Victorian stained glass

Victorian Medieval by Sasha Ward

Rosalind Grimshaw window in Urchfont church, 2000.

I visited St. Michael and All Angels church in Urchfont because my excellent guidebook from Wiltshire Historic Churches Trust mentioned a millennium window there by Rosalind Grimshaw. It's a small window but really expressive with good colour and glass. The whole church is lovely and its stained glass rich and varied. The patterned windows on the south side look great from both inside and out - with columns of big satisfying circles - until you think what wonderful medieval glass might have been there originally.

Victorian patterned windows on the south side

This set us thinking about how to answer the question (of the frequently asked variety), why is medieval stained glass the best? It's too dangerous to mention the quality of the glass itself, because that leads people to believe the myth that you can't get good glass anymore, although when you look at the angel detail from the large south window you can see how harsh and brittle looking the coloured glass is in these particular Victorian windows. 

Angel details from south window

Victorian angels in the chancel

Moving down into the chancel, the angels at the tops of the windows become more interesting, and older. The pair on either side of the altar (below), six winged seraphim holding crowns, are beautiful - with a captivating expression that is so obviously medieval. 

Seraphim in the chancel

The information in the church describes, as usual, the stained glass as either "medieval", "victorian" or "modern", with the sub group of "imitation medieval" for the beautifully coloured patterned windows underneath the seraphim (below right). This convention of copying the medieval window style is the reason why they could never be as good as the originals. Those seraphim were made by people who believed in the work they were doing. The sincerity comes across in the expression of the figures, while the style and workmanship of the windows perfectly compliments the medieval building for which they were made.

Face of the seraph: window on north side of chancel - chancel built around 1340

Click on any of the photos to enlarge them

ST Mary's Church, Cheltenham by Sasha Ward

I've learnt not to ask about the stained glass when visiting churches as the information I want (who made it? when?) is rarely there. I am usually told that it's only Victorian and then given stories about the iconography. However in the oldest building in Cheltenham, St Mary's Church, there are two guide books which in combination tell you almost everything you need to know. One takes you around the church with pictures, plans and bible references, while the other (not to be taken away) gives you historical information.

The Rose Window, William Wailes glass 1879         Detail from the Central West Window, Heaton, Butler & Bayne 1885

The Rose Window, William Wailes glass 1879         Detail from the Central West Window, Heaton, Butler & Bayne 1885

The beauty of The Rose Window (above left) is in the fourteenth century tracery, slightly angled and very low in the wall  - east facing in the north transept. All of the windows on this level are filled with stained glass from the late nineteenth century.  Here are photographs of some of my favourite details: the H,B&B radiating star (above right), The Parable of the Talents (below left), foliage done in a completely different way by Clayton & Bell in the window of St. Peter (below right) where I also love the painted ship and the pale landscape colours.

South Aisle, Bell & Son 1877                                                      The Chancel, Clayton & Bell 1879

South Aisle, Bell & Son 1877                                                      The Chancel, Clayton & Bell 1879

I'm not able to guess which firm made the North Transept window (information missing from the book) whose apostles showed up well in the afternoon sunlight (below). The L,B&W Last Supper Window also looks particularly good in the fine ancient tracery and is full of the sort of details that people love to point out. This from the guide book: 'Can you see the disciple with the brown halo in the far right panel? This is probably Judas Iscariot..." 

Top : Matthew, Mark, Luke & John from The North Transept Window.  Below : The Last Supper Window, Lavers, Barraud & Westlake 1880   

Top : Matthew, Mark, Luke & John from The North Transept Window.  Below : The Last Supper Window, Lavers, Barraud & Westlake 1880