THE STAINED GLASS OF ST MARY’S, SHREWSBURY: A VIRTUAL TOUR
In July, the British Archaeological Association held its annual conference for 2019, based in Shrewsbury and visiting sites across North Shropshire. One highlight of the week was an exploration of the art and architecture of St Mary’s, Shrewsbury, and, in particular, a tour of the church’s stained glass by CVMA author, Dr Penny Hebgin-Barnes. A summary is presented here, in virtual form, to introduce the readers of Vidimus to this stained glass treasure house.
St Mary’s, Shrewsbury has long been recognised for its extensive and varied collection of stained glass, but with almost none of the glass it now houses originally intended for the church, or, indeed of English origin, it has received little domestic scholarly attention. A major, internationally-collaborative CVMA study (forthcoming) of the dispersed late medieval glass from Herkenrode Abbey, Limburg (Belgium), will include a figure of St John the Evangelist (Fig. 1) from a Crucifixion scene once installed above the high altar at the east end of the abbey church, now at St Mary’s (of which more below). But the Herkenrode figure is by no means the only treasure to be found at the church.
At the heart of the collection is a substantial quantity of beautifully accomplished early sixteenth-century panels largely of German and Belgian origin, together with numerous, apparently Netherlandish, roundels, as well as a fine English Tree of Jesse dating to the fourteenth century. The process by which this glazing was brought together serves a fascinating case-study of stained glass collecting in England in the mid-nineteenth century. The church is also home to significant quantities of nineteenth-century stained glass, much of it the work of the renowned glazier David Evans of Shrewsbury, and is testament not only to Evans’ skill, but to contemporary practices such as copying works by artists in other media, painting new glass to match or complement medieval panels to hand, and adapting the compositions of medieval work to suit contemporary tastes.
History of the Glass: its Collection and Documentation
The outstanding collection of English and continental stained glass, from various locations, now at St Mary’s was, almost in its entirety, obtained by Revd. William Gorsuch Rowland, the church’s vicar from 1828 until his death in 1851, and installed by David Evans of the Shrewsbury firm Betton and Evans. Rowland is known to have taken a close interest in stained glass even before his arrival at St Mary’s: he had previously held a curacy at the Church of the Holy Cross and St Giles in the town, between 1793 and 1825, and had been involved in the refurbishment and glazing at Shrewsbury Abbey, which lay within that parish. The great west window at the Abbey was filled in 1814 with arms taken from the description of coats of arms in the church found in Dugdale’s 1663 Visitation of Shropshire, at Rowland’s instigation and expense, and the other windows of the church were ‘embellished with painted glass by the indefatigable exertions of the same benefactor’.
The glass at St Mary’s was documented and described by Archdeacon J. B. Lloyd in 1900, but based on the earlier notes and sermons of his father, T. B. Lloyd, for many years vicar of the parish. The church organist, J. E. Hunt, published a guide to the glass in 1946, which was later revised and republished several times, before the production of a new church guidebook by Peter Williams in 2000. A number of panels from Trier Cathedral were studied by the German glass expert Ivo Rauch in 1999, and panels from Altenberg Abbey, narrating the life of St Bernard, were described by David King in an exhibition catalogue in 1990. The figure of St John the Evangelist from Herkenrode Abbey will, as noted, be published in the forthcoming CVMA volume.
Until 1792, the only indigenous glass recorded at St Mary’s consisted of some armorials in the chancel east window (I)*, which were removed in 1828, with some of them being placed in the tracery lights of the windows of the Trinity Chapel, in the south chancel. Memorial windows for King George III (d.1820) and the Revd. J. B. Blakeway (d.1826), Shrewsbury antiquarian and one time vicar of St Mary’s, were added in the 1820s. Throughout the church windows a profusion of English fragments of medieval and later date is used for the grounds upon which some of the unipartite panels are set and as infills in main lights and tracery openings. In another setting these fragments would attract attention, but at St Mary’s they are overshadowed by the embarrassment of riches surrounding them.
Tour of the Glass
Proceeding around the church in a clockwise direction, starting at the east end, the glass is as follows:
East window (I): Tree of Jesse
The eight-light east window of the chancel contains a representation of the Tree of Jesse. (Fig. 2) Used in the Middle Ages as a pictorial representation of the ancestors of Christ, the figure of Jesse of Bethlehem, father to King David, reclines across three lights with a vine springing from him containing sixteen enthroned kings and twenty-one standing prophets identified by inscriptions.
An inscription in French requests prayers for its donor, Sir John Charlton, and his wife Hawise, and depicts the couple with their children, including two sons in armour, kneeling before the Virgin in the bottom row. The couple married in 1310, and Sir John died in 1353. The date of c.1340–53 assigned to the window accords with its style and deep colouration, which can be compared with other Jesse Trees in the Midlands. It has been suggested that the Jesse Window originated in the Franciscan (Greyfriars’) church in Shrewsbury, where Sir John and Hawise Charlton were buried, but solid proof is lacking. When William Dugdale described the window in 1663, it was in St Chad’s church, where it occupied seven lights. After the tower of St Chad’s collapsed in 1788 the Jesse Tree was installed in St Mary’s by John Betton in 1792, but restored and rearranged in 1859 by David Evans, who supplied additional material, including a figure of Edward III who was depicted as an additional donor kneeling in the bottom row. About sixty percent of the glass in the main lights is probably original; the remainder, including all the donor figures and all the tracery glazing, is Evans’s work. The window was conserved by Chapel Studios (Hertfordshire) in 1998.
North window (nII): Life of St Bernard of Clairvaux
The triple lancet opening contains 14 panels depicting scenes from the Life of St Bernard of Clairvaux, part of an extensive scheme made between 1505 and 1532 for the cloisters of the Cistercian Abbey of Altenberg near Cologne. Another 4 panels from the same series are in a south aisle window (sXI).
The St Bernard panels are not arranged in any logical order, and most have been trimmed or enlarged to fit their positions, but otherwise they are in good condition. Each scene, set beneath a canopy or enclosed within an architectural frame, is described by a lengthy inscription below it and features several speech scrolls. These texts are taken from various medieval accounts of St Bernard’s life, including William of Thierry’s Exordium Magnum and Herbert’s Liber de Miraculis. The scenes range from major events of St Bernard’s life such as his entry into the Cistercian order (nII 4a) to lesser incidents including his vision of angels recording the amount of attention each monk is giving to his singing of the night office (nII 1b, described by Chris Parkinson as “an angelic Ofsted inspection”). (Fig. 3) The colouration is predominantly white, enlivened with silver stain, with coloured glass used for some drapery and background areas.
Some of the St Bernard panels were loaned to an exhibition devoted to the saint’s life held in Paris in 1990–91, and in 2007 they were all temporarily returned to Cologne to be displayed in the ‘Masterpieces of the Renaissance’ exhibition at the Schnütgen Museum. They were conserved by the Cologne Cathedral workshop during this time.
After Altenberg Abbey was suppressed in 1803, its glass was removed and in 1824 was sold at auction. The eighteen St Bernard panels were brought to London by an English dealer; Revd. Rowland could not afford the dealer’s original price of £900 for the eighteen panels, but after they had remained unsold for some years he was able to obtain them in 1845 for £425. Rowland installed the panels in St Mary’s in place of three 14th-century English figures which Betton & Evans had taken from Winchester College Chapel, where they had restored the glass in 1821-22. After their removal from St Mary’s, to make way for the St Bernard panels, the figures were sold to the South Kensington Museum, now the Victoria & Albert Museum.
North windows (NII, NIII, NIV) & South windows (SII, SIII, SIV)
Each window comprises a pair of lights containing large figures of angels by David Evans and therefore of 19th-century date.
North windows (NVIII, NIX, NX, NXI) & South windows (SVIII, SIX, SX, SXI)
Each window comprises a pair of lights filled with small fragments of medieval and later date, amongst which it is difficult to make out any details. The south clerestory windows are also partially obscured by the church organ.
SOUTH CHANCEL CHAPEL (TRINITY CHAPEL)
East window (sII): David Evans and James Powell and Sons
This wall formerly contained two separate windows, both glazed in 1847 by David Evans. That on the left includes a copy of a painting of the Adoration of the Magi by Murillo, with figures of King Edgar and David below, and that on the right a copy of a work by Overbeek, with Charlemagne and King Alfred below.
In 1897, the masonry separating the two windows was removed, and the new central light and traceries were filled with glass in the Arts and Crafts style by James Powell and Sons (Whitefriars).
At its foot is a small scene of Shrewsbury. The tracery contains medieval and later armorials, probably original to the church, formerly in the chancel east window (I).
First central south window (sIV)
Donor Jean de Hornes kneeling between St Lambert and St John the Evangelist, with musical angels in the traceries. The main figures are set beneath extravagant Renaissance canopies bedecked with armorials (Fig. 4). This window is very similar in style to the original Hornes windows in Liège copied in sIII and sVI and is likely to have come from Munsterbilzen Abbey, Limburg (Belgium).
The bottom row of panels, below de Hornes and saints, contain late 15th-century saints and a donor from Trier Cathedral, Germany (see sX, nX, nXI).
Second central south window (sV)
The dead Christ is supported by a turbaned man (Fig. 5). Originally this was a Trinity, but to suit Anglican sensibilities the scene was substantially altered to transform God into Joseph of Arimathea, and the holy dove was placed in the apex tracery light above. The Christ composition is flanked by donors Jean de Mérode-Pietersheim and his wife Anne de Ghistelle kneeling at prayer desks and presented by their patron saints. Canopies are as in sIV. The panels in this window are probably also from Munsterbilzen Abbey.
Western south window (sVI)
Donor Marguerite de Hornes kneeling between 2 saints. Like sIII, this is a copy by David Evans of a window in St Jacques church in Liège.
South window (sVII)
The three lancet openings contain 15th-century figures, possibly French, of the Virgin and Child between two Apostles St Thomas & St Mathias, in modern architectural settings by David Evans and his son Charles. The window was glazed in 1851 in memory of the Revd. Rowland.
West window (sVIII)
Single lancet. Virgin and Child by Mayer of Munich, 19th-century.
West window (sIX)
Single lancet. Copies of two 15th-century English panels in Ludlow Church depicting St George and St Barbara made by David Evans, who had restored the originals.
Eastern south window (sX): Saints and Canons from Trier Cathedral
The late-15th-century panels from Trier Cathedral that occupy the window depict large figures of St Helen, the Virgin and Child, and Charlemagne Fig. 6), who was regarded as a saint in the area around Aachen, accompanied by kneeling canons of Trier, with armorials below dated 1479.
All the Trier Cathedral glass at St Mary’s came from two now demolished chapels dedicated to St Andrew and St Stephen. All the panels date from 1479 but are from different workshops. Much of the glass is in a rather poor condition with corrosion and paint loss. The style is distinctive, with the canons in their sugar-loaf-shaped caps and long, inscribed scrolls coiling around them.
The Trier glass was acquired before 1860, and was illustrated in Lévy’s history of stained glass in 1854, when it was described as being in a ‘private collection’; no further details of the glazing’s acquisition are known but given its prominence in several windows it must have been installed during Rowland’s incumbency.
Central south window (sXI): Further St Bernard panels
Four panels depict scenes from the life of St Bernard from Altenberg Abbey, from the same series as those in nII. Two early 16th-century panels from a similar St Bernard series come from the cloister of a convent in St Apern, Cologne, which was associated with Altenberg Abbey. These two panels depict a scene from the life of St Bernard (2c), and St Peter with with a group of male donors (2a), and were loaned to the Cologne exhibition in 2007 along with the Altenberg panels. Two other panels in this window, of unrecorded origin, depict the presentation of Christ in the Temple (1a) and a Crucifixion of earlier date (1c).
Western south window (sXII)
Late-15th or early-16th-century panels depicting an incomplete Adoration of the Magi and a figure of St Martin, probably from Belgium, and perhaps Munsterbilzen Abbey. A panel from the Adoration was damaged in June 2019 by thieves who broke into the church, stealing £40 in cash.
West window (sXIII)
St Andrew and a kneeling canon from Trier, as sX.
West window (wI)
The Virgin Mary by David Evans set beneath a fragmentary late-14th-century canopy from Winchester College Chapel.
West window (nXIII): Herkenrode Abbey
St John the Evangelist from a Crucifixion dated 1532 formerly in the east window of the abbey church at Herkenrode, Limburg (Belgium) (Fig. 1).
The upper part of figure was restored by Betton and Evans and set beneath an English 14th-century canopy from Winchester College Chapel. A large amount of glass from Herkenrode had arrived at Lichfield before 1804, when a drawing of the Crucifixion window was made which showed that it was already damaged, with the upper part of St John lost. This is probably why it was decided not to include the Crucifixion in the glazing scheme at Lichfield. It is not clear whether the glass came directly into Rowland’s possession: it may simply have been retained by Betton & Evans who installed the Herkenrode Abbey glass at Lichfield Cathedral.
Glass from Herkenrode Abbey is found elsewhere in England including the churches of Ashtead (Surrey) & Barton-under-Needwood (Staffs).
Western north window (nXII): Netherlandish roundels and panels
The window is filled with Netherlandish glass, comprising nine rectangular panels and three roundels of various origins, nearly all of 16th-century date, in a 19th-century setting (Fig. 7).
The rectangular panels in the outer lights consist of two Old Testament scenes set between four kneeling donors with their patron saints. Below the latter is an inscription in Dutch dated 1848 naming the donor as W. G. Rowland. It is the only window in the church where Rowland is identified as the giver of the glass. It was previously believed that some of these panels came from Herkenrode, but this origin was ruled out by Yvette Vanden Bemden in her study dated 1986 on the Herkenrode glass now in England.
Bottom row left and right (1a, 1c): a pair of donors, man and wife kneeling at prayer desks bearing their shields and presented by their patron saints, a bishop (probably St Martin) and St Catherine. Both panels are dated 1551.
Bottom centre (1b): a 17th-century scene with a man washing another’s feet.
Middle row left (2a): a depiction of the episode from Numbers of Balaam’s ass and the angel.
Middle row centre (2b): a scene thought by Lloyd to be the call of the prophet Amos
Middle row right (2c): unidentified scene of a standing bishop, his mitre and vestments lying discarded on the ground, while a marriage takes place behind him.
Top row centre (3b): Virgin of the 7 sorrows, her heart pierced by swords, surrounded by instruments of Christ’s Passion.
Top row left (3a): a male donor kneeling at his prayer desk, presented by his patron, either St Anthony or St Roch
Top row right (3c): a female donor kneeling at her prayer desk, presented by her patron St Martha. Not a pair with 3a.
Central north window (nXI)
Various late-15th-century panels from Trier Cathedral depicting saints, donors and armorials. Some of the armorials are very elaborate, including, in the centre of the window, a wild man as a shield supporter wearing the helm that usually surmounts the shield (Fig. 8).
Eastern north window (nX)
Late 15th-century panels from Trier Cathedral, depicting three large figures of St Sebastian, St Lambert, and St Jerome with his lion, accompanied by kneeling canons of Trier. In the bottom row is more glass from Trier including the shield of Trier Cathedral with a furry-bodied wild man and wild woman as supporters.
West window (nIX)
Pair of lancets containing six English armorials of the 19th century, including that of the Butler family, set on plain glass.
North window (nVIII)
Triple Early English lancet containing plain glass apart from panel 1b, incorporating a royal coat of arms from a memorial window to George III (d.1820).
East window (nVII)
Pointed lancet, lower half blocked, and completely filled with fragments, mostly 19th-century in date. All the N transept windows are now obscured by the church organ.
NORTH TRANSEPT CHAPEL (ST NICHOLAS’ CHAPEL)
East window (nVI)
The window contains 12 continental ovals dating from the 16th and 17th-centuries. Eight of these depict scenes from the Apocryphal Book of Tobit.
NORTH CHANCEL CHAPEL(ST CATHERINE’S CHAPEL)
North window (nV)
The three main lights contain a German crucifixion of unknown provenance, dating from c.1500 (Fig. 9). Below are three smaller panels depicting the Betrayal of Christ (1b) between two clerical donors with their patron saints (1a, 1c) of 16th-century date but of different origins. Three Netherlandish unipartite panels can be found in the tracery lights.
East windows (nIII, nIV)
A large sexfoil opening contains a complete figure of Christ presiding over a fragmentary Last Judgement, cut down to fit the window. A depiction of the Assumption of the Virgin occupies a separate lancet below. The glass in both openings is of Northern European origin, and dates to the early-16th-century. The lower half of the Assumption was smashed by thieves in 2014, and the whole lancet containing it was boarded up to await restoration, but the low vestry roof behind makes it vulnerable to further break-ins.
North and east walls
4 windows (Vestry eI, eII, nII and nIII)
Each window contains six Netherlandish unipartite panels, mostly oval, dating from the 16th and 17th centuries, and depicting a range of subjects, mainly from the Old and New Testaments.
eI includes four scenes of the Good Samaritan. The top right oval shows one of the robbers wearing a pistol slung from his belt.
eII contains Old Testament scenes including Jonah and the whale (bottom right), and Joseph in prison interpreting pharoah’s servants’ dreams (top left).
nII contains six Old Testament scenes including Jezebel and Esther in the left-hand light.
nIII contains three Old Testament scenes and 3 New Testament including the Ascension (top right) and St John writing his gospel (bottom left).
NORTH AND SOUTH PORCHES
Both porches have an east (eI) and a west (wI) window.
South porch eI
Roundel: an elephant with a howdah, English, dating to the 1490s. The small panel has suffered severe loss of paint. It is an unusual subject for a roundel, although it occasionally appears in bestiaries and on misericords, including one at Gloucester Cathedral.
South porch wI
Roundel: a crab representing the zodiac sign of Cancer, English, dating to the 1490s (Fig. 10). The only other known medieval Cancer zodiac roundel is now in the Walker Art Gallery collection in Liverpool. It bears the same inscription (sol in cancro), and looks slightly more like a crab as it has identifiable pincers, but neither of these examples are naturalistic.
North porch eI
The window contains four unipartite panels set on a ground of fragments, including Adam in the garden of Eden; an allegory; the birth of a saint; and a family group at prayer.
North porch wI
In this window are three unipartite panels depicting saints, set on a ground of fragments.
* The windows are numbered using the CVMA window numbering system.