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Millions Invested to Save York Minister’s Glass

Fig. 1. York Minster, the Great East Window.

Fig. 1. York Minster, the Great East Window.

The Dean and Chapter of York Minster have announced ‘York Minster Revealed’ a £19-million plan to restore the Great East Window, together with schemes to improve access to the building and recruit the next generation of glaziers and stone carvers. One of the goals is to develop a nationally recognized qualification in stained-glass conservation.

The Great East Window was created between 1405 and 1408 by the master glazier John Thornton of Coventry (figs 1 and 2). It will be taken down and prepared for safe storage until the fragile stonework of its frame and the surrounding walls is repaired. The glass will then be conserved by experts from the York Glaziers Trust. As part of the process, the Glaziers Trust will recruit two new apprentices, which it hopes will help to preserve vital skills.

Fig. 2. York Minster, the Great East Window, detail of 1f.

Fig. 2. York Minster, the Great East Window, detail of 1f.

Fig. 3. Thomas French’s volume on the Great East Window of York Minster.

Fig. 3. Thomas French’s volume on the Great East Window of York Minster.

For further information, visit York Minster’s website. The CVMA (GB)’s Picture Archive of the contains more than 1700 images of stained glass from York Minster and offers rich rewards for the browser. Essential reading is the CVMA (GB)’s volume on the Great East Window (fig. 3), which can be purchased via the Publications pages of the CVMA (GB)’s website.

English Loans to Cologne Exhibition

20 panels of sixteenth-century German glass from St Mary’s church in Shrewsbury are among British loans to the ‘Masterpieces of the Renaissance’ exhibition due to run from 3 May until 29 July 2007 in Cologne’s Schnütgen Museum. The other major lender is London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, which is lending 68 panels.

Fig. 4. The Cologne Cathedral team at work.

Fig. 4. The Cologne Cathedral team at work.

Last month, Vidimus went to Shrewsbury to see the glass being removed from the famous church by a team of craftsmen from Germany working under the supervision of Michael Schueren from the Cologne Cathedral’s glass conservation workshop. Alfred Fisher, glazing consultant to The Churches Conservation Trust, which has cared for the church since it was declared redundant in 1987, was also on hand to check the condition of every panel before it was packed for the three-hundred mile trip to Germany.

Although this was not the first time that some of the glass has been lent abroad – it featured in an exhibition devoted to the life of St Bernard in Paris in 1990/91 – the removal process was slow and painstaking work. For four days, all that could be heard in the church was the ‘chip and hush’, as a glazier carefully cut away the mortar that held the ferramenta in place, and Michael Schueren checked the effect after every blow. After each panel was safely removed and carefully packed, polycarbonate facsimiles were inserted into the empty windows (fig. 4). As part of the loan contract, the glass will be repaired and cleaned by the Cathedral workshop during its seven month absence in Germany.

Fig. 5. Detail of a panel before packing.

Fig. 5. Detail of a panel before packing.

The panel shown here being packed for transport (fig. 5) depicts St Bernard being rebuked by Abbot Harding because of an omission in his prayers. It tells how one day during his novitiate, Bernard forgot to say the seven penitential psalms for the soul of his mother. Our photograph shows him kneeling before an altar with a scroll bearing: ‘Domine, ne in furore tuo’ (‘Lord, in your anger, do not …’). On the left he sits disconsolately with a fellow monk whose words are inscribed on a scroll: ‘Bernarde, Bernade, ad quid venisti’ (‘Bernard, Bernard, what have you come to?’). On the right (not visible in photograph), the abbot stands with Bernard kneeling at his feet, astonished that the abbot knew of his omission, with the scroll: ‘Frater Bernarde, ubinam quaeso illos psalmos tuos hesterna die dimisisti. Aut cui eos commendasti?’ (‘Brother Bernard, where did you abandon your psalms yesterday, or to whom did you commend them?’). Bernard’s reply is: ‘Domine Deus, quomodo palam factum est verbum istud, de quo mihi soli conscius eram?’ (‘My lord God, how have the words of which only I had knowledge become public?’) At the bottom the story is told in Latin. The texts are based on William of Thierry’s Exordium Magnum and Herbert’s Liber de Miraculis.

A major catalogue of the glass by Dr Dagmar Täube will accompany the exhibition, which will see a substantial number of panels ‘reunited’ for the first time since they were sold and dispersed in the early nineteenth century following the Napoleonic occupation of the Rhineland and the subsequent secularization of the monasteries. While some panels were bought by German collectors, many others were exported to England, where they acquired by wealthy collectors for the decoration of private houses and local churches. Eighteen of the Shrewsbury panels were part of an extensive scheme formerly in the cloister of the Cistercian abbey at Altenburg. They illustrate stories from the life of St Bernard and his posthumous miracles. The remaining two loan panels were made for a similar early sixteenth-century cloister scheme at the nunnery of St Apern, associated with Altenburg.

Both sets of panels were bought for St Mary’s in 1845 by the then vicar, the Revd William Gorusch Rowland, a keen enthusiast of medieval glass who had had previously overseen the installation of a magnificent fourteenth century Jesse window in the church from nearby St Chad’s, and helped to arrange continental glass from Herckenrode Abbey (near Hasselt, Belgium) in Lichfield Cathedral between 1803 and 1804. Rowland had seen the Cologne panels in a London dealer’s shop in 1824 when the asking price was £900. Twenty years later, when they were still unsold, he bought it for £425.

Speaking on behalf of The Churches Conservation Trust, Catherine Jones, Conservation Manager for the North-west and West Midlands Regions, said: ‘We are the only English church to be represented in the exhibition and it’s a real honour.’ The Trust is holding an important event in Shrewsbury on 16 May to coincide with the loan of the glass (see below). The Churches Conservation Trust has produced an excellent guide to the church by Peter Williams; details may be found on the Books & Website page of this issue. The CVMA (GB) Picture Archive contains several images of the Cologne panels and other superb glass from St Mary’s.

The Historic Churches Trust cares for over 330 redundant churches, mostly Grade I or Grade II* buildings of national architectural importance. For more information about TCCT, visit their website. In the next issue of Vidimus: ‘Chastity in Somerset’ – the panel that stayed behind.

Thanks are due to Constance Barrett, John McVerry and Catherine Jones from the TCCT, Alfred Fisher, Peter Williams, and David J. King for their help with this article.

Further Reading

Peter Williams, The Church of St Mary the Virgin, Shrewsbury, 2000

Jane Hayward, ‘Glazed Cloisters and their Development in the Houses of the Cistercian Order,’ Gesta, xxii, 1973, pp 93–109

J. Eric Hunt, The Glass in St Mary’s Church, Shrewsbury, Shrewsbury, 1951 (and later editions)

David J. King, catalogue entries 229–50 in L. Pressouyre and T. N. Kinder (eds), Saint Bernard et le monde Cistercien, Paris, 1992, pp. 291–99

Lecture in Shrewsbury by Paul Williamson

Fig. 6. Flyer for the lecture in Shrewsbury.

Fig. 6. Flyer for the lecture in Shrewsbury.

To coincide with the loan of the Shrewsbury glass, The Churches Conservation Trust is holding its annual lecture at St Mary’s on 16 May 2007. The guest speaker will be Dr Paul Williamson from the Victoria & Albert Museum, who will be speaking on ‘The Collecting of Medieval and Renaissance Stained Glass in England’. For more information, visit The Churches Conservation Trust’s website.

CVMA (GB) Website and Database Updates

Regular visitors to the CVMA (GB) website will have noticed that the website has been considerably updated recently (fig. 7). Recent changes in personnel are detailed on the ‘About Us’ page, including the appointment of Dr Tim Ayers of York University as Project Director and of Heather Gilderdale Scott as Secretary to the Committee. The pages giving information on the CVMA’s print publications have also been revised considerably. Some volumes have been so popular that they are now out of print, so visitors to the site are encouraged to acquire any volumes they are interested in before they become available only through second-hand book dealers. There is now also a new page with a stained-glass glossary, and an access point to our digital bibliographies established; the first on-line bibliography – on conservation – will be available soon

Importantly, the Publications pages now give access to our forthcoming digital publication facility. Work is due to begin this year on making CVMA site catalogues available – sites from Cheshire, Lancashire and Norfolk will be among the first to be treated. Anyone with internet access will be able to view material that will also appear in the CVMA’s printed volumes. All images will of course appear in full colour.

Fig. 7. The home page of the updated CVMA (GB) website.

Fig. 7. The home page of the updated CVMA (GB) website.

The number of images in our database has been expanded greatly over the last year, making the Picture Archive an even richer resource. Thanks are due to Friederike Hammer for her patient work on this. Important additions are York, St Martin-le-Grand, Coney Street; York, Holy Trinity Goodramgate (east window); Brocklesby and Heydour, Lincolnshire; Cockayne Hatley and Edworth, Bedfordshire; Stoneleigh Abbey, Warwickshire; and Molash, Kent (with interesting glass in nV and nVI).

New National Trust Advisor

Steve Clare of Holy Well Glass, Wells (Somerset) has been appointed Stained Glass Advisor to the National Trust. He succeeds Alfred Fisher, who has retired. Steve trained at the Carl Edward’s Studio in Fulham, London, before joining Alfred Fisher at Chapel Studios. He set up his own business – Holy Well Glass – about twelve years ago, since when commissions have included the repair and conservation of important medieval glass at St Kew (Cornwall) and Norbury (Derbyshire).

Fig. 8. Heraldic glass from Lytes Cary Manor House, Somerset.

Fig. 8. Heraldic glass from Lytes Cary Manor House, Somerset.

The National Trust cares for a wide portfolio of stained glass. Its collection includes fifteenth-century heraldic glass at Lytes Cary (Somerset, fig. 8, and Cotehele (Cornwall)). The Chapel at The Vyne, Basingstoke, Hampshire, contains superb Renaissance glass which rivals that commissioned by Henry VIII for King’s College Chapel, Cambridge.

Steve has also recently been appointed Stained Glass Advisor to St George’s Chapel, Windsor.

York Study Weekend

Places are still available for The Stained Glass Museum’s Study Weekend in York, 11–13 May. Plans include visits to York Minister, where the newly restored St William window of c.1415 will be examined, and a trip to a glazier’s workshop


For more details visit the Stained Glass Museum’s website.

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