Loss Discovery and Rescue: Medieval Glass from Meysey Hampton Church (Glocs.)
AN ON-LINE EXHIBITION
In September 2006, five pieces of medieval glass from the Gloucestershire Church of St Mary’s at Meysey Hampton (fig. 1) were exhibited at the award-winning Corinium Museum in Cirencester, Gloucestershire. Although small in size, the exhibition was remarkable on two counts: firstly for the historic and artistic importance of the glass on display, and secondly, because the exhibits themselves were also at the heart of an intriguing story of loss, discovery and rescue. Now, with the kind permission of the Meysey Hampton church wardens, the Director of the Museum and Cotswold District Council, Vidimus is able to bring that exhibition to a much wider audience.
The exhibits were probably removed from the church in the nineteenth century. They were subsequently stored at the rectory and in the vestry, before being handed over to a stained-glass artist in 1991 when, because of the glass’s extremely poor condition, its true significance went unrecognized (figs. 2 and 3). Following restoration, the glass came on to the art market and it was acquired by the J. P. Getty Museum in Los Angeles in 2003. David O’Connor of the University of Manchester and, until recently, the Chairman of the Council for Care of Churches Stained Glass Committee, led the campaign to return the glass to Meysey Hampton. ‘Getting this outstanding medieval glass back from the Getty is nothing short of a miracle,’ he told Vidimus. ‘I am deeply grateful to the parishioners, the Gloucestershire Diocesan Advisory Committee and, above all, to the London dealer Sam Fogg for successfully negotiating its return from the United States.’
‘The glass will remain at The Corinium Museum while the church authorities decide on its future. The aim is to return the panels to Meysey Hampton, where it should be possible to re-instate them in the east window. Having recovered their treasure, the parish needs to take every care to preserve it for the future. The medieval glass still at Meysey Hampton is noticeably more heavily corroded than the panels recovered from America. All these windows are in need of protective glazing. Now that the hardest task of recovering the glass has been accomplished, the comparatively easy task of raising the large sum of money needed for the next stage of the work can begin! I am hopeful that a wealthy benefactor will come forward to help the parish.’
St Mary’s Church was consecrated in 1269 and is thought to have been built by the Knights Templar. In the fourteenth century, the church was extended, and the chancel altered and greatly beautified. The east window in particular received special attention and was redesigned with geometrical tracery of three tiers of trefoils with a double border of ballflower ornament and a slightly ogee-shaped hood-mould on the outside (fig. 4). A fine tomb, thought to belong to a member of the de Meysey family, may be related to the patronage of these changes, which seem earlier (c.1310) than the date suggested for the commissioning of the glass (c.1340–50). Apart from the glass that appeared in the exhibition, the church still retains some of its original fourteenth-century glazing in situ, including a small figure of St Michael weighing souls (fig. 5). Although the Meysey Hampton glass is stylistically close to work in the east window at Eaton Bishop (Herefs. and Worcs, see the CVMA archive), art historian Dr Michael Michael has argued that the Meysey panels may be the work of the same artist who was responsible for the Annunciation group (fig. 6) in the Latin Chapel of what is now Oxford Cathedral, about 33 miles east of Meysey Hampton.
A hand in blessing, with the thumb and two raised fingers symbolizing the three persons of the Trinity.
Three figures from the Crucifixion. The figures of Mary, the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene dominate this scene. The faces are emotionally expressive and the drawing of the facial features and hair have been compared to manuscript illumination produced in England during the second quarter of the fourteenth century. The figure on the extreme right is a hybrid of two figures combining the blue robes of the Virgin Mary and the head of Longinus, the centurion who pierced the crucified Christ with a spear as he hung dying on the cross. According to some sources, he was subsequently miraculously cured of blindness when he touched his eye with his hand, on which there was blood from the spear – hence the finger pointing to his eye.
The Crucified Christ. While only the upper part of this figure remains, the quality of the draughtsmanship is again obvious. Particularly noticeable are the depictions of Christ’s drooping eyes and the way his straining fingers seem to clench the nails on the cross. Interestingly, the style of the canopy above the figure of Christ is replicated in the church itself, while the shape of the panel exactly matches that of openings of the east window.
The Good or Penitent Thief. According to the Gospel of St Luke, Christ was crucified alongside two malefactors, or thieves, one on his left, one on his right. After the soldiers had taunted Christ as King of the Jews, one of the thieves asked, ‘If thou be Christ, save thyself and us’, to which the other answered, ‘Doest thou not fear God … for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man hath done nothing amiss.’ Thereafter St Luke records the thief saying to Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus [saying] unto him, Verily I say unto thee, to day shalt thou be with me in paradise.’ Dr Michael has compared the drawing style of this glass to illustrations in a number of East Anglian manuscripts of the same period, including The Gorleston Psalter (BL, Add. MS 49622), a masterpiece of early fourteenth-century book illumination made for a patron connected with the church of St Andrew in this north-east Suffolk village, possibly John, 8th Earl of Warenne (1286–1347).
Composite panel depicting St Mathias. This panel has been made up by a restorer out of various figure, canopy and border pieces. The inscription at the bottom, ‘S: MATHIAS:’, may come from a series of the twelve Apostles once in the church. The figure is shown facing to the viewer’s left, holding a book in his right hand and what is probably a palm or a quill in his left hand.
We are indebted to Dr Michael Michael and David O’Connor for their help with this feature. All the images are © The Corinium Museum, Cirencester, and are reproduced with the kind permission of the church wardens of St Mary’s, Meysey Hampton.
For information about The Corinium Museum visit the Cotswold District Council website.
Further Reading Michael Michael, Images in Light: Stained Glass 1200 – 1550, Sam Fogg, London, 2002; Arcadia Fletcher (with an introduction by Michael Michael), Medieval and Renaissance Stained Glass 1200 – 1550, Sam Fogg, London, 2004; S. Pitcher, ‘Ancient Stained Glass in Gloucestershire Churches’, Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, 47, (1925), pp. 287–345; David Verey and Alan Brooks, Gloucestershire: Cotswolds Pt 1 (Pevsner Buildings of England), Harmondsworth, 1999.
Discovering Irish Glass
Despite its importance in the history of Early Christian art, Ireland retains not a single panel of medieval stained glass in situ. Scarcity of evidence has inevitably hampered the study of painted glass in the country. Recently however, using a combination of historical sources and archaeological discoveries and reconstruction, some important preliminary conclusions about pre-Reformation glazing in Ireland have been published in a new volume about Irish art in the Middle Ages: Art and Devotion in Late Medieval Ireland. The author of the chapter on stained glass, archaeologist Jo Moran, spoke to Vidimus about some of her findings and the need for continuing research.
‘Ireland was originally well stocked with medieval glass. Documents from the thirteenth century onwards record the use of painted glass in cathedrals such as St Patrick’s, Armagh, and in numerous parish churches. Among records of local patronage, for example, it is recorded that the Mayor of Galway “put up all the painted glass in the Church of St Nicholas” in 1493. At the time of the Dissolution, glass was also listed among the assets of monasteries, including a Dominican friary in Dublin, Franciscan houses in Kildare and Castledermot, and the Cistercian monastery at Inishlounaght, Co. Tipperary.
‘Similarly, documentary records show that glaziers, possibly of English abstraction, were resident in Dublin from at least 1258. There is also a suggestion of craftsmen moving in the other direction. In 1352, for example, a ‘Johannes de Irland, verreour’ was made a freeman of York. Although no evidence of workshops has yet been excavated, there are some tantalising hints of an indigenous craft. In February 1490, a shipment of coloured glass was part of a mixed cargo of goods sent to Limerick and Galway by a consortium of three merchants from La Rochelle and two from Dieppe.
‘Archaeological evidence has also thrown useful light on the scale and type of medieval glazing in Ireland. Fragments of plain, grisaille and coloured glass, from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries, have been recovered from a number of sites, primarily monastic. Although we cannot be sure whether it was painted in Ireland or imported from England, documentary sources suggest that at least some of this work was of extremely high standard. In 1648, for example, Giovanni Battista Rinuccini, who held both the post of nuncio to the Confederate Catholics of Ireland and the archbishopric of Fermo in Italy, offered the then-huge sum of £700 to buy the stained glass of St Canice’s Cathedral in Kilkenny and ship it to Rome. Similarities between the excavated grisaille patterns found at Kells Augustinian priory (Co. Kilkenny) and St Saviour’s Dominican priory (Limerick), and contemporary designs in English cathedrals, Lincoln and Salisbury in particular, raise in turn interesting questions about sources, design and the dissemination of ideas between the two countries. The study of medieval stained glass in Ireland hasn’t just been circumscribed by the lack of original glass in situ. Even when hoards of fragments have been excavated, such finds have been notable for two important omissions: a paucity of coloured glass and the absence of lead cames, the latter almost certainly having been stripped and melted down when the glass was smashed. We do not know why so little coloured glass has been found; one possibility is that it was used sparingly, another is that it was removed from the site for safekeeping or re-use elsewhere.
‘Little is known about figurative glass in Ireland, but there was some. Although we cannot be sure whether it was painted in Ireland or imported from England, documentary sources suggest that at least some of this work was of extremely high standard. The glass that Rinuccini offered to but appears to have shared the same iconographical traditions as elsewhere in western Christendom. Scenes of Christ’s life, Passion, Resurrection and Ascension filled the east window. The date of this glass is not, unfortunately, known. It was destroyed by Cromwell’s soldiers.
‘Some Irish churches do contain medieval glass, though imported from the continent. Panels incorporated into a nineteenth-century window at St Mark’s Church, Newtonards (Co. Down), are said to be from the Dominican priory in the town, though their similarity to continental glass bought by the wealthy Londonderry family and installed in a chapel at their home, Mount Stewart, has also been noticed. More recent imports of Netherlandish and other medieval and enamel-painted glass can be seen in public collections, especially at Bunratty Castle (Co. Clare), home of the Gort Collection (figs 1 and 2). There is a small group of English medieval panels in the Hunt Museum, Limerick.
‘The study of Irish medieval glazing is in its infancy. There is still much more to do, and new information is always welcome. Fruitful areas for further research, both documentary and archaeological, include where the glass was made, relationships between English and Irish glaziers, and the role of donors.’
A full version of Jo Moran’s study appears in the recently published volume, available from booksellers and on line from Amazon books. The volume also includes chapters on medeival devotional practice, image and meaning in Irish wall painting, and the art and cult of the Virgin.