Sarah Losh

Wreay Church, Cumbria by Sasha Ward

I was amazed at some photos of stained glass in Jenny Uglow's book "The Pinecone" which tells the story of Sarah Losh, "forgotten Romantic heroine - antiquarian, architect and visionary". The church she built and decorated in the 1840s is St. Mary's, Wreay, five miles south of Carlisle, a trip worth taking if you want to see something original. It's a small Romanesque building covered inside and out with carvings in stone, wood and alabaster and filled with stained glass all using as subject matter forms from the natural world.

The stained glass that struck me on the pages of the book were examples from a series of windows where the usual type of patchwork/mosaic painted and coloured fragments are combined with circular flower head motifs. I love the way the two styles are shoved together and the way that the bold, irregular flower heads fit into the arched windows high up in the walls on every side of the building. They look so incredibly "modern".

Red, white and blue - three of the small arched windows taken from different parts of the church.

The larger windows in the church, although very beautiful too, are of the standard patchwork type. They were an early commission for William Wailes of Newcastle, whereas the clerestory windows were made by a local firm, Geoffrey Rowell of Carlisle. Even more unusual are the windows that alternate with the clerestory flower heads, impossible to work out how they were made until you look at them from the outside. The solid is carved alabaster, the colour is a collage of glass fragments - like black card with tissue paper. 

South west corner, group of three windows from the inside and the outside.

South side, group of three windows from the inside and the outside.

Looking west, 3 patchwork style windows and above alternating glass & alabaster windows following the gable line. View from inside and outside, note the carving of pine cones and animals around the larger window.

Looking east, towards the alter.

On the east wall of the nave, above, you can see some of the incredible carvings that Sarah designed and commissioned. The pulpit (bottom right in photo) of a stump and palm tree from bog oak, is particularly great as is the row of angels and trees above the arch. Some of the alabaster, for example the lotus flower candlesticks on the alter, was carved by Sarah herself, the other carvings were done by local crafts people. 

The apse is really beautiful, with orange painted walls and globes of amber glass set into niches. My favourite section, shown below, combines a curved painted wall with pierced alabaster windows depicting fossils found in Cumbrian coal mines. It's a wonderful combination of complex wall drawing with a simple pattern of light and shadow in elegant elongated arches around the top of the semi circle and under a lovely wooden ceiling.