Liturgy and Liturgy: The Fifteenth-century Catechism Windows of St Laurence, Ludlow
An account written by Roger Martin (c.1527–1615) of his local parish church in Long Melford (Suffolk) mourns the loss of the Catholic faith after the Reformation. The inclusion within this text of numerous descriptions of the church’s previous ornamentation reflects the ties that existed between parishioners and the images present within their parish church. In the fifteenth century, this familiar setting was undergoing radical changes as many churches were being enlarged with subsequent modifications in their ornamentation. The laity’s wealth often funded these alterations, with parishioners making contributions to stained glass and other works in order to beautify their churches. Through this process the laity transformed the parish church into a treasury of images, colour and light that provided a glorious backdrop for religious practices. St Laurence, Ludlow, is a remarkable example of this process of adornment, as it was the sole parish church to serve the town and thus attracted all the parish’s investments and donations, including those from the renowned Palmers’ Guild (Fig. 1). Yet in what way did this relationship between the church of St Laurence and its parishioners affect the images with which it was decorated? Through focusing on St Laurence’s fifteenth-century catechism windows, this feature will explore how the images of the parish church can be utilized as a means of examining the relationship of the laity not only with their local parish but with the institution of the Church itself. To what extent can these catechism windows be seen as a manifestation of the Church’s authority? Or do they reflect, as Colin Richmond has remarked, the laity’s impact on the religion offered to them, through the parishioners’ role in ornamenting the parish church?
The first half of the fifteenth century was a time of economic prosperity for Ludlow. Between 1433 and 1471, a massive rebuilding took place at the parish church that was funded to a great extent by the Palmers’ Guild. It was in this period of reconstruction that the catechism windows were added to the fabric. The majority of this series is to be found in St John’s Chapel, the area of the church used by the Palmers’ Guild (Fig. 2). The Lord’s Prayer (Paternoster) and the Salutation (Ave Maria) appear in the north-west window of the chapel, adjacent to the Creed (Credo) that traverses the central and eastern windows (Figs 3–5). The Ten Commandments (Decalogue) are currently in the south-east window of the choir (Fig. 6). However, there is some speculation as to whether this was its intended position, it being believed that the window was moved to its present situation some time after 1684. The possible whereabouts of the window’s original position will be explored below. Despite these windows having undergone various restorations, the general consensus is that they have retained their original composition and message; see the appendices for further details.
At the time of the installation of the catechism windows at St Laurence, Ludlow, there was renewed effort within Church towards clerical reform and pastoral revival. Since the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, the priest’s role had been expanding, resulting in the requirement of the local incumbent to be an adept preacher in order to engage his congregation. The art of sermon-making thus played an essential role in the correct education of the laity in the doctrines of the Church. The evidence of pastoral literature (pastoralia) allows us to discern the specifics of these preachings. In this literature the Lord’s Prayer, the Salutation, the Creed and the Ten Commandments depicted in the windows of St Laurence, Ludlow formed the core of a more elaborate catechetical programme for the laity that had been formulated for the English Church at Archbishop Pecham’s provincial Council of Lambeth in 1281.
Much of the ornamentation of late medieval parish churches is said to have been informed by this new art of sermon-making. A frequent topic of the late medieval preacher was the devilish twin-peaked headdress. A misericord at St Laurence, Ludlow, which depicts the dishonest ale-wife being taken to Hell, carries an allusion to these preachings, as she can be seen to be wearing this sinful headgear (Fig. 7). Wall-paintings also carried references to sermons. Sadly, there are only remnants of the paintings that once adorned the walls of St Laurence’s, but the late fourteenth-century mural on the west wall of Trotton Church, Sussex provides us with an example of this mode of ornamentation (Figs 8 and 9). At the top is Christ enthroned, below him stands Moses with the tables of stone, while on Christ’s left is a figure of a man surrounded by medallions showing the Seven Works of Mercy. The inclusion of the Ten Commandments and the Seven Works of Mercy, both of which constituted elements of the catechetical teachings of the priest, demonstrates how the pastoral aspect of the clergy affected the images with which the late medieval parish church was decorated.
The catechism windows of St Laurence, Ludlow, can thus be regarded as part of a new movement to preach to the parishioners through the imagery of the parish church. Stained glass is well known to have depicted the catechetical teachings of sermons. Habington’s recollection of the subjects in the glass of the north choir aisle at Malvern Priory informs us that there once existed ‘the whole of the Christian doctrine and the fower doctors of the Lataine Church’ in the windows there. The Ten Commandments Window at St Laurence, Ludlow, is the only surviving English illustration of the Decalogue in this medium. Each panel shows Moses displaying, to a group of people, the tables of stone, on each of which is written a commandment in Latin. Below the figure of Moses is enacted the breaking of each commandment thus providing a pictorial delineation of the relevant sin. The scenes portraying this disregard for the Ten Commandments employ contemporary subjects in order to relate to the medieval onlooker. This topicality is evident in the disregard for the commandment ‘Thou shalt not covet they neighbour’s house’ in which the house is depicted as a castle under siege, a familiar scene in late medieval England (Fig. 10). This is particularly relevant for the community of Ludlow, whose town was captured by the Lancastrians in 1459 when the castle was taken and sacked. The inclusion of the Archangel Michael in the uppermost tier of the window, who has no direct connection with the commandments, emphasizes the didactic nature of this composition (Fig. 11). In contemplating Michael’s scales the medieval onlooker would have been reminded of the final day of judgement and the terror of hell and purgatory he would endure if he committed the sins depicted before him.
The possibility of the Ten Commandments window having once been positioned in the nave of the church, the laity’s domain, would further its pedagogical function. On inspection of the windows in this area of the church, all of which have lost their medieval glass, the intricate trefoil lancets of the windows in the southern nave aisle bear a strong resemblance to those of the window in which the Decalogue is currently situated (Fig. 12). There is thus the possibility that the intended audience for the didactic Ten Commandments Window was the common laity worshipping in the nave.
The Salutation Window continues this instructive visual programme. Its location in St John’s Chapel and its subsequent audience will be addressed below. The Salutation is not only illustrated with a depiction of the Visitation, but is given in the form of the entire text used for prayer by the Church: ‘Hail Mary, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus’ (Fig. 13). This, combined with the Lord’s Prayer, provided the clergy with inscribed versions of the Church’s doctrines on which they were preaching, and thus allowed these windows to be utilized as ‘tools’ for the education of the laity.
There is thus a clear programme for affirming the official doctrines of the Church in the stained glass at St Laurence, just as Habington suggested in relation to the windows at Malvern Priory. This affirmation is further embodied in the composition of the Creed windows in St John’s Chapel. Arthur Wood notes that in no other Creed windows are the Apostles seated, ‘all the others having a window each with their sentences on scrolls above their heads’. In contrast, the Apostles at Ludlow are seated as if they are in a council chamber (Fig. 14). This makes sense if one considers the subject matter of the Creed. The late medieval Church placed great emphasis on the Creeds, as they formed the basis of trinitarian theology and represented the authority of the official Church. In the Ludlow window we find the manifestation of this authority in the conscious decision to depict the Apostles as though they were engaged in the Council of Jerusalem, traditionally held before the Apostles separated to spread the Gospel. This dissemination of Christianity needed a common foundation, which is provided by the Creed, whose divine inspiration is depicted by the silver rays emanating from the Holy Ghost at the apex of each window (Fig. 15). The Creed windows at Ludlow thus declare the divine authority of the Church and the significance of its ancient doctrines.
This emphasis on the teachings of the Church is interesting to consider in relation to the position of the parish clergy. From the thirteenth century, the parish priest was being drawn away from local loyalties by the diocese in order that he would see himself as part of the larger Church. The priest thus became a key figure in bringing outside culture into the local parish. A misericord at St Laurence depicting a bishop, supported on either side by a mitre, suggests this episcopal influence and authority over the proceedings of the parish (Fig. 16). Indeed, the authority of the Church over the local community is manifest in the punishment of those who did not attended services. Almost all Ludlovians went to church on Sundays. Those who failed to attend faced excommunication. In 1347, for example, the Bishop of Hereford wrote to King Edward III:
‘John Keek, Margery Neal, John Jolyf, Richard Flemmynge, John Wynchecumbe, Symon Doul and Alice de Heyton of Lodelowe because of their contumacy have suffered ajor excommunication …’.
Inherent in this notion of the authority of the Church is the nature of the liturgy. Corbett suggests the presence of two ‘liturgies’ in the late Middle Ages: ‘the liturgy … a sacerdotal concern from which [the laity] were excluded’ and ‘the liturgy … the result of one and a half millennia of contemplation and practice … as much a way of thinking as a body of texts’. Lay exclusion from the mass in the fifteenth century reflects this separation of the liturgy from the everyday devotion of the laity. Furthermore, the delivery of the liturgy in Latin has often led to its being considered the preserve of the clergy. The use of Latin rather than the vernacular in the Ludlow catechism windows could thus been seen as an attempt to foster an aura of mystery around official doctrines in order that the Church might retain its standing as the authority on religious practices within the parish church.
However, this approach to the use of language within the Church as a means of ensuring government over the laity overlooks the emergence in the fifteenth century of a group of lay readers who sought to understand and use Latin. The Church’s reaction to this development was slow, as it had developed in a society in which it was assumed that the majority of the laity were illiterate. Yet by the fifteenth century it is clear that the role of text in devotion was changing. Though it was not until after the Reformation that the practice of ornamenting the altar wall with text became commonplace, the use of text in the adornment of the church is not unheard-of before this time. The early sixteenth-century ‘Manuale Curatorum’ of Joannes Ulricus Surgant suggests that the parish priest should supplement his teaching of the Lord’s Prayer, Creed and Ten Commandments by writing up the texts and hanging them on tables in the church where people could learn from them and copy them. The use of text within the catechism windows of St Laurence must therefore be considered within the context of an increasingly literate laity.
The notion that images provided a ‘Biblia Pauperum’ for the unlearned laity stems from Gregory the Great’s Epistle to Serenus, bishop of Massilia, in which he defends the use of pictorial representation in churches as they allowed ‘that such as are ignorant of letters may at least read by looking at the walls what they cannot read in books’. The common assumption that pictures are instructive only to the illiterate, which has arisen from this statement, is challenged when text and image are combined. Many prayer book devotions of the late Middle Ages required a combination of gazing at images as well as reading of texts. This composite devotion is evident in the prayers for the wounds of Christ contained in a fifteenth-century primer in the British Library. The prayers direct the reader’s gaze to each depiction of the wounds of Christ, thus employing image and text simultaneously. These prayer and image combinations not only directed book users to pray using images, but also assumed they could read, often in Latin. The textual and visual cultures of the late medieval laity therefore acted collaboratively.
An inventory of goods at Christopher-le-Stocks, London, made in 1487–88 furthers the evidence for this new ‘devotional literacy’. Among its records the inventory notes the existence of tables of text that were hung up in the church. The table containing the ‘prayers of Oure Lady and the sauter of charite’ was located below the image of the Pietà, and it can be suggested that the other tables were placed with relevant saintly images. The ‘prayers of Oure Lady’ were likely to have replicated those found in Books of Hours in which the image of the Pietà was frequently accompanied by prayers for the Virgin Mary. In this respect, the tables at St Christopher-le-Stocks would have fulfilled the same function as a primer. The movement of text and image from private books to decorative frames demonstrates the extent of the laity’s adoption of this new form of devotion and the way in which this affected the images provided within the parish church.
Although copies of primers owned by Ludlovians have not yet been identified, it is reasonable to assume that this trend in the rise of literacy constituted a characteristic of the devotional practices at St Laurence in the fifteenth century. The combination of text and image in the catechism windows can thus be considered a result of this progression in the parishioners’ devotional requirements, as reflected in the layout of the tables at St Christopher-le-Stocks. In gazing on the Ten Commandments Window the medieval viewer would first be directed to the figure of God presiding over each panel. From here, the viewer’s gaze would fall to read the commandment presented by Moses, positioned in the centre of each pane. Their eye would then be drawn downwards to the disregard of this commandment, thus producing a composite viewing of text and image, the former informing the interpretation of the latter and the two combining to form a devotional means of contemplating sin. The position of the Salutation in the north-west window of St John’s Chapel furthers this interplay between text and image. Contained within the scroll held by the Archangel Gabriel the text of this prayer is situated in the centre of the composition. Text and image are consequently viewed simultaneously in an all-encompassing representation of the Visitation. The catechism windows thus provided the parishioners of St Laurence with devotional as well as educational ‘tools’.
This devotional purpose of the catechism windows raises interesting concerns with regard to the laity’s impact on the religion offered to them by their parish church. The composition of the Salutation Window is particularly enlightening in this regard. Donor portraits at the window’s base carry an inscription that, although incomplete, allows the viewer to discern the sentence ‘Katherine his wife caused this window to be made’. The inclusion of the patron saint of the donor, St Katherine, reminds us of the likely provenance of these catechism windows as donations of wealthy parishioners made in order to contribute to the beautification of their parish church (Fig. 17). In contrast to the other instances of text in the catechism windows in which the letters are clearly inscribed on an object within the pictorial composition, such as the Apostles’ seats, Gabriel’s scroll or Moses’s Tables of Stone, the Paternoster exists as its own entity (Fig. 18). This lack of pictorial accompaniment to the Paternoster could be regarded as a result of the donor’s purposeful inclusion of this prayer as a faith offering to God in order to ensure salvation. Here, the ornamentation of the church by the laity is being utilized as a means of promoting their own devotional agendas.
This is particularly evident with regard to the role of the Palmers’ Guild in the adornment of St Laurence. The installation by the guild of its own window narrating the founding of their charter highlights the way in which the adornment of the parish church by its parishioners shaped a relationship in which the laity were able to construct and promote their devotional practices (Fig. 19). The numerous chantries that were upheld at St Laurence emphasize this use of the parish church as a space in which each member of the laity, depending on his or her wealth, could inscribe onto the church’s fabric and liturgy their own personal devotional needs. The membership of the Palmers’ Guild at the time of the catechism windows demonstrates its role in consolidating this influence of the wealthy laity. The guild’s register of 1485–89 states that at this time around half of the guild consisted of merchants, tradesmen, or craftsmen, a quarter of clergy, and only an eighth of nobility. It is thus evident that in the late fifteenth century the guild provided a platform for the wealthy mercantile members of society. The location of the Salutation and Creed windows within St John’s Chapel, the area of the church associated with the Palmers’ Guild, places these windows before an audience who would at the very least have been semi-educated. The lack of demonstrative images that ‘act out’ the accompanying text, as present in the Ten Commandments Window, could thus be attributed to the educated nature of those who frequented the chapel. This proclamation of literacy within the windows’ composition supports scholars who claim that late medieval guild members wanted to separate themselves from the rest of society. Thus the laity of St Laurence cannot be considered as a monolith when examining its impact on the church’s images. Rather there existed a multitude of parties for which the church acted as a ground for each to reinforce their feeling of self-importance within the community.
Through examining the developing religious practices of the fifteenth century in relation to the catechism windows at St Laurence, Ludlow, it is evident that there existed a complex relationship between the laity, the parish, and the official Church. While these windows depicted the official doctrines upheld by the institution of the Church and could clearly be utilized as a means of educating the laity in the catechetical teachings of the clergy, the presence of text and image within these windows creates an interesting dimension to their role within the parish church. The development in the literacy of the laity in the fifteenth century led to new modes of devotion in which the interplay between text and image became a significant aspect of religious practices. Through their contribution to the beautification of their parish church the laity can be seen to have shaped the contours of local piety by providing the new requirements for their devotion to the fabric of St Laurence. Not merely this, but through this relationship the laity were able to adopt the parish church as the conduit for their own personal devotional desires and therefore created a liturgy that was ‘unique’ for each parish. The imagery of the parish church thus provided a site for the interaction of local and universal concerns and allows us an insight into the devotional practices of the late medieval laity.
1. Kamerick 2002, 69.
2. Ibid., 72–73.
3. Lloyd, Clark and Potter 2010, 41.
4. Richmond 1981, 175.
5. Lloyd 1980, 3.
6. Ibid.; Faraday 1991, 54.
7. Ganderton and Lafond 1961, 32.
9. Goering 1981, 328.
10. Corbett 2009, 50–51.
11. See for example Anderson 1971, ch. 7.
12. Ibid., 144.
13. Klein 1986, 3.
14. Anderson 1971, 145
15. Rushforth 1936, 328.
16. Ganderton and Lafond 1961, 32.
17. Lloyd 1980, 3.
18. Weyman 1925, 19.
19. Ganderton and Lafond 1961, 40.
20. Arthur Wood, quoted in Ganderton and Lafond 1961, 45.
21. Corbett 2009, 131.
22. Pusey 1857.
23. Goering 1981, 328.
24. Lloyd 1980, 4.
25. Corbett 2009, 33–34.
26. Dix 1945, 599–600.
27. Duffy 1992, 7.
28. Camille 1985, 39.
29. Aston 1984, 105.
30. Ibid., 112 n. 39.
31. Schaff and Wace 2007, 23.
32. Kamerick 2002, 189.
33. Ibid., 168–69.
34. Aston 1984, ch. 4.
35. Ibid., 166.
36. Ibid., 171.
37. Lloyd, Clark and Potter 2010, 50.
38. Ganderton and Lafond 1961, 43.
39. Liddy 1997.
40. Weyman 1904.
41. Gaydon 1973, 138.
42. Liddy 1997, 27.
43. Ganderton and Lafond 1961, 32.
44. Ibid., 32.
45. Ibid., 32.
46. Ibid., 32.
47. Ibid., 33.
48. Ganderton and Lafond 1961, 38.
49. Ibid., 43.
50. Ibid., 46.
APPENDIX 1: The Ten Commandments (Decalogue) Window
This window is currently situated in the eastern window on the south side of the choir and is the only surviving example in England of a Commandments or Decalogue Window. In 1854, it was restored by David Evans, with funds from the earl of Powis. It has been stated that ‘practically the whole of the present glass, including the Commandment portion, was then in the window and that only missing pieces were made good’.
The commandments are divided and numbered according to Roman Catholic usage, which joins the first and the second commandment in the Anglican use together but splits the 10th commandment into two. The Anglican numbering of the six depicted is shown after the translation (cf. Ganderton and Lafond 1961, 33)
V. Non occides. Thou shalt do no murder. (6)
VI. Non moechaberis. Thou shalt not commit adultery. (7)
VII. Non furtum facies. Thou shalt not steal. (8)
VIII. Non loqueris contra proximum tuum falsum testimonium. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour. (9)
IX. Non desiderabis uxorem. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife. (10)
X. Non concupisceris domum proximi tui. Thou shalt not covet they neighbour’s house. (10)
Ganderton and Lafond are of the opinion that this window was originally elsewhere in the church, and that it was moved here some time after Thomas Diniely saw the church in 1684. Diniely writes: ‘Of the South Windows of the Quire, one of them, viz ye uppermost, in ye High Chancell, hath ye singers in a quire, described weach with their verse before them and thus described: ‘Orate p(ro) statu … hanc fenest(ram) fieri fec(it). An(no) D(omi) ni MCCCCXLV (1445).’ The singers and their verses have disappeared, as has the inscription.
Ganderton and Lafond’s conclusions are as follows.
• The glass is not in its original position.
• The scenes of the giving of the law are original.
• The only original of the personages appearing above the scene is God in panel VIII; the others are copies or reconstructions.
• The errors in iconography may be attributed to the earlier restorers who were not knowledgeable in these matters.
APPENDIX 2: The Lord’s Prayer (Paternoster) and Salutation (Ave Maria) Window
The window is situated in the north-west window on the north side of St John’s Chapel. Although the glass was restored in 1876 as a memorial to the Revd Robert Meyricke, its original composition remains intact and still contains a large proportion of ancient glass (cf. Ganderton and Lafond 1961, 38).
APPENDIX 3: The Creed (Credo) Windows
These windows are currently situated in the central and eastern windows on the north side of St John’s Chapel. The windows were restored in 1876 in memory of the Revd Robert Russell and Mr John Marriott. The upper part of the window now only contains a few pieces of ancient glass (cf. Ganderton and Lafond 1961).
(a) TOP LIGHTS (three to each window) On a stone bench the Apostles sit, one in each light, in front of a curtain. Each Apostle is accompanied by his name and his contribution to the Creed.
(b) St Peter: ‘Credo in Deum Patrem Omnipotentem Creatorem coeli et terrae’ (I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth).
(c) St Andrew: ‘Et in Jesum Christum Filium ejus unicum Dominum nostrum’ (And in Jesus Christ his only Son Our Lord).
(d) St James the Greater: ‘Qui conceptus est de Spiritu Sancto natus ex Maria Virgine’ (Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary).
(e) St John: ‘Passus sub Pontio Pilato, crucifixus mortus et sepultus’ (Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried).
(f) St Philip: ‘Descendit ad inferna, tertia die resurrexit a mortuis’ (He descended into hell; the third day He rose from the dead).
(g) St Bartholomew: ‘Ascendit ad coelos, sedit ad dexteram Dei Patris omnipotentis’ (He ascended into Heaven and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father).
(h) LOWER LIGHTS (three to each window).
(I) St Thoma: ‘Inde venturus est judicare vivos et mortuos’ (From thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead). A modern repair in red glass is clearly shown.
(j) St Matthew with a club (which should be an axe): ‘Credo in Spiritum Sanctum’ (I believe in the Holy Ghost).
(k) St James the Lesser with an axe (which should be a fuller’s club): ‘Sanctum Ecclesiam Catholicam, Sanctorum Communionem’ (The Holy Catholic Church, the Communion of Saints).
(l) St Matthias: ‘Remissionem peccatorum’ (the forgiveness of sins).
(m) St Thaddeus (or Jude): ‘Carnis resurrectionem’ (The Resurrection of the body).
(n) St Simon: ‘Et vitam aeternam, Amen’ (And the life everlasting, Amen.).
The Latin inscriptions in the windows are abbreviated. There are some faults in the windows for example, St James the Lesser has the axe usually attributed to St Matthias or St Matthew. Such errors could be attributed to the restoration of 1876.
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