Wednesday, June 21, 2006


click photo to enlarge
What does the month of June signify to Britain in 2006? The World Cup? Wimbledon? Barbecues on warm evenings? And if you had to summarize the month in an image, what would you include? This piece of stained glass in the church of St Michael at St Michael's-on-Wyre, Lancashire, attempts to do just that, not for Britain in the twenty-first century, but for Flanders in the 1500s.

At the bottom of the circular piece, known as a roundel, is the name of the month in Latin, "Junius". Nearby is what looks like a crayfish, but is probably meant to be a crab representing the astrological sign, Cancer (the Crab) which runs from June 21st to July 22nd. Then we have the main subject - a couple engaged in the act of shearing sheep with their sprung steel clippers, and a passerby, or fellow worker, with what looks like bundled fleeces on a pole. This is not the usual medieval association for June - hay making is more common. Perhaps the artist felt the need to break the mould here! Flanders in the sixteenth century was a recognised source of high quality and innovative stained glass which was exported all over Europe, and Flemish glaziers set up workshops in a number of cities, including London. Artists like Lucas van Leyden and Marten de Vos designed religious and secular scenes for roundels, often showing Renaissance influences. Glaziers turned them into glass, using silver to achieve the characteristic glowing yellow highlights. This roundel was probably bought as one of a set of twelve representing each of the months. The secular subject suggests it may originally have been bought for a private house and subsequently donated to the church.

As a record of an ancient piece of stained glass, this isn't a very good photograph! I have another version which serves that purpose. It was taken looking up at the roundel, with a white sky background, then stretched in the computer to bring it back to circular. My intention here was to give the glass a bit of context by including the out of focus churchyard, and to show that the piece is in situ, continuing to be a pleasure for worshippers and visitors, as it has been down the centuries.
photograph & text (c) T. Boughen