The Saints of Magdalene Church. By Ian Stuart and Ed Fisher, photography by Ed Fisher. Spiralbound, 85 pages, all-colour illustrations, £10.
Reviewed by Amanda Daw
Ian Stuart and Ed Fisher have produced this beautifully illustrated booklet as part of a fundraising campaign to preserve the fifteenth-century glass of St Mary Magdalen, Wiggenhall, Norfolk. The launch of this campaign, together with a brief history of the glass, have already been outlined in an earlier issue of Vidimus.1 This new booklet is primarily aimed at the general reader and provides a useful guide to the thirty-eight figures of saints that are depicted in the tracery panels of the north nave aisle. Each panel is illustrated with an exceptionally high-quality photograph and a hagiographic summary. Each plate is supplemented by useful diagrams, showing the window in which the panel appears and its precise position within the tracery. Towards the end of the booklet, these diagrams are used to help non-specialist readers with the CVMA numbering system for the windows.
The history of the glass, including suggested dates and questions of patronage, are outlined in the introduction, which is based on the work of David King, Alan Sherfield and Jeanne Møller. In addition, David J. King kindly gave the editors permission to provide an extract from his article on this glass, in which he identifies the saints from their iconographies and inscriptions.2 In the full version of this article King notes that thirty-three of these saints feature in the litanies of the Sarum Breviary, suggesting that this part of the liturgy directly influenced the scheme. Parishioners were probably familiar with these litanies which, when recited in church, required the congregation to respond with the plea ‘ora pro nobis’ (‘pray for us’).
Despite the relative ubiquity of the Sarum Use, the choice of saints appears to be unusual; certainly King has been unable to locate some of them in any other surviving English glass. Differences in the painting styles of some panels have also been noted by King and others. At least two, or possibly three, separate workshops appear to have been involved, probably based in King’s Lynn. The use of full-colour plates helps to amplify King’s comments on the differences in painting style. These are exemplified by the contrast between the ‘rich use of colour and stately figures’ in nVII (fig. 1), and the ‘wiry and expressionist style’ of the figures painted on white glass in nVI (fig. 2).
The editors readily acknowledge the lack of detailed referencing, especially in the hagiographies, which are largely based on Wikipedia sources. These nonetheless succeed in being both informative and entertaining. However, the information provided in the introduction appears to be at odds with King’s suggestions regarding the date and possible patronage of this glass. King’s article suggests a date of c. 1430–50. He bases this earlier date on the two panels depicting St Edmund of Abingdon, and St Hugh of Cluny. The former was almost certainly the name saint of Sir Edmund Ingoldsthorpe (d. 1456), who was instrumental in rebuilding the church. Ingoldsthorpe’s family had historic links with the Cluniacs of Lewes and Castleacre priories, leading King to suggest that the glass is an example of joint enterprise involving lay and monastic donors. However, in the introduction it is suggested that the glass was given by Edmund’s daughter Isabel (d. 1476) and thus gives a somewhat later date of c. 1461–1483.
If seeking detailed information about the history of the glass, readers are therefore advised to consult the David King’s article, and the references listed in his bibliography. Nevertheless, the high quality photographs and diagrams provided in this booklet are far superior to those previously published. In fact, this publication is an ideal companion to earlier publications on the glass.
Indeed, the importance of helping to preserve this glass far outweighs any niggling remarks on the part of this reviewer. Overall, this publication constitutes an excellent guide that will both entertain and inform visitors to the church, while also providing a useful visual aid for researchers. Indeed, the quality of the full colour plates alone, are an ample justification for purchasing this booklet.
The Saints of Magdalene Church by Ian Stuart and Ed Fisher is available for a £10 donation to the church’s restoration fund. To order your copy, please contact Ian on 01553 813730 or e-mail email@example.com.
- ‘Saving the Saints at Wiggenhall St Mary Magdalene’, Vidimus, 12 (November 2007), News page (ISSN 1752-0741, accessed October 2020)
- David J. King, ‘The Stained Glass of Wiggenhall St Mary Magdalen’, in J. McNeill, ed., King’s Lynn and the Fens: Medieval Art, Architecture and Archaeology, British Archaeological Association Conference Transactions, XXXI (Leeds: 2008), pp. 186-198. This article includes a comprehensive set of bibliographical references.