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BCD SPECIAL REPORT ON

HISTORIC CHURCHES

23

RD ANNUAL EDITION

31

MEDIEVAL STAINED GLASS

IN NORTH WALES

and its treatment in the 19th century

Martin Crampin

I

T HAS long been known

that a significant body of

medieval stained glass

survives in the churches

of north Wales, and in

particular in Flintshire and

Denbighshire. This glass

was recognised and studied

in the 1960s by Mostyn

Lewis, whose

Stained Glass

in North Wales up to 1850

,

published in 1970, has

remained the best source of

information on the subject,

despite lacking the colour

photography necessary

to excite the layman.

Mostyn Lewis realised

that this survival was

significant since, for reasons

still not well accounted for,

medieval stained glass is

rare in the southern half of

Wales, and although there

are some 14th-century

survivals, stained glass

of the late 15th and early

16th centuries, which makes

up so much of the medieval

glass in north Wales, is

quite scarce across the

border in Cheshire. To put

the quantities in context,

perhaps a third of all the

medieval glass in Wales

survives in a single church,

at the Church of All Saints,

Gresford, near Wrexham.

Furthermore, it would

easily be possible to fit all of the medieval

glass from Gresford into the recently

restored east window at York Minster.

The reasons why medieval stained

glass has survived in some parts of the

country and not in others are often

obscured by our lack of knowledge about

how widely stained glass was adopted

for the glazing of church windows in

the Middle Ages. Furthermore, there

are several reasons why stained glass

was lost or destroyed in the intervening

centuries. Along with rood figures and

statues, stained glass was certainly taken

out or attacked during the religious

upheavals of the mid-16th century. While

I expect that this may have happened in

Wales – and certainly devotional figures

were removed – I have not yet come

across a single reference confirming it.

Stained glass from monastic houses was

particularly at risk, as the

fabric of the buildings was sold

off as a valuable commodity.

For example, at the Cistercian

house of Strata Marcella

near Welshpool, stone, lead

gutters, window glass and

lead were sold off as well as

bells, the organ, plate and

vestments. Not surprisingly,

there are no visible remains

of the abbey today.

Several 19th-century and

earlier traditions claimed

that stained glass in parish

churches was brought

there from neighbouring

monastic houses. However,

it is more likely that most of

these stained glass windows

originated in the churches

where they are now found,

rather than being moved

to new locations in the late

1530s. There is better evidence

for the destruction of stained

glass during the English Civil

War, however. Parliamentarian

troops were known to

have destroyed windows in

Wales from Hawarden to

St Davids, and the belief that

the famous Jesse window

of 1533 at Llanrhaeadr-yng-

Nghinmeirch in Denbighshire

(page 32) was removed and

hidden in the 1640s may have

some validity, as it might

not have otherwise survived

the presence of Parliamentarian

troops in the area in 1646.

The descriptions of churches in Wales

written by the antiquarian Sir Stephen

Glynne in the 1840s reveal that much

more medieval stained glass existed in

Welsh churches then than it does today.

Together with other written and visual

sources from the early 19th century, this

demonstrates that losses of medieval

The Annunciation, Clayton & Bell, 1872, lady chapel (north aisle),

Church of All Saints, Gresford, incorporating glass of 1498 (All photos by the author)