis as his heir. She held the manor jointly with her husband John de Grey of Rotherfield but their son rather than being called de Grey was known as Marmion which brings us back to the rather marvellous alabaster effigy in St Nicholas’s Church.
He died in 1387 in the service of John of Gaunt in Spain so the manor passed back into the hands of the FitzHugh family via John’s nice Elizabeth. Eventually the manor passed back up the family tree and across to the Parrs by right of Elizabeth FitzHugh before returning to the Crown and for a while into the hands of William Cecil Lord Burghley. The lady by Sir John’s side is his wife Elizabeth.
The gallery images also show a wall painting of St George slaying the dragon – St George is left handed I think. And some lions for recumbent effigies to rest their feet upon. I can’t resist the animal footrests or the rarer animal cushions. I think lions are supposed to show valour and nobility. And it turns out that in medieval bestiaries lion cubs who were born dead came back to life after three days because of their mother’s breathing on them – so not a huge step to the resurrection and life after death.
A ledge provided by a hinged seat in choir stalls for clerics to lean on during services. Translates from the French meaning of ‘mercy seat’. Ripon has 32 of them which were created at the end of the 15th century. I particularly like the bagpipe playing pig, Jonah emerging from a very sharp toothed whale, the lady (I think) in a wheel barrow and the mermaid.
Where did the month go? Sorry – got carried away with decorating, sewing mask (seriously who’d have thought) and generally pottering around. And if I’m honest “words, words, words” is rather bigger than I thought….or rather didn’t think.
But it has given you a good long time to come up with a list of words associated with churches and cathedrals. How did you do? I am sure that there are others – this is not a complete list. However after a month with no posts I think it’s time I got back to my more usual blogging habits.
Saxon – pre-Conquest . Buildings were often constructed from wood or incorporated into medieval churches but one give away are chunky, deepest windows with triangular points at the top. And here’s a thought the Saxons developed the idea of church towers – the usual reason given is that they were for watching out for the enemy.
Norman (Romanesque) – semi circular arches and vaulting. Quite chunky looking buildings in most cases. Small windows, thick walls and the dog-tooth zig zag pattern which is a common motif of the period. A carved stone font.
Early English (began about 1200) The whole medieval period of church building also has the label Gothic.
The rounded windows give way to larger, pointed windows (lancet windows). Or put another way pointy arches were invented. The ceiling was pushed up by the use of clusters of piers to support arches which became narrower than the Norman columns. Vaults which also helped to push the ceiling up were constructed in four parts (like a cross). Stained glass starts to be used and rose windows are introduced.
Decorated (about 1290) – does what it says on the tin. Everything that cane decorated is. We’re also at fan vaulting and tracery. Four leaved flowers and geometric patterns or “diapering” were very popular as well.
aisle – walkway down the middle or sides of the nave. side aisles tend to be lined on one side by columns or pillars.
altar or communion table – usually situated at the East end of the church or at the crossing in cathedrals. They can also be found in side chapels.
ambulatory – aisle around the east end of the choir joining the choir side aisles to make a continuous passage.
apse – semi circular bit that sticks out from the east end of the building – not to be found in all churches.
arcade– series of arches carried on piers (architectural term for columns.)
aumbry – a small recess or cupboard in the wall of a church for storing sacred vessels and vestments.
blind arch – an arch with no opening. Usually decoration.
boss – a stone at the intersection of ribs in the vaulting that projects down from the ceiling. Very often they are elaborately carved. The boss ties the vaulting together a bit like a keystone in an arch.
buttress a support built against a wall which reinforces it. This means that medieval masons were able to build taller walls because buttresses braced the walls to act against the lateral (sideways) forces acting from the roof.
campanile -detached bell tower.
capital– the stone on the top of a column.
chancel – area at the east end of the church beyond the nave. There is usually a step up from the nave to the chancel.
chapel – small building or room set aside for worship – the “room” might be created by wooden partitions or be a specific stone built chamber. Larger churches or cathedrals often have many chapels dedicated to different saints. Chantry chapels are where prayers for the dead are said.
chapter house – meeting place for the governing body of a monastery or cathedral. Chapter houses in England are usually polygonal with a central column supporting the roof.
choir, sometimes quire, area with seating for the clergy and church choir. Choirs can usually be found in the chancel, between the nave and the sanctuary. Medieval choir-stalls, involve seating at right-angles to the seating for the congregation in the nave and these seats would often be highly decorated misericords which are not so much seats as perches to lean on during lengthy services.
clerestory– wall that contains windows high above eye level usually in the nave or side aisles of Romanesque or Gothic churches.
cloister – usually four sided area surrounded by covered walkways, the middle tends to be an area of grass or garden.
close– the precincts in which a cathedral and any other buildings that supplement a cathedral stand. There may well be a gatehouse and walls around the precinct.
corbel – stonework that sticks out of the wall to support something above it – such as an arch or a beam. Often decorated.
crypt – stone chamber beneath the floor of the church containing, coffins, relics or these days chapels.
galilee – porch at the western end of the church used as a chapel for women and/or penitents. It can refer to the entire western end of the nave.
gargoyle – a grotesque carved with a spout to take water from a roof and away from the side of the building.
lancet window – pointed window that is part of the Early English evolution of church design.
lantern tower – tower above the crossing with windows to give light on the floor below.
lectern – reading desk, often in the shape of an eagle, made to hold the Bible during services.
misericord The Latin word for “mercy” gives us misericord – folding wooden brackets in choir stalls that clergy could lean against during long services. They are often beautifully carved.
nave – the main body of the church where the congregation sits today but where they stood in the medieval period as there were no pews.
pew -long wooden benches in the church. Pews started to be placed in churches at the end of the medieval period. Many bench-ends were carved with animal and foliate designs. Box pews are high sided enclosed pews with doors. Some even had their own stove to keep people warm.
pulpit – raised stand from which the preacher addresses the congregation.
pulpitum – stone screen, sometimes wood, that divides the choir (the area containing the choir stalls and high altar. Basically, if acts like a rood screen in a smaller church.
reliquary– casket containing relics.
reredos – decorated screen behind the altar.
rood – another name for a cross
rood screen – the screen separated the chancel from the nave, often surmounted by a cross during the medieval period.
sanctuary – the area beyond the chancel where the altar stands. Again, there is often a step up from the chancel to the sanctuary and there may be a rail as well. Think of the journey east through the church as gradually becoming more Holy – the “zones” are marked by steps, screens and rails.
stoup – basin for holy water near the west door. Can be built into the wall or free-standing.
transept – crossing place usually at the east end of the nave between the nave and chancel where the building is built in a cross shape.
Today Howden is a sleepy little town between Doncaster and York. The ancient county of Howdenshire under the jurisdiction of the Prince Bishops of Durham no longer exists as an administrative entity but in the medieval period Howden lay at the center of a thriving hub. It was a residence for the Prince Bishops of Durham to provide a headquarters in the south (I know – for those of you who think the Watford Gap is in the north, it is a concept that may be difficult to compute but Northumbrians and Cumbrians will no doubt be nodding approvingly).
As well as providing a residence well away from the turbulent Scottish border it also allowed the canons who lived in the minster precincts to administer the bishop’s lands. They set up a grammar school in about 1265 to teach Latin and song to the choristers. The school remained in use until 1925.
Before the Norman Conquest the church belonged to the monks of Peterborough Abbey but in 1080 it was gifted by Wiliam the Conqueror to Wiliam of Calais who was the Bishop of Durham at the time. Howdenshire also came under the jurisdiction of Durham. William of Calais initially aimed at creating a monastic foundation but it did not thrive so the way Howden was staffed had to be changed – more on that in a moment.
All that remains of Howden Minster today is its west end which now serves as Howden’s parish church. The Oxford Dictionary defines a minster as a large or important church. It may have cathedral status but not always. Probably the best-known minster with cathedral status in the country is York Minster. The ruins of the larger medieval foundation at Howden are cared for by English Heritage. Double click on the image at the start of this post to open its webpage in a new window.
Just to confuse the issue still further Howden Minster used to be a collegiate church meaning that it was the residence of canons or a college of priests with the word college simply meaning an organized group with rights and duties. It was founded by Robert, Bishop of Durham, in 1266, for Secular clerks, and dedicated to St. Peter and St. Cuthbert. “There were originally five prebends, to which a sixth was subsequently added.” The canons were all priests despite the description of them as being “secular.” All the phrase means is that they weren’t Augustinian, i.e. they didn’t take monastic vows, although presumably the Bishop of Durham would have taken a dim view if they hadn’t lived a fairly monastic life with all the usual eschewing of women and wealth. Thus, very loosely, the foundation at Howden was not monastic like an abbey it was more of an administrative part of the bishop’s diocese with the canons as administrators. They were led by a dean rather than an abbot or prior.
The community of priests was not self-supporting in the way that an abbey or a priory was self-supporting although it was self governing – hence the existence of a chapter house. The Bishop of Durham elected to use the prebendary system which sounds complicated but simply means that the canons received an income or stipend from a nearby parish church; in this case Barnby, Howden, Saltmarsh, Skelton, Skipwith and Thorpe.
Nowhere is this better demonstrated that the canons of Howden were not part of a monastic foundation than by the fact that whilst England’s monasteries were dissolved in the reign of Henry VIII it wasn’t until 1548, in the reign of Edward VI, that collegiate churches, including the one at Howden, were abolished. Thomas Cromwell’s monastic visitors did come to Howden because the record of their findings still exists. In 1535 the value of the college is given as £96 8s. 10½d. gross, and net £61 2s. 10½d. Had it purely been a monastic foundation it would have fallen well within the limits set for the identification of smaller monasteries of £200 a year or less and been dissolved in 1536.
The current building was erected in the thirteenth century in a geometric style and it is thought that masons who worked on the Notre Dame de Paris and then on the rebuilding of Westminster Abbey during the reign of Henry III (King John’s son) came north to work on Howden Minster reflecting its importance at that time. By the fifteenth century a chapter house had been added. Another feature of the medieval minster were its chantries including one with an altar dedicated to St Cuthbert.
The income of the minster was also helped by the existence of a shrine where John of Howden was buried. He was Eleanor of Provence’s (Henry III’s wife) confessor and gained a reputation as a saint although he was never canonised. His death and burial in 1275 added an extra stream of income for the canons. He’d started building a new quire during his lifetime and prophesied that he would achieve his goal after his death if not before. After his death, miracles occurred at his tomb, including one on his own funeral when he was seen to raise his arms out of his coffin. His tomb was visited by royalty including Edward I and Henry V.
It will come as no surprise to followers of English Civil War history that Parliamentarians stabled their horses in Howden Minster or that they broke up the organ and used the pipes as whistles. In addition to Roundheads the weather wasn’t particularly kind to the minster and in 1929 arson destroyed its tower and the choir stalls which were replaced by Robert Thomson of Kilburn, the famous Kilburn Mouseman on account of the wooden mice than can be found lurking on his creations. Howden Minster is famous for the number of mice that can be spotted on its furniture and woodwork. Apparently there are nearly forty of them in residence.
Amazingly there are some medieval survivals in Howden including three statues, one of which is thought to present the Virgin Mary. Not everyone is in agreement as to who the lady might be but one thing is for sure she is a stunning survival and one which must have been carefully protected across the centuries.
Its that time of year again when my mind turns to teaching. This term I’m back with Henry VIII and his wives and mistresses; the Norman Conquest and the English Reformation so that should keep me out of mischief for a while, though thankfully Henry’s love life is rather closely bound to the progress of the English Reformation. Today though I’m sticking with cathedrals: Rochester Cathedral to be specific – it has links with all the courses I have just mentioned one way or another.
In the aftermath of the conquest Rochester found itself in the hands of Bishop Odo, William the Conqueror’s half-brother. Once Lanfranc of Bec was created Archbishop of Canterbury the territory around Rochester was wrested from Odo’s control and given to the newly appointed Bishop of Rochester, who at this stage we could think of as a kind of deputy to the Archbishop of Canterbury, not that the influence or power lasted very long.
Both the cathedral with its Benedictine abbey and the early castle at Rochester, an important crossing point for the Medway, were the work of this bishop. Bishop Gundulf was a Norman appointment well known to Archbishop Lanfranc. Like Lanfranc, Gundulf was a monk at Bec before being summoned across the Channel to help reform the English Church along Norman lines. Gundulf turned out to have been a bit of a builder having a hand in the building of the Tower of London as well as the castle and cathedral at Rochester. He began work on Rochester Cathedral in 1080 using imported stone from the quarries at Caen. By 1083 his workmen had started on the nave which still stands despite a fire in 1138 which saw the monks made homeless for a time. The crypt is also a good example of the Romanesque or Norman style of architecture.
The problem for later Bishops was that the cathedral’s powerful neighbour in Canterbury owned more of the land around Rochester than Rochester did. Not only was Rochester a cathedral being the seat of the bishop it was also an abbey. Inevitably with the passage of time there were ructions between the needs of the more worldly bishops and the more inward looking monks and their prior especially when the bishop was not selected from one of their number.
The first instance of this occurred in 1124 when the monks, fearful of their position, did a spot of creative thinking and miraculously discovered some long lost saintly relics and Bishop Gundulf who was by then a saint was remembered in a new book, the contents of which did’t bother unduly with the actual facts. Whilst they were at it, the monks set about creating a dossier of charters and rights that resulted in the monks and the bishops barely being on speaking terms. Nor did it go down well in Canterbury. Words like forgery were bandied around.
However, the death of Thomas Becket improved the relationship between the monks and the bishops of both Rochester and Canterbury primarily because the monks now discovered that they were on a booming pilgrim route – think of Rochester Abbey as offering a medieval ‘good night guarantee’.
Just when things couldn’t have been more eye-brow raising a pilgrim who’d managed to get all the way to Jerusalem and back without mishap was murdered in Rochester. William of Perth arrived in 1201, got himself murdered by his servant and then performed a miracle by curing a woman who touched the body. She was mad before but apparently became completely sane afterwards. William of Perth, a baker by trade, became an overnight success and a saint. The money that accrued from pilgrims flocking to William’s shrine paid for a new gothic east end to the cathedral.
We’ll move on from King John who looted the cathedral in 1215. Things went from bad to worse. In 1264 the cathedral and abbey fell victim to England’s civil war with soldiers stabling their horses in the cathedral.
The later monks didn’t seem to have the same inventive spirit of the earlier ones and by the end beginning of the thirteenth century the abbey was very badly in debt. Fortunately Prior Hamo came along and gave the monks and the cathedral a badly needed injection of energy. He launched a new period of building work in 1320.
There remains one more Bishop of Rochester who is impossible to ignore. He was executed on Tower Hill in June 1535 for failing to accept the supremacy or the fact of his monarch’s new marriage. His name was John Fisher. The monks at Rochester had all taken the oath of supremacy in 1534.
The following year Dr Layton arrived to visit the abbey as part of Thomas Cromwell’s Visitation of the Monasteries. In 1539 the monks of Rochester Abbey were shown the door and then allowed to return as the dean and chapter of six canons of one of Henry VIII’s new cathedrals.
Cannon, Jon. (2007) Cathedral: The Greatest English Cathedrals. London: Constable
‘Houses of Benedictine monks: The cathedral priory of St Andrew, Rochester’, in A History of the County of Kent: Volume 2, ed. William Page (London, 1926), pp. 121-126. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/kent/vol2/pp121-126 [accessed 17 August 2016].
Edward Hasted, ‘The city and liberty of Rochester: The priory and cathedral church’, in The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 4(Canterbury, 1798), pp. 86-110. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/survey-kent/vol4/pp86-110 [accessed 16 August 2016].
Bishop Wulfstan became a saint much admired by King John. He was also a canny politician. He’d been appointed bishop by Edward the Confessor in 1062 and is said by his biographer a monk called Colman to have advised King Harold. This didn’t stop him from being one of the first bishops to offer his oath to William. The Worcester Chronicle also suggests that Wulfstan was at William’s coronation.
William set about reforming English Bishoprics, generally by removing Saxon clerics and appointing Normans. He demanded that Wulfstan surrender Worcester. According to its chronicle Wulstan surrendered the staff to the king who appointed him – i.e. Edward the Confessor. No one else could shift it so William was forced to confirm Wulfstan as bishop. King John trotted this legend out as an example of the way in which the king had the right to appoint English bishops rather than the pope having the right.
Wulfstan ensured that the Benedictine monks at Worcester continued their chronicle and he preached against slave trading in Bristol. Meanwhile the priory at Worcester was growing (It was a priory rather than an abbey because it had a bishop as well as its monastic foundation- that’s probably a post for another time). Not much remains of the early cathedral building apart from the crypt with its forest of Norman and Saxon columns. Wulfstan’s chapter house draws on its Saxon past and is, according to Cannon, one of the finest examples of its time. In 1113 it suffered a fire rebuilding began immediately. Wulfstan’s canonisation in 1203 helped Worcester Abbey’s and the cathedral’s economy although the Barons’ War ensured that Wulfstan’s shrine was destroyed on more than one occasion although when Simon de Montfort sacked Worcester he spared the priory.
On a happier note, King John was buried there partly because of his veneration of St Wulfstan. He’s one of the saintly bishop’s whispering in the John’s ear (see first image). Henry III crowned at Worcester aged nine with a circlet belonging to his mother because the crown was too big and John had famously just lost rather a lot of bling in The Wash (assuming you don’t think there’s a conspiracy behind the whole story). Simon de Montfort’s daughter Eleanor (whose mother Eleanor was Henry III’s sister) married Llewelyn ap Gruffudd, Prince of Wales there in 1278 having been held prisoner for three years by her cousin Edward I.
A building programme was required for the final resting place of a monarch not least because in 1175 the central tower had collapsed possibly because of dodgy foundations. In 1202 there was yet another fire and in 1220 a storm blew down part of the edifice. In 1224 the rebuilding began ensuring that Worcester is a good example of early English gothic. The building continued to expand. By the fifteenth century new windows were being added.
We shift now to the Tudor period. In 1502 Prince Arthur died at Ludlow after only a few months marriage to Catherine of Aragon. His heart in buried in Ludlow but the rest of him was interred in Worcester Cathedral. His tomb and chantry will be posted about separately. The Tudor propaganda machine provided symbolism with bells and whistles.
In 1535 Latimer was made Bishop of Worcester. He visited his see in 1537 by which time Cromwell’s commissioners had carried out the Valor Ecclesiasticus. Its income was £1,260. It was the fourth richest of the monastic cathedrals behind Canterbury, Durham and Winchester (Lehmberg: 46). Holbeach had sent Cromwell “a remembrance of his duty” in the form of an annuity to the tune of some twenty nobles a year – presumably in the hope of being left alone. Latimer found that the monks were sticking to their old ways of dressing the Lady Chapel with ornaments and jewels rather than new more austere Protestant approach. He laid down the law but three years later Worcester Priory was surrendered by Prior Holbeach on 18 thJanuary 1540.
Two years later it was re-founded as the Cathedral of Worcester. Holbeach became the first dean of the cathedral. As with many other religious buildings it suffered during the English Civil War – lead was stripped from its roof valued at £8000. The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were a time of renovation for Worcester Cathedral.
Somehow, thirty-nine fifteenth century misericords survive at Worcester. There are also some fine spandrels (triangular bits between arches) depicting various scenes including a crusader doing battle with a lion not to mention the crypt and Arthur’s chantry with its tomb of Purbeck marble.
‘The city of Worcester: Cathedral and priory’, in A History of the County of Worcester: Volume 4, ed. William Page and J W Willis-Bund (London, 1924), pp. 394-408. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/worcs/vol4/pp394-408 [accessed 27 August 2016].
Cannon, Jon. (2007). Cathedral: The Great English Cathedrals and the World that Made Them. London: Constable
Lehmberg, Stanford. E. (2014) The Reformation of Cathedrals: Cathedrals in English Society. Princetown: Princetown University Press.
This is me going off on a tangent before writing up a post on Worcester Cathedral. I’ve spent quite a lot of the past few weeks staring at stained glass one way or another, though not taken many photographs of whole windows because I can’t do them justice. Aside from a crick in my neck, time spent waiting for the sun to come out and a fascination with Thomas Denny windows I’ve learned a whole new vocabulary. This is by way of a glossary for future reference.
Cartoon -A full scale drawing of each panel of glass or light. The cartoon follows on from the vidimus.
Catherine window – another name for a rose window or wheel window because of its symmetrical pattern, containing tracery that makes the ‘rose’. They are usually Gothic in origin and must contain the radiating wheel spokes to be Catherine, wheel or rose windows depending upon your choice of name.
Cinquefoil– five lobed shape. Usually to be found within the tracery (fancy lace-like stonework) elements of a window.
Clerestory – the upper part of the wall within the church, cathedral or abbey containing windows.
Diaper- a decorative pattern added to the glass with paint.
Donor window – the people who paid for the window feature in the window.
Gothic – style of architecture evolving from Romanseque during the late medieval period – pointed arches, vaulted ceilings, flying buttresses and fancy tracery.
Grisaille– monochrome painting on glass.
Jesse Window – window depicting Christ’s ancestors beginning with Jesse, father of King David. Wells Cathedral has a fourteenth century Jesse Window.
Light – the posh term for the complete vertical panel of glass within the stone framework of the window.
Medallion– circular panel of glass.
Mullion – vertical stone shafts between the panes (lights) of the window.
Murrey – colour ranging from pink through to reddish brown.
Quarry– small diamond shape pane of glass. Quarries are prone to bulging with the passage of time.
Rose window – The most common name for a Catherine window or wheel window derived from the French name rosace. The window is formed from symmetrical patterns, containing tracery that makes the ‘rose’ or ‘spoke’. They are usually Gothic in origin and must contain the radiating wheel spokes to be Catherine, wheel or rose windows depending upon your choice of name. The Rose Window in York Minster is one of, if not the, best in the country. It is certainly the most famous after the fire of 1984 which saw all 7000 pieces of glass cracked by the heat of the blaze but remained in tact. The painstaking conservation that followed ensured that the window was back on display by 1987. The ‘Bishop’s Eye’ window in Lincoln is not a rose window despite often being called such because although it is round it is not created with ‘spokes.’ An article on the development of rose windows and their symbolism can be found here. There is also an interesting article on the geometry and number involved in the creation of rose windows as well as their symbolism here.
Saddle bar – a horizontal iron bar running across a pane (light) to which the glass panels are tied.
Spandrel– in window terms they are the small openings between the corner of the arch of a window and the horizontal stone bar (transom).
Tracery – intricate stonework at the top of the window.
Transom– the horizontal bar of stone that runs across the middle of the window giving it strength.
Trefoil – three lobed shape.
Vidimus – literally meaning “we have seen”. A sketch of the window to be shown to the people who have paid for it or want it created.
Wheel window – another name for a rose window or Catherine window because of their symmetrical patterns, containing tracery that makes the ‘rose’ or ‘spoke’. They are usually Gothic in origin and must contain the radiating wheel spokes to be Catherine, wheel or rose windows depending upon your choice of name.
Here is a link to the York Glaziers Trust with a bigger glossary and much better illustrations. Double click to open a new window. The Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi (CVMA) of Great Britain is a project devoted to recording Britain’s medieval stained glass. They have a very large archive. Double click to open a new window and possibly a whole new set of days and weekends out! As you might expect given it’s medieval heritage there is a Worshipful Company of Glaziers which dates back to 1328. Part of their story is told by the Stained Glass Museum which is based in Ely.
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.
The rounded apse at the east end of the church is covered in fifteenth century tiles. The tiles were produced by master craftsmen in workshops and kilns set up on site between 1450 and 1500. The guide book notes that originally there would have been approximately 50,000 tiles decorating the priory. Only a fragment of them remain but, even so, Great Malvern’s collection can hardly be bettered by any other parish church. There are over one hundred different designs and each of them has a meaning.
One tile carries a coat of arms and five birds. These birds or martlets as they are known in heraldry represent Edward the Confessor. It is a reminder that the land upon which the priory was built was given by the king to his abbey in Westminster. Amongst the heraldic tiles the badges of the Duke of Buckingham, Mortimer, Beauchamp (Richard Beauchamp was the earl of Warwick at the time of the rebuilding), Despenser (Richard’s wife was Isabel Despenser), Clare, Talbot and Bracy can be spotted along with the royal arms and the fleur-de-lys reflecting Henry VI’s patronage. Tiles are dated to 1453 and 1456 – tiles being dated 36 H VI – meaning the thirty-sixth year of Henry VI’s reign i.e. 1456; the year after the First Battle of St Albans. 1453 was significant in that it was the year that Henry VI suffered his first break down setting in motion an escalating conflict between the House of York and that of Lancaster. These tiles can be found on the apse which is known as the “Benefactors Wall” – think of these tiles as the sponsors’ logos. The tiles are not in their original position. The Victorians removed them from the floors and placed them here during their renovation work. They also commissioned replicas by Minton which now adorn the chancel floor.
As you might expect there are tiles that carry scriptural messages in symbolic form such as a fish, the instruments of the passion, Mary crowned represented by the letter M surmounted by a crown, pelicans which were the medieval symbol of self-sacrifice and also tiles with texts. The most striking of the latter is the so called ‘leper’s tile’ or ‘Job Tile’ which quotes from Job -“have pity on me my friends for the hand of God has struck me.”
There are even tiles that bear the name of the tiler – WHILLAR- who made that particular batch. There’s one with a Latin inscription which reads “Mentem sanctum, spontaneuni honorer Deo, et patrie liberacionem.” As well as honouring the Lord it is also, apparently, an early form of fire insurance as this was supposed to help prevent fire. Even more practically there is a tile (immediately above this paragraph) with a message from the monks which tells pilgrims to give their money now rather than making a bequest in their wills on account of the fact that once you’re dead you don’t know what will happen.
It is interesting to note that the monks or the tilers did a healthy business selling their wares to local churches and landowners in the vicinity or even further afield – there are Great Malvern tiles in St David’s in Pembrokeshire. And, of course, once their work was finished the tilers would take their wooden stamps and go in search of work elsewhere.
Double click on the image of the Benefactors’ Wall (not taken by me although the rest of the photographs in this post are mine) to open a new web page to view more images of the tiles and further information about the priory and its publications.