Wiltshire churches

Wilton, Wiltshire by Sasha Ward

Sts. Mary and Nicholas Church, Wilton, showing the three apses.            Passage between tower and church.

Sts. Mary and Nicholas Church, Wilton, showing the three apses.            Passage between tower and church.

This is Wiltshire in October, and the unlikely sight of a Romanesque church under a warm blue sky with light streaming through carved columns and ancient stained glass. It was built from 1841-5 by the architects Wyatt & Brandon and contains a collection of 12th - 17th century European stained glass (the best in Wiltshire?) as well as mosaics, marble furnishings, door panels and wall paintings. 

Looking from the gallery towards the main apse.                               Central panel, large late C12th head of a saint

Looking from the gallery towards the main apse.                               Central panel, large late C12th head of a saint

In the seven lights of the main apse (above and below left) are superb 12th and 13th century medallions of French glass, including three from St. Denis, set into 19th century backgrounds and borders. The most striking is the central panel of a large saint's head with beautiful strong colours and painted brush strokes, an amazing focal point for the lavish decoration on surrounding walls, ceiling and floor. 

Light through medallions hits a painted wall.   Huge wheel window at the opposite end of the church contains a decorative mixture of 16th century Swiss and Austrian glass fragments and heraldic pieces.

Light through medallions hits a painted wall.   Huge wheel window at the opposite end of the church contains a decorative mixture of 16th century Swiss and Austrian glass fragments and heraldic pieces.

Figures from the windows in the small north and south apses.

Figures from the windows in the small north and south apses.

In the two small apses, either side of the main one, are smaller, ancient figures beautifully arranged and restored. I love the delicate paintwork of the angel and saints (above) - the negative/positive hands in the centre and the pink/yellow combination on the right. Here you can also find saints carrying their own heads (I've found differing opinions on which saints these are) with spectacular spurts of blood from the neck.

Martyred saints carrying their own heads - 16th century Swiss or German glass

Martyred saints carrying their own heads - 16th century Swiss or German glass

A tall narrow window in the south aisle stood out because of its bright colouring, and looked vaguely familiar. The central figure of God the Father was made by Arnold of Nijmegen around 1525 as part of a huge window for the church of the Carmelite Nuns in Antwerp. Other parts of the window are in St. George's Church, Hanover Square, London. In both settings the old glass pieces have been skilfully arranged next to sections of glass from other periods and places - much like the Victorian backgrounds given to the figures and medallions in the apses. These are great example of the historical patchwork you find in many stained glass windows.

South aisle window with figure of God the Father/St. Nicholas above a German panel of the pieta.

South aisle window with figure of God the Father/St. Nicholas above a German panel of the pieta.

Nine Churches in Two Hours by Sasha Ward

A slight exaggeration as I didn't include the time it took to get there and back, one of them was locked and one had become a private house. However these churches are all close together in the vale of Pewsey in Wiltshire - the route was Manningford Bruce, North Newnton, Upavon, Rushall, Charlton St. Peter, Wilsford, Marden, Chirton and Patney. Some of them were so uninviting that you wondered why anyone would want to sit there for more than ten minutes, others had an incredible atmosphere both inside and out. 

St. Mary Upavon, locked but this is a Henry Holliday window             St. Matthew's Rushall, window and doorway

St. Mary Upavon, locked but this is a Henry Holliday window             St. Matthew's Rushall, window and doorway

My favourite of these churches is St. Matthew's, Rushall, surrounded by fields. The light was streaming in and out through mostly clear windows distorting the winter trees outside.  As soon as you see even a slightly bad figurative window (this church has a four seasons one from the 1960s) you wonder why anyone would bother to have anything other than the plainest glass. 

Pale and textured glass at Rushall

Pale and textured glass at Rushall

It's quite easy to find a nice bit of detail in most of the nine, well seven really, churches that I visited, but that doesn't amount to a good stained glass window. What does, in my opinion, is one that changes the atmosphere inside the church by altering the light using subtle pattern and colour - three examples below, all fantastic.

Manningford Bruce                              North Newnton                                        Marden

There were also some small (about 1 metre tall) windows that I thought worked in their entirety. Rather than pick out details I want to look at the whole composition and think about the people in them. The Marden window (below right) of Saints Peter and Paul was made by Jasper and Molly Kettlewell in 1958. It is amazing to find such a bold pair of figures looking so 1950ish in a tiny and lovely local church.

Wilsford                                                    Wilsford                                       Marden