New Steinfeld Discoveries: Special Supplement
To celebrate the recent discovery of five previously thought lost panels of sixteenth-century stained glass from the cloisters of Steinfeld Abbey, this month’s Features pages are devoted to a special supplement on the abbey and its glazing. [Fig. 1]
It consists of an introductory article by CVMA committee member, David King, charting the history of the abbey glazing; a detailed description of the recent discoveries by Roger Rosewell and David King; a Gazetteer listing the most important sites where displaced panels from the abbey can be seen today; and a link to a ‘The Treasure of Abbot Thomas’, a famous ghost story based on the abbey glass.
For readers keen to discover more about Steinfeld for themselves, the abbey church, built between 1142–1150, is open to the public. More information can be found at the German-text only website.
When the glass was installed the Abbey belonged to the monastic Order of Premonstratensian Canons which was founded in 1120 by St Norbert at Prémonte, near Laon (France). Today it is a Salvatorian convent and school. Salvatorians are members of the Society of the Divine Savior (Societas Divini Salvatoris), a Roman Catholic religious order founded in 1881.
•The Steinfeld Abbey Cloister Glazing by David King
•Recent Discoveries from Steinfeld Abbey by Roger Rosewell and David King
•Where to see Steinfeld Abbey glass: a Gazetteer
The Treasure of Abbot Thomas – a ghost story by the famous medievalist, M. R. James, inspired by the Steinfeld Abbey glass, published in Vidimus 13.
The Steinfeld Abbey Cloister Glazing
The story of the Steinfeld cloister glazing is one of the most fascinating in the history of stained glass, demonstrating in an extreme form the consequences of the fact that painted windows are made of separate panels which can easily be taken out and dispersed. To this tale of loss and recovery, we can add moreover a ghost story. The cloister of the Premonstratensian monastery of Steinfeld in the Eifel region of Germany was rebuilt between 1499 and 1517. Its glazing was begun in about 1522 and within twenty years the first twenty-one out of twenty-seven windows had been made, all by the same workshop, probably under the leadership of Gerhard Remisch, who signed one of the windows. The last eight windows were painted in a different style between 1555 and 1558. The two- and three-light windows had in their bottom row donor figures, saints and events associated with the abbey; the central panels depicted the Life of Christ, preceded by the Fall of the Rebel Angels and the Garden of Eden and completed by the Last Judgement, while the heads of the lights and tracery had figures, scenes and inscriptions relating the main narrative panels, often from the Old Testament. To accommodate the direction in which the monks perambulated the cloister, the windows read from right to left
Unfortunately for the monks, the tranquillity of their monastic existence was frequently disturbed by war, and between the outbreak of the Truchsessische Wars in 1583 and the end of the War of Spanish Succession in 1715 the glass had to be removed no less than five times and taken away for safe keeping. On each occasion damage must have been caused and the surviving panels show many signs of early restorations. On two occasions, in 1632 and, after the last reinstatement, in 1719, the monks made detailed descriptions of the subjects and inscriptions in the windows to enable the series to be replaced when needed in the right sequence. These have been invaluable aids to identifying the dispersed panels, for 1715 did not mark the end of the peregrinations of this glass. The eighteenth-century Age of Enlightenment sometimes took itself literally where painted glass was concerned, and in 1785 the monks had the cloister glazing removed ‘whereby the sunlight may better come in through unpainted panels’. The glass was packed away and stored in a chapel. There it lay until 1802, when the left bank of the Rhine became French territory and the monastery, like many others in the area, was secularised and the glass sold off. The Cologne wine-dealer Christian Geerling may have been the original purchaser, but all twenty-seven windows were soon acquired by John Christopher Hampp, the German immigrant who lived in Norwich and imported much continental glass in the period 1802–4, when there was a truce in the Napoleonic wars. The catalogue of a sale of glass by Hampp in 1804 includes several lots which can be identified as panels from Steinfeld and which are found today in Norfolk.
The largest number of panels from Steinfeld were sold to Lord Brownlow for his chapel at Ashridge Park in Hertfordshire, where they were installed between 1811 and 1831 along with a many other panels of Rhenish glass. In 1904 the medieval scholar, Montague Rhodes James (1862–1936) started to make an inventory of this glass which was published in 1906 and wrongly identified the whole collection as coming from the abbey of Steinfeld, on the basis of the appearance of the name of the abbey on some of the panels. In the same year, he published his entertaining book of stories entitled Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, which included one with the title of ‘The Treasure of Abbot Thomas’, set in Steinfeld and involving hidden messages in the stained glass there. In 1906 the publication of the third edition of this popular book was announced in the Eifelvereinsblatt and was noticed by the priest and scholar Nikola Reinartz (1874–1954), who two years later while in England obtained the book and with some difficulty managed to get access to the chapel at Ashridge. He immediately recognised that the glass included several saints and donors connected with the history of Steinfeld, many of the latter dressed in the habit of the order. In 1909, unaware of Reinartz’ discovery, the German glass historian and conservator, Heinrich Oidtmann II published the description of 1632 of the cloister glazing which he had found in the City Library in Trier. Reinartz was able to use this and his visit to Ashridge to write an article in 1910 announcing the rediscovery of part of the Steinfeld cloister glazing. In 1928 the glass was put up for sale and a catalogue was written with photos which enabled Reinartz to see that only about a third of the glass was from Steinfeld, another third coming from the nearby monastery of Mariawald and the rest from unknown sources in the Rheinland. The whole collection was bought by the philanthropist, Ernest Cook (1865–1955), the grandson of Thomas Cook of travel agency fame, and given (anonymously until 1955) to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. In 1935 the museum’s curator of stained glass, Bernard Rackham (1876–1964), published his discovery of two further panels in the Lord Mayor’s Chapel in Bristol, in addition to the thirty-eight in London. Ten years later he wrote an article on the Ashridge collection, in which the glazier Gerhard Remisch is discussed in connection with the Steinfeld glass and the known Steinfeld panels are identified and assigned to windows with the aid of the manuscript description. The first major publication of the Steinfeld glass came in 1955 and included a contribution from Reinartz, although the major part of the book was by Josef and Willi Kurthen and provided a history of the building and glazing campaigns and a window by window description of the Latin descriptions, the subjects and people depicted and the extant panels, which were fully illustrated. Crucially for further discoveries of the glass, a transcription of the complete 1719 description of the windows was also included.
When I first began to study stained glass in Norfolk in the 1970s, I soon became aware of the many panels of foreign glass in the county, including many from the Rheinland and in 1974 I published a small guide to the glass in the county in which I identified glass at a number of churches as coming from Steinfeld. I had already in 1973 identified a panel which had been sold at Sotheby’s in 1970 and later acquired by G. King & Son of Norwich as coming from Steinfeld and had taken it back to the monastery, so that for the first time since 1802 they possessed some their cloister glazing. The monastery has shown great interest in the glass, putting on an exhibition in 1990 under the leadership of Father Bernhard Fuhrmann and Heinrich Latz, and a few years ago a small loose fragment of another scene was acquired from a Norfolk church. I have uncovered further panels in subsequent years, including in other parts of England and in the USA and an article in 1998 published a list of all known panels from Steinfeld, together with a brief discussion on what they revealed. Glass has now been found from each of the twenty seven cloister windows, showing with reasonable certainty that Hampp had indeed acquired the whole collection.
Most recently the 2007 exhibition ‘Rheinische Glasmalerei’ at the Schnütgen Museum in Cologne and its magnificent catalogue by Dagmar Täube brought many of the Steinfeld panels to a German audience for the first time, together with those from the Mariawald cloister and the cloisters of two other monasteries. The discoveries announced in this edition of Vidimus are to be greatly welcomed. We can only hope (and expect) that they will not be the last and that the Steinfeld glass will at last be recognised as a major monument in the history of Rhenish glass-painting.
•M. R. James, ‘The Treasure of Abbot Thomas’, in Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, London, 1904
•M. R. James, Notes of Glass in Ashridge Chapel, Grantham, 1906
•H. Oidtmann, ‘Über die Glasgemälde der ehemaligen Prämonstratenserabtei Steinfeld’, Trierisches Archiv, XVI, 1909, pp. 78–91
•N. Reinartz, ‘Die alten Glasgemälde im Kreuzgang der Abtei Steinfeld i. d. Eifel, eine Entdeckungsgeschichte,’ Eifelvereinsblatt, XII, 1910, pp. 311–314
•London, Sotheby’s, Thursday, 12 July 1928, Catalogue of the Magnificent Stained Glass Windows from Ashridge Chapel, the Property of a Gentleman
•B. Rackham, ‘Notes on the Stained Glass in the Lord Mayor’s Chapel, Bristol’, Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, LVII, 1935, pp. 266–268
•B. Rackham, ‘The Ashridge Stained Glass’, Journal of the British Archaeological Association, series 3, X, 1945, pp. 22–29
•W. Neuss, ed., Die Glasmalereien aus dem Steinfelder Kreuzgang, M. Gladbach, 1955
•D. J. King, Stained Glass Tours around Norfolk Churches, Woodbridge, 1974, pp. 4, 11–12, 15–17, 28
•D. J. King, ‘The Steinfeld Cloister Glazing’, Gesta, XXVII, 1998, pp. 210–210
•D. Täube, Rheinische Glasmalerei, 2 vols. , Regensburg, 2007
See also the Nikolaus Reinartz website.
The Recent Discoveries from Steinfeld Abbey
The five recently discovered panels from Steinfeld Abbey celebrated in this issue of Vidimus were found at the church of St Cadoc (Aberpergwm) in Glynneath, Glamorgan, ( 4 panels) and the catholic chapel of St Mary and St Michael at Llanarth court, Gwent (1 panel).
Church of St Cadoc
All four panels are in the east window of the church. Without exception they show abbots or brothers of the monastic community with saints, either as supporters or receiving the ‘donor’. [Fig. 1]
Each panel measures 22 inches wide by 21 inches high, including leads. They have been cut to shape, with losses to their borders. Some have considerable repairs and later inserts. Before the glass was sold from Steinfeld it was reported as broken. At present, it is not clear if all or only some of these repairs were made prior to the glass being arranged in its present location. The panels are surrounded by nineteenth century ornamental glass.
Although damaged, all four can be identified from the 1719 descriptions of the abbey glazing.
The east window at St Cadoc consists of two lights divided by a transom. Following the CVMA numbering system the window itself is number I, the left light is 1a (bottom) and 2a (top); the right-hand lights are 1b and 2b.
Window I, Panel 1a
A monk kneels before a figure of St Barbara holding a sword in her hand. To her left a tower is visible. Remains of a once longer inscription can be seen behind the kneeling figure. In 1719 it read: Nicolaus Kall, Prior in Dunwald, Pastor in Ryndorp. The two child-like figures or putti in the lower right-hand border are identical to others shown in the panel depicting St Andrew, from Steinfeld window XII 1c, now in the Victoria & Albert museum, but are here restored. A reverse image of the putto and caryatid in the upper right-hand border can be seen in the upper left-hand border of the fragment depicting St Victor, from Steinfeld window XIV1a, now in the Victoria & Albert museum. The St Cadoc panel was Steinfeld Window XX 1c, dated to 1540–42. Typological scenes of the Harrowing of Hell (2c) and Samson killing the lion (3c) were depicted above. [Figs. 2 and 3]
Window I, Panel 2a
An unknown monk wearing the white habit of the Premonstratensian order kneels before St Augustine, one of the four Doctors (scholarly theologians) of the Latin church. The saint wears pontificals and holds a crozier. His heart is transfixed by arrows (only one just visible): his attribute in art. Behind the monk stands a figure in armour. He holds a shield with a white cross on a red background. To the figure’s right a green dragon is held by the collar: The figure probably represents St George. When made the panel was Steinfeld Window XI 1b, dated to 1530–3. The panels above depicted typological scenes of Christ expelling merchants from the temple (2b) and the rebuilding of the temple (3b). 2b is now in the parish church of St Peter, Kimberley, Norfolk. [Fig. 4]
Window I, Panel 1b
Abbot John IV (1492–1501), wearing a richly embroidered cope held together by a circular morse ( a metal clasp) and holding a staff, kneels before an unshown image of Christ as the Man of Sorrows which was depicted in the adjoining light 1b of this window at Steinfeld. St Potentinus stands behind the abbot. The saint wears a blue dalmatic decorated with fleurs-de-lis and holds two arrows in one hand and a sword in the other. St Potentinus was a French Confessor whose relics were translated to Steinfeld from the monastery at Karden in the Moselle. His relics were the chief treasure of the abbey and he was its patronal saint. A scene of the translation of his relics to the abbey from Steinfeld Window II 1a, is now in the Victoria & Albert museum. The St Cadoc panel comes from Window XII, 1a, 1531, which depicted typological scenes of Christ washing the feet of St Peter (2a) – now in the Victoria & Albert museum–and Abraham washing the feet of angels (3a), now in Hevingham, St Botolph, in Norfolk. St Potentinus was depicted with the Virgin and child in Steinfeld Window V 1a, now at Blickling Hall, Norfolk. [Figs. 5 and 6]
Window I, Panel 2b
Abbot John V. von Münstereiful (1501–09) wearing a cope and holding a staff kneels before the Virgin Mary. The Christ child she once held has been lost. Behind the kneeling abbot stands the armoured figure of St Chrysanthus (Christian martyr died c AD 282–284). The panel was Steinfeld Window XI, 1a, 1530–31, where it was adjacent to the panel now St Cadoc window I, panel 2a showing a canon with St Augustine and St George. The typological scenes shown above the St Cadoc panel depicted Jesus leaving Bethany (2a) and The Departure of Abraham (3a). 2 b is now in the parish church of St Mary at Warham, Norfolk. Parts of an important inscription are visible in the St Cadoc panel.
First word: ‘Joh’(annes),
Line 1, second word: ‘mo’(n),
Line 2, first word: ‘stey(n)f’(eld)
Line 2, second word: ’ist(u)d’
In 1716 the inscription was intact and read: Joh. Monasterien. Eifl. Abbas Steinfeld. istud latus perfecit [Johann von Münstereifel finished this side (of the cloister)]
The figures of the Virgin and the abbot have been almost completely restored. [Fig. 7]
The Chapel of St Mary and St Michael
This panel is in better condition than the four panels at St Cadoc. It can be seen on the north wall of the chapel where it is joined by four other imported German panels of different dates; three demi-figures of c.1510–20 and an arrangement of smaller panels, one dated 1650. The panel is in nV where it is displayed within a surround of ornamental glazing. Including the leads, it measures 38 inches by 22 inches (97x 56cm). The panel depicts the Circumcision of Christ. It was panel 2a in Window III at Steinfeld Abbey. The adjacent panels depicted the Nativity (2b) and Mary and Joseph’s Journey to Bethlehem in (2c). The head of Joseph is very close to that of the same figure in the Nativity panel (2b), now at Blickling Hall in Norfolk, suggesting that the artist used the same or similar preparatory drawing. 2c is in the Busch-Reisinger museum at Harvard University. All three panels share a common arch design at the top and whereas the Llanarth panel has a pillar on the left, 2c in the Busch-Reisinger museum has a matching pillar on the right.
Despite the fact that the central figure dressed as a nun is not nimbed, David King suggests that she may be St Anne, the mother of the Virgin Mary. [Figs. 8, 9 and 10]
Roger Rosewell and David King
Where to See Steinfeld Abbey Glass: A Gazetteer
The displaced glass from Steinfeld Abbey can be seen at a number of different locations. A list of the most important sites which include whole panels or figures is provided below. A complete list of sites and their contents (not including the latest discoveries) can be found in D. J. King, ‘The Steinfeld Cloister Glazing’, Gesta, XXVII, 1998, pp. 210–210.
It is advisable to check in advance before visiting any of the churches as they may be locked. It is also advisable to check in advance before visiting museums: the glass might not always be on display.
•The Victoria & Albert Museum. The museum owns thirty-eight panels from the Steinfeld cloister (actually panels from forty scenes as two were made up from quite separate scenes).The collection is by far the largest in any country. Some panels are on permanent display in the Medieval and Renaissance Galleries. Many are illustrated in Paul Williamson’s beautiful book on the museum’s stained glass: Medieval and Renaissance Stained Glass in The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 2004. [Fig. 1]
•Wisbech: Church of St Mary
•Disley: Church of St Mary [Fig. 2]
•Sisted: Church of St Mary
•Blickling: Blickling Hall, historic house owned by the National Trust [Fig. 3]
•Chedgrave: Church of All Saints – two kneeling monks [Fig. 4]
•Drayton: Church of St Margaret
•Hevingham: Church of St Botolph
•Kimberley: Church of St Peter
•Mulbarton: Church of St Mary Magdalene
•Warham St Mary: Church of St Mary
•Bristol: The Lord Mayor’s Chapel
•Depden: Church of St Mary
•Ramsbury: Littlecote House (now a hotel)
•Glynneath: Church of St Cadoc (Aberpergwm)
•Llanarth: Chapel of St Mary and St Michael
•North-Rhine, Westphalia (Nordrhien-Westfallen), Near Kall: Steinfeld Abbey
•Massachusetts: Cambridge, Harvard University, Busch – Reisinger museum
•New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art
•New York: Cooper-Hewitt museum
‘The Treasure of Abbot Thomas’ by M. R. James
As David King explains elsewhere, the distinguished medievalist M. R. James was inspired to write this famous ghost story after he had compiled an inventory of the collection of Lord Brownlow, at Ashridge Park in Hertfordshire, and discovered references to Steinfeld Abbey in some of the panels. The story was reproduced in Vidimus 13, December 2007, in our Features section.