A Little Bit of Paris in Ramsgate
Vidimus reader Robin Fleet reveals an unexpected medieval treasure in a British seaside town.
The Sainte-Chapelle was built in the mid-1240s by King Louis IX of France, within his palace situated on the Île de la Cité, in the heart of Paris. It was designed to house relics bought at a great price by Louis, including Christ’s Crown of Thorns and a piece of the True Cross, from the Latin Emperor in Constantinople. After the French Revolution, the Sainte-Chapelle fell into disuse as a place of worship, and was used to house the state archives. At this time much of the glass was removed, in order to allow more light into the building. In 1837, a programme of restoration was inaugurated by Viollet-le-Duc, Félix Duban and others, resulting in the magnificent appearance of the building as it can be seen today. About two-thirds of the original glass survives.
The architect Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin claimed French descent through his father (who maintained that he was of noble blood) and had an on-going relationship with the Sainte-Chapelle. In 1829, then aged sixteen, he had been in Paris helping his father with illustrations of city buildings, including the Sainte-Chapelle. In 1844, he returned to view the restoration work of Félix Duban, with which he was enormously impressed, at a time when the Gothic Revival was well under way on both sides of the Channel. Finally in 1846, he decided to visit the workshop of Henri Gérente, who had been commissioned to restore and replace the old glass. Sadly, after an initial meeting, Gerente died of cholera before any further contact could take place. However, on a visit to France in 1849, Pugin was able to buy various fragments of old glass. It may well have been then that he acquired the small panels he installed in the new Roman Catholic church of St Augustine that he was building in Ramsgate, adjacent to his home there, the Grange.
The panels were installed in the stone staircase leading up from the Old Sacristy to a large, undesignated room, which houses Pugin’s interesting collection of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century monochrome roundels. The Sainte-Chapelle panels consist of diamond-shaped quarries, alternately in blue and gold. The blue quarries are slightly larger than the gold, which necessitated some trimming at the corners of the gold quarries; on the gold sections one can clearly make out a fleur-de-lis design, painted in black. Several windows in the chapel still have a background of alternating blue and gold quarries. They evoke the French royal arms, of golden lilies on a blue ground, Azure semée-de-lis or. These can be seen, for example, in the east window at Selling Church, Kent, dating from about 1308, where they stand for Queen Margaret, second wife of Edward I; Margaret was the grand-daughter of Louis IX, who had constructed the Sainte-Chapelle.
Both the Ramsgate panels are surrounded by an opaque white fillet, possibly inserted by Pugin to make the panels fit into the slightly larger windows. Below, slightly obscured by some heavy ironwork, and painted on the glass in capitals, possibly by Pugin himself, is the following inscription running across both panels: ‘This glass was formerly in the Sainte Chapelle Paris / built by St Louis King of France’. This is followed by a heavily obscured and slightly damaged date, probably AD M (CCX)LVIII. A date of 1248 would tie up with the completion of the Sainte Chapelle.
Photographs by Taeko Fleet
On Augustus Pugin
P. Atterbury and C. Wainwright (eds), Pugin: A Gothic Passion, London, 1994
P. Atterbury (ed.), A. W. N. Pugin: Master of Gothic Revival, Yale, 1996
R. Hill, God’s Architect: Pugin and the Building of Romantic Britain, London, 2007
On the Sainte-Chapelle
Louis Grodecki, Marcel Aubert, Jean Lafond and Jean Verrier, Les Vitraux de Notre-Dame et de la Sainte-Chapelle de Paris, CVMA France, I, Paris, 1959
Alyce A. Jordan, ‘Rationalizing the Narrative: Theory and Practice in the Nineteenth-Century Restoration of the Windows of the Sainte-Chapelle’, in Michael Cothren and Mary Shepard (eds), Essays on Stained Glass in Memory of Jane Hayward (1918–1994), (Gesta, xxxvii/2, 1998), pp. 192–200
Alyce A. Jordan, Visualizing Kingship in the Windows of the Sainte-Chapelle, Brepolis, 2002
An official sixty-four page illustrated softback guide to the Sainte-Chapelle (in English and other languages) is available, price €7 plus postage, from France’s Centre des Monuments Nationaux.
Some Twelfth-century Glass Rediscovered at York Minster
David Reid reports.
A fascinating corpus of early medieval glass has recently been ‘rediscovered’ in the nave clerestory and chapter house vestibule tracery at York Minster. It forms the oldest substantial body of medieval painted glass in England, and is probably among the oldest surviving anywhere.
The glass seems to have come originally, at least mainly, from the Norman minster of Thomas of Bayeux, not from the rebuilt choir of Archbishop Roger of Pont l’Évêque (1154–1181) as has erroneously been supposed by many people for much of the twentieth century; it is possible however that some came from Roger’s work elsewhere. The glass was re-used when the chapter house vestibule was built and the nave rebuilt in the late thirteenth/early fourteenth centuries and comprises three or four essentially distinct bodies of material.
- a set of narrative panels re-used and mixed with new fourteenth-century material in a band window scheme in the fourth register of the nave clerestory main lights (Fig. 1)
- pieces of broad decorative borders and corner in-fills, together with further fragmentary narrative scenes glazed into the nave clerestory tracery oculi in quatrefoil, trefoil, rectangular and triangular panels; this seems to have been done to fill the spaces quickly and cheaply (Fig. 2)
- more artistically considered work in the chapter house vestibule tracery, where particular pieces were extracted from the source material and glazed into patterns designed for the tracery openings
- clear glass in the nave clerestory main lights bearing grisaille patterns that were part of the fourteenth-century scheme, but do not seem to have any stylistic parallels from that period and may also originate in twelfth-century designs
The second of these groups was removed in 1971/72 as part of a more extensive restoration programme for the nave clerestory glass, in part it seems for the aesthetic reason of wanting to increase the amount of light on the nave ceiling. The glass was recognized as important and deserving of a more accessible position. Records of the time indicate that it was intended that it should be removed ‘for a use still to be decided’. Unfortunately, no decision was ever made, and after some very partial documentation (that was never published) had been undertaken, the material went into store and was forgotten.
The glass has now been rediscovered and digitally photographed, and is in the course of being catalogued as part of a larger project investigating the twelfth-century York Minster glass as a whole. The bad news, however, is that time has taken a heavy toll, and much of the glass is in poor condition (Fig. 3), especially that from the south side. Many of the larger, more fragile, quatrefoil panels are now in pieces with parts lost. When in situ the glass also suffered from a major fire in 1840 that destroyed the nave roof and part of the south aisle roof; the restoration that followed was often harsh, using poor-quality and opaque Victorian glass.
Despite all this, the glass is starting to yield a few of its secrets. The range of border and corner types, carefully illustrated by Browne (1847), can be confirmed and extended somewhat, and there are some fragmentary narrative passages that, even if identification proves elusive, may still contribute to what is currently a very limited body of twelfth-century examples for stylistic comparison. It has also been possible to demonstrate that Browne’s illustration of a seated bishop was somewhat embroidered in respect of the supposed inscription and architectural superstructure, so there is no basis to identify this figure as St Richarius, as has appeared in most of the twentieth-century descriptions of the York glass. Nor does it seem probable, as was also suggested by Benson (1915), that this was an early forerunner of the canopied figure type in glass, though the bishop saint may have been set in a niche.
It is hoped that this rediscovered material will provide insights into the glazing and architecture of the Norman minster, and perhaps of the period more generally. Unlike the chapter house vestibule glass, which was deconstructed when reset in the early fourteenth century, the nave clerestory material was used in original sections, and it appears to have been subject to less intervention in the subsequent 700 years than the more accessible narrative panels. In places we can see how corners, medallion frames and narrative fitted together (Fig. 4), which in turn allow estimates of window width to be made.
G. Benson, The Ancient Painted Glass Windows in the Minster and Churches of the City of York, Annual Report of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society, York, 1915
J. Browne, The History of the Metropolitan Church of St Peter, York, 2 vols, London, 1847