And was the holy Lamb of God,
On Englands pleasant pastures seen!
- And did those feet, William Blake

mandag 12. desember 2011

Annealed in Glass

But when thou dost anneal in glasse thy storie,
Making thy life to shine within
The holy Preachers, then the light and glorie
More rev'rend grows, and more doth win ;
Which else shows watrish, bleak, and thin.
- The Windows, George Herbert

As mentioned in my previous blogpost I have a certain fascination for stained glass and its place in the didactic unit of the Medieval church building, a fascination I seem to share with George Herbert. Depicting scenes from the Bible or Christian mythology the stained glass could convey elements of the Christian religion in a way that made it accessible to the illiterate. There is also a certain mysticism inherent in such a didactic approach for in stained glass the sun itself - whose diurnal course is and was a perfect metaphor for the Passion of Christ - becomes the teacher, animating the figures crafted from glass and making them cast their colours on the stone. For anyone who has stood in the long, dark nave of Durham cathedral and looked towards the rose window seemingly miles away, or seen straight at the heart of Yorkshire in York Minster when leaving the quire after Evensong knows what a wonderful sensation this is. To the Medieval mind, unaccustomed to the variety of visual impressions of our time, such an experience must have been tantamount to feeling the presence of God Himself. 

  The heart of Yorkshire

Since there are many churches in York, all with their own stained glass windows, I do not intend to mention them all here, but rather draw the reader's attention to this subject whenever I write about the various churches, as I intend to do in due course. This particular blogpost, therefore, will be centred around the church of St. Martin, cum Gregory on Micklegate, now home to the stained glass centre

The church itself is referred to already in the Domesday Book, but most of the present building dates from the 14th century and onwards, the brick tower being raised in 1844. It is currently no longer functioning as a parish church, but instead hosts the stained glass centre where people can drop by to learn about the historic windows of the church, try their skills in the glazier's craft and buy their own little windows crafted by current glaziers. 

I came across this church by chance one day I had decided to explore the city on southwestern side of the Ouse, and as I was walking down Micklegate I noticed the church and that the church was open. I walked inside, always eager to see new places of historical value, and was met by a friendly woman who informed me about a guided tour that had just started and which I was free to join. She also directed my attention briefly to the selection of cakes available for sale, but there and then I chose scholarly nourishment over bodily sustenance and drew closer to the guided group. 

During the English Civil War many churches suffered badly from the iconoclasm of Cromwell's troops, in some cases spurred on by a Puritan rage against art, in other cases presumably just a manifestation of a certain lust for destruction. In the case of St. Martin cum Gregory and other churches in York, however, the glass was spared due to the direct orders of Lord Fairfax, commander of the parliamentary army. When the royalists lost the Siege of York in 1644, Fairfax forbade his soldiers to wreak havoc on the churches and his orders were to my knowledge largely followed.

In 1709, however, came the Great Wind, a storm that ravaged the country and caused much material damage, and human damage too, presumably, and that destroyed many church windows throughout England. This was a time when there were very few glaziers around since the trade had fallen out of fashion since the Middle Ages. Fortunately, however, some of St. Martin cum Gregory's 14th century glass survived even this and can be admired today, which I of course did.

A man that looks on glass,
On it may stay his eye,
Or, if he pleaseth, through it pass,
And then the heav'n espy
- The Elixir, George Herbert

The stained glass of this window is genuinely Medieval as can be seen both from the style it is wrought in, thedark ruby-red colour typical of 14th century English glazing and also the fact that the glass has become opaque through centuries of oxidation. The central panel shows St. Martin of Tours (4th century) cutting his cloak in half to dress a beggar. This beggar, according to legend, later turned out to be Christ and Martin was soon thereafter baptised and eventually left the army in favour of religion. The flanking figures are Virgin Mary and John the Baptist.

At the bottom we find the donors of this particular glass, namely Edmund and Katherine Grey, earl and countess of Kent. 

The Virgin Mary

To the right side of this window can be found two other Medieval windows, crafted by the glazier Richard of Micklegate and depicting St. Catherine and John the Baptist. Richard's trademark can be seen on the borders. Some parts of the windows are not original but 1899 replicas, nor have they all escaped destruction scot free but have been subject to rearrangements. As can be seen especially in the case of poor Katherine Grey above, certain bits have been irrevocably lost, whereas in other cases the bits have been put together again more or less successfully.

Doctrine and life, colours and light, in one
When they combine and mingle, bring
A strong regard and aw:
- The Windows, George Herbert

I wandered a bit in and out of the tour in order to turn my attention to details I found fascinating. There are many beautiful pieces of art throughout the church, be it stone carvings or stained glass. I roamed a bit on my own at intervals and - while trying the baked goods - I ended up having a nice chat with a local vicar about history, and, as often is the case in York, he took even greater interest when he learned I was from Norway.

It so happened during my visit that I met a friend whom I had just recently become acquainted with and we decided to go for a cup of tea when she had finished her glazing and consequently I did not sit down myself to try my hand at it. Next time I'm in York I hope I get the chance.

2 kommentarer:

  1. Ahh I do love York, I did not get a chance to visit this church while I was there, the windows look beautiful.

  2. I studied there for three months and I really fell in love with the city so I've made sure to explore it, but I always find new things to document. You'll find this blog is dedicated to a great extent to various minutiae of York and I hope you take the time to explore it.