angels

From Glass to Needlework by Sasha Ward

Window of the risen Christ and detail showing the little gold head, John Hayward, 1968.

Window of the risen Christ and detail showing the little gold head, John Hayward, 1968.

There’s lots of good twentieth century stained glass in the Church of St Mary and St Bartholomew, Hampton in Arden in the West Midlands. The window shown here is by John Hayward - with the unmistakable figures in profile, some hidden in backgrounds made of crisscross lines on blocks of colour. As usual, I prefer the details and the minor characters, for example the little gold head under Christ’s arm, to the overall composition. But the window looks great in its setting (below) with a wonderful bit of coordinated interior decor (how un church like!) in the embroidered cushions on the long bench leading up to the window.

View of the church interior, looking east from the entrance door, showing long bench on the south wall.

View of the church interior, looking east from the entrance door, showing long bench on the south wall.

There is an impressive information booklet that goes with the needlework, such as you never get for a stained glass window. Not only subject matter - “it depicts the risen Christ, holding aloft the flag, with his angels going out to bring the light of the resurrection to the souls of the departed” - but also details on the design and manufacture, with acknowledgements not only to the donors but also to the frame maker, design tracer, upholsterer and suppliers of the materials (John Cordwell, Robin Watkin, Parkes of Earlsdon and stitches of Solihull). The village needlewomen tell us they made a panel each and the project lasted from 2002-5 (!!!). They write “We were once again privileged to have the inspiration of the Reverend John de Wit, our priest in charge 1994 - 2004, for the design. It was decided that this should link with the window and thus bring the while concept into the body of the church….. One of the challenges has been to maintain the continuity of the designs because they flow from one panel to another and this had to be so exact for the joining of the sections” The concept and the linear version of the design works really well, although inevitably the bench was covered with leaflets and boxes when I was there.

Glass angel by John Hayward, needlepoint angel by Janet Hardcastle

Glass angel by John Hayward, needlepoint angel by Janet Hardcastle

It is interesting to compare the stained glass angels to the needlepoint ones, the hand positions show you which is which. More from the booklet “The canvas on which we worked uses ten stitches to the inch, which made the depiction of the details very taxing. For instance, one stitch in the face of an angel can make a huge difference to the expression!”

Needlepoint angels by Marjorie Iles and Janet Griffiths

Needlepoint angels by Marjorie Iles and Janet Griffiths

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

Cirencester Angels by Sasha Ward

I don't know much about angelology and there's so much to learn. I've been visiting and taking photographs of the windows in Cirencester Parish Church; in many of the top lights there are yellow stained glass angels from various periods which are interesting to compare.

Trinity Chapel - two of four windows                                          Click on any of these pictures to enlarge.

In my opinion, the medieval angels are easily the best and I have read that the glass in Cirencester once rivalled the famous early sixteenth century windows of nearby Fairford. Two different  guides told me with great relish that most of the medieval windows here were deliberately broken by the "women of Cirencester" as they tried to get supplies to the soldiers holed up inside the church during the Civil War. 

The most fantastic angels are the seraphim with peacock feather wings, below right, all the better in my eyes for the breaks and random insertions. They are also the favourite of W.T. Beeby writing for The Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society in 1916.

"Their wings, six in number, cover the greater portion of their body, and are wonderfully feathered, with many eyes as of peacock's feathers, and the yellow stain used in the designs is very clear and brilliant. Mr. James Powell, of Whitefriars, than whom there could have been no better judge, thought the colouring of these seraphim as beautiful as any he had seen. They furnish an excellent instance of the brilliance and vivacity of good fifteenth century glass".

Trinity Chapel - details of medieval angels                                 Lady Chapel - Seraphim with peacock feather wings 

North aisle, west window - Victorian glass by Hardman                                                      Details

South window - Victorian glass by Hardman                                                                                                     Detail

The yellow angels theme was continued in the top tracery lights in a number of Hardman windows, two examples are shown above. These angels standing on wheels puts them in the third ranking Order of Angels, two ranks below the seraphim. 

The guides in the church, the same ones who slandered the women of Cirencester, have all told me that the Hugh Easton window (below) is their favourite. Surely it's not because of these military yellow angels with the boring clear backgrounds, maybe it's the rest of the window which I haven't shown because the point of this piece is to look up at the intricate shapes in the tracery and marvel at the ingenious ways that angels have been fitted in to them.

South aisle, west window - Hugh Easton 1937-8                                                                          Details