Friday, April 06, 2012

Shattered beauty

click photo to enlarge
Medieval stained glass is quite commonly found in English churches. However, it is often miscellaneous, jumbled fragments, complete sections of larger works, or reconstructions. The latter, often by Victorian restorers, usually have many pieces of the older glass missing and sometimes incorporate new glass in the form of decorative frames. Complete windows can be found, undamaged, just as they were conceived centuries ago, and a few complete church schemes have survived. However, the mutilation of the fabric of our churches that the Reformation set in train mean that very often we have to envisage the beauty that was by mental extrapolation from the little that now remains.

The following passage from Article 28 of the 1547 Injunctions of Edward VI makes it very clear that the destruction of stained glass was authorised to be prosecuted with severe vigour:
"Also, that they shall take away, utterly extinct and destroy all shrines, coverings of shrines, all tables, candlesticks, trindles or rolls of wax, pictures, paintings, and all other monuments of feigned miracles, pilgrimages, idolatry, and superstition; so that there remain no memory of the same in walls, glass windows, or elsewhere within their churches or houses. And they shall exhort all their parishioners to do the like within their several houses." With this kind of official consent stone, wood and metal sculpture was vandalised or melted down, wall paintings were covered over with limewash and stained glass was smashed, some to be replaced with clear glass, but many destroyed windows were left empty. The danger with the latter course was that the weather would enter the building causing damaging and dangerous decay to the building's fabric, and so a further decree of 1559 ordered the repairing of such windows. Many church priests and congregations hid their stained glass, others collected and saved the shattered remnants, but elsewhere it was left broken on the ground and in time covered in earth. Interestingly we can see windows today that have been replaced or reconstructed from all of these circumstances.

Today's photograph (another from the vaults - see yesterday), is a re-assembly of fragments that can be seen in the church of St Agnes at Cawston in Norfolk. It looks like the beautiful work of the Norwich school of glass making that, along with York, flourished in the 1400s. The small photograph gives the context for the main image and shows how the restorers tried to make something of the figures and decorative fragments, musician angels, biblical figures and architectural canopies, all that remained after the iconoclasts had put down their hammers.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Main Photo
Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 200mm
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/200
ISO: 400
Exposure Compensation: -1.0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On