Stained Glass, Laudians and Puritans: The Case of Peterhouse College Chapel, Cambridge
This issue’s panel of the month article looks at the design and context of the east window of Peterhouse College Chapel, Cambridge, a rare survival from the Chapel’s original 17th-century glazing scheme. The story of its installation as part of the Laudian Revival, and its removal soon after for safekeeping during the attacks of Puritan Iconoclasts in the 1640s, provides an insight into the place of stained glass during the tumultuous religious times of the 17th century.
Peterhouse’s east window depicts a scene of Christ’s Crucifixion – the moment that a Roman solider on horseback, pierced Jesus’ body with a spear bringing a sudden flow of blood and water (John 19:34). The design is taken from a painting by Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) entitled Le Coup de Lance (Christ on the Cross) commissioned by magistrate and several times Mayor of Antwerp, Nicolaas Rockox, in 1620 and given to the Franciscans. The panel painting was placed above the high altar of the Minorities in Antwerp and is now in the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerp (the digital image is available in the the Koninklijk Museum collection . Rubens was a highly acclaimed and widely praised artist whose work was disseminated through engravings and woodcuts. After obtaining legal authority to copyright in 1619 Rubens controlled graphic reproduction of his art by hiring printmakers and authorizing accurate copies of his work to be made by them. His designs were transported internationally through the print medium and influenced artists working in several different media. Several of Rubens’ sketches, prepared for engravers, survive in the collections of the British Museum and National Gallery of England (a digital image of the sketch of Le Coup de Lance, is available in the British Museum Collection Highlights webpages).
At Peterhouse College Chapel, Rubens’ Le Coup de Lance was successfully translated into the medium of stained glass; the composition stretched out across the mullions to fill the five main lights of the perpendicular window. The glazier prepared his cartoons directly from Rubens’ design; figures such as the central figure of Christ on the cross and the crucified prisoners on either side, the soldier on horseback to the right and the two Mary figures to the left have entirely the same outline, gestures and modelling as those in Rubens’ painting. [Figs. 1 and 2] The glazier has strengthened the composition in glass by adding another figure on horseback to the left of Christ to create stronger symmetry. The main compositional elements of Rubens’ design, namely the three crosses, ladder and the soldier’s horse, remain but have been pushed out to the latitudinal extremes of the window frame to spread the scene across the five window openings. The most striking departure from Rubens’ painting is the array of enamel colours used in the window –blues dominate the colour palette making the pale figures hung on crosses stand out against the deep blue sky. Billowing dark and heavy clouds in strong curvilinear forms have been heavily painted onto the pieces of blue glass to give them depth. Other colours used in the window are ruby, yellow, lilac, murrey and green as well as sanguine to create flesh tones. The original lead lines (many seen today are recent mending leads) reinforced the outlines of figures, except for the sky, which is formed of several rectangular pieces of glass painted and leaded together in the Renaissance fashion. Above the main lights are three rows of tracery. Along the lower row are eight Old Testament figures flanked by trumpeting angels. The middle row contains six saints, with Peter and John the Baptist in the centre, again flanked by angels at each end. The upper row of tracery lights are filled with angels. [Fig. 3]
The Chapel Building
Peterhouse College Chapel was built whilst Matthew Wren (1585–1667) was College Master, 1625–1634. The students and fellows of Peterhouse did not have their own chapel prior to this, and worshipped in the nearby church of St Mary the Less. In order to fund the new chapel Wren appealed to Friends of the Colleges, past members and personal acquaintances. An astonishing £2,365 was collected, although the actual cost of building exceeded this amount (£2,484). The seven chapel windows were glazed in 1632 ‘Ornatus fenestrarum sacris histories depingendae’ and cost £118 (Willis and Clark, 1988: 41). The work began in 1628 and the Chapel was finished in time for its dedication on 17 March 1632. The Chapel incorporates Renaissance details into a fundamentally gothic building; the pedimented eastern front is an entirely Baroque form which abuts onto the gothic frame. This architectural style was praised by Pugin in Apology for the Revival of Christian Architecture in England (1843); he believed ‘many of the old principles (of gothic architecture) were retained’.
High Church practices and penalties
The style of the building has often been termed ‘Laudian Gothic’, named after William Laud (1573–1645) Archbishop of Canterbury from 1633–1645, who promoted the importance of liturgy and the sacraments, and resisted Puritan reforms. The Chapel and its fabric reflected the religious and political beliefs of the Master and many members of the College, well-known supporters of Laud. Master Wren was hated by the Puritans and several articles of impeachment were drafted against him. Twice he was committed to the Tower of London by the Parliamentarians, one time being retained for more than seventeen years. Despite this he enjoyed continued promotion after his Mastership at Peterhouse, eventually becoming Bishop of Hereford.
John Cosin (1594–1672) succeeded Wren to the post of Master, serving 1634–44, and 1660. Cosin also supported Laud and gave free rein to ceremonial proclivities within the College, as recorded by T. A. Walker in his College Histories:
…the Master, Fellowes, and Schollers of that House, at their entering into and going out of the Chappell, made a low obeisance to the Altar, being enjoyned by Doctor Cosens under a penalty (as they reported) to doe it; and none of them might turne their backs towards the Altar going in nor out of the Chappell. (Walker, 1906, 104–105)
Peterhouse’s High Church tendencies, along with its support for the cause of King Charles I inevitably led to further clashes with the Parliamentarians. In 1641 Cosin was impeached and a few years later expelled from office ‘for opposing the Proceedings of Parliament, and other scandalous acts’ (Walker, 1906, 108). At the Restoration he was reinstated to his position but left shortly afterwards to take up position as Bishop of Durham.
Like Wren, Cosin made contributions to the Chapel building and its fabric. He was one of the initial benefactors of the building of the Chapel and while Master he faced the west side of the Chapel with stone at his own expense. His wife paid for marble tiles for the chapel floor and his friends the Peytons gave a small organ. In 1665, he paid for the facing of the east front with stone. His bequest paid for the octagonal buttresses and stone facings on the north and south sides.
Puritan Iconoclasm at Peterhouse
Around 14,000 Parliamentary troops were quartered in Cambridge during 1643–44, many housed in University accommodation; thankfully orders were issued for the protection of the collegiate buildings. At the same time the newly appointed ‘Commissioner for the destruction of monuments of idolatry and superstition’ for the Eastern Association, William Dowsing (1596–1668), visited Cambridge in order to carry out the removal and abolition of all Monuments of Superstition and Idolatry. Dowsing’s diaries record his visit to Peterhouse College as Parliamentary Agent:
We went to Peterhouse, 1643, Decemb : 21, with Officers, and Souldiers and … December 20 and 23, we pulled down 2 mighty great Angells with wings, and divers other Angells, & the 4 Evangelists, & Peter, with his Keies, over the Chappell Dore – & about a hundred Chirubims and Angells, and divers superstitious Letters in gold … about the walls was written in Latine, we prays the ever, & on some of the Images was written in Latin, we prays the ever, and on some of the Images was written, Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus. on other, Gloria Dei, et Gloria Patri, etc : & all non nobis Domine &c, & six Angells in the windowes. Witnesses, Will : Dowsing, George Longe. (MSS. Baker, xxxviii, 455. Quoted in Willis and Clark, 1988: 46.)
Amongst the victims of Dowsing’s destruction were the carved wooden angels on the Chapel roof and the statues. The six side stained glass windows, also glazed in 1632, were destroyed at this time. Some fragments of old glass remained in the windows after the Civil War. Willis records that these mostly consisted of heads and portions of figures with arabesques and other ornaments ‘drawn in a style similar to that of the east window, and probably at the same period’ (Willis and Clark, 1988: 7, n.1). These fragments were removed between 1855 and 1858 when the windows were filled with pictorial glass painted by the Royal School of Glass Painting at Munich and designed by Max Emmanuel Ainmiller (1801–1871).
Remarkably the Flemish stained glass which filled the east window has survived, largely because it is thought to have been removed and hidden during the Civil War. 18th-century topographical historian Francis Blomfield recorded : ‘The East Window containing the History of Christ’s Passion is very fine and whole, being hid in the late troublesome Times, in the very Boxes which now stand round the Altar instead of Rails’ (Collectanea Cantabrigiensia, 1751). The window has been dated c.1632–39 and must have been barely a few years old when it was removed for safekeeping, perhaps before the city was occupied by Parliamentary troops. Watkin and others attributed the window to Bernard Van Linge (fl. 1620–40), while J.A. Knowles linked it to Baptista Sutton (1600–1667). The authorship of the window is currently unconfirmed.
Puritans and glass painters
J. Spraggon’s publication, Puritan Iconoclasm during the Civil War, makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the role of the glazier and his art during a period which led to the destruction of many stained glass windows. While Parliamentarian rule and the Protestant ethos led to the destruction of ‘superstitious’ and ‘idolatrous’ stained glass windows, glass painters such as Baptista Sutton, Abraham Van Linge and others found new employment by repairing and replacing these to meet increasingly strict Protestant standards. Baptista Sutton, for example, one of the original assistants of the Company of Glaziers of London when it was granted Charter by Charles I in 1638, installed ‘Laudian innovations’ such as the east window of the New Chapel at St Margaret’s Westminster (1640), but was called to give evidence against Laud at his trial in Spring 1644 and, a reluctant witness, was questioned about the ‘idolatrous window’ at the New Chapel. [Fig. 4]
Sutton went on to work for the London authorities and was involved in removing stained glass windows, some of which may have been his own. His work after 1640 provides evidence of the ways in which glaziers had to adapt to remain in business during the Civil War (1642–1651). In January 1642 Sutton replaced 93 feet of glass at St Magnus the Martyr; a few years later, in June 1644, he was called back to take down the ‘painted imagery glass’ and replace it. He made a window containing the King’s arms at St Mary Colechurch in 1640–42 which was shortly afterwards considered a false idol and removed. He viewed and possibly reformed the east window at St Lawrence Jewry in 1641, which was demolished 1643–44 and replaced with clear ‘Protestant glass’. Parliamentarian rule gained him new commissions such as that for a window depicting the Commonwealth arms for Allhallows Barking in 1654. As Spraggon has conjectured ‘It is possible that the use of such a prestigious glass painter indicates a parish wishing to reform windows carefully or to replace them with good quality secular painted glass’ (Spraggon, 2003: 152, n.58). At the University institutions of Oxford and Cambridge and some parish churches, measures were taken to protect some stained glass windows by removing and concealing them. It is not known when the window at Peterhouse was returned, and there has been no proper study of its condition, but it stands today as a reminder of the destruction wreaked upon the medium during turbulent times.
- T. Fyfe, Architecture in Cambridge, 1942
- J. A. Knowles, ‘Notes on the History of the Glazier’s Company, The Antiquaries Journal, 7, 1927, pp. 287–9
- W. Laud, The History of the Troubles and Tryal of William Laud, 1645
- W.W. Lillie, ‘The Trial of Archbishop Laud’, Journal of Stained Glass, VIII, 4, 1942, pp. 137–145
- N. Pevsner, Buildings of England: Cambridgeshire, Second Edition, 1970
- J. Spraggon, Puritan Iconoclasm during the Civil War, 2003
- T. A. Walker, College Histories: Peterhouse, 1906
- D. Watkin, Peterhouse 1284–1984: An Architectural Record, 1983
- R. Willis and J. W. Clark, ‘History of the Chapel’, in The Architectural History of the University of Cambridge, I, 1988, pp. 40–50