Stained Glass. One of the great media in the history of English painting, albeit much of the glass was actually foreign. The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries produced some of the most important glass in our national collection but much of it was destroyed in the various wars and iconoclasts since.
The Great Cathedrals provide the most important extant examples, at York, Canterbury and Gloucester, as well as the surviving Abbeys such as Tewkesbury and Great Malvern Priory, and of course the fine medieval colleges in Oxford: Merton and New College. The recently restored Great East Window at York Minster has the largest area of medieval stained glass in Europe and was painted by the renowned English Renaissance artist, John Thornton.
The Parish churches have been less fortunate and with the exception of some notable examples such as Fairford in Gloucestershire the study of early stained glass in England is the study of fragments. The programme is so complete at Fairford there is a school of thought suggesting it was really destined for a greater church elsewhere, but where?
Bledington Parish Church, also in Gloucestershire was to be the starting point for my Masters Degree research but that was scuppered by Covid as the churches all closed in the first week of my study in March. This led to me tackling some mixed media works based on the Persian epic poem, the Shah-Nama. But now that is behind me I thought I might revisit the original idea.
The Four Evangelists was to be the entry to my research; four small paintings in the nave tracery on the north wall. The one of great interest was St Matthew (the Angel) due to his holding a quill and scroll – one of the rare paintings of the gospel writers portrayed writing the words. The beautiful yellow tint, typical of English windows of the fifteenth century, comes from the introduction of silver salts in the process.
The Wars of the Roses. The other point of interest for this scheme of glass paintings was the date the church was rebuilt, 1471, being one of the key moments in English history, where King Edward IV’s army routed the Lancastrians at Tewkesbury. With the alleged murder and executions of the only heir, Edward of Westminster, and the King, Henry VI, a few days later the direct Lancastrian line was ended.
Changing sides or turn coating was common in these hurdy gurdy wars. We might ask whether the Bledington stained glass was a Lancastrian or Yorkist scheme, and who was the artist? Was it John Prudde of Westminster, the Lancastrian, known to have painted the glass at the Beauchamp Chapel in Warwick, or a Yorkist loyalist from Oxford – much to ponder?
The study of fragments. Maybe the fragments at Bledington we’re not for those windows at all, but an accumulation of glass from a cluster of local churches, or may even be part of the long lost Winchcombe Abbey programme. Whatever the answers this beautiful and historic church of St Leonard’s in Bledington is well worth a visit when lockdown is over, as is the famous Kings Head Inn near at hand, by the Village Green.