Thursday, February 16, 2017

Canterbury Cathedral unveils new 19ft high medieval-style window (Comment)

Stained glass experts at Canterbury Cathedral have just finished work on a magnificent 19ft high medieval-style window, described as one of their most challenging commissions for many years.

The window has been created for a church in Dallas, Texas but before jetting off to the States panels from the window is on public display in the Treasury area of the Cathedral Crypt from now until until 22 February.

The Cathedral's team of glaziers has been working on the window, which is based on Canterbury's Redemption window in the Corona, for the last two years. 

Commissions are undertaken by the Stained Glass Studio to offset the cost of conserving the Cathedral's own historic glass but the Dallas project was not going to be without its headaches for the experienced Canterbury conservators.

Director of the Stained Glass Studio Leonie Seliger explained: "It was important to the Episcopalian clergy that the design should pay homage to the original stained glass of Canterbury Cathedral. This was a massive undertaking because the windows here were produced by the greatest stained glass artists of the time so to replicate their work would require an incredible amount of talent and skill."

"First and foremost we wanted to make sure it would be as true to the original as possible, not only in the design but in the iconography and stories. I had long phone calls with their theological adviser about the exact content of the cartoons, different attributes and colours, and it occurred to me this is the same conversation that would have taken place 800 years ago between the Prior and the Glazier - it was as if the distance in time collapsed upon itself."

It was not going to be as simple as copying what went before as the new window incorporates different geometric shapes, which meant repositioning many of the features whilst making sure that they told the same story.

Areas of Canterbury's Redemption window have been damaged and replaced over the centuries so to be true to the medieval period, the design of elements - as intricate as faces and wings - had to be borrowed from other medieval glass in the Cathedral and even from France.

Getting the actual glass right was to be another challenge as Leonie explained: "Due to building regulations in Texas all new public buildings must include a special energy saving glass. This outer layer of glass has a distinct greenish-brown hue, which meant that we had to choose brighter colours for the stained glass to counteract that. Another challenge was that modern production is so refined that there are very few imperfections in the colours or thickness and we worried that this would deaden the final design. So we contacted the glassblowers who supply us and asked them if it was possible to recreate those lovely variations that you can see in the original medieval glass. And they did. It meant a lot of unlearning for them and some trial and error, but eventually they managed to un-refine their process and produce this marvellous glass."

The final design features three narrow arched windows with three rosettes above. The central lancet depicts the end of the Passion story from the Crucifixion to the Resurrection and then the Ascension with stories from the Old Testament, including Abraham sacrificing his son (pictured right), on either side.

Every minute detail has been important as the window is to be used by clergy in Dallas to illustrate Bible stories for young members of the congregation and they plan to use cameras to blow up sections as small as a 50p coin on to large screens during services.

Leonie summed up the work: "There is an irony in that aspects of the final window are probably closer to the original work of the medieval stained glass makers than the actual window it's based on. Also, we did not artificially age the new work, so what you see now is very close to what the windows in Canterbury Cathedral looked like 800 years ago - before surface corrosion and repairs changed their appearance significantly. The completed Dallas window contains a huge number of tiny pieces of glass, more pieces than any other window we have produced in my time here. It was a very ambitious project and one that every member of the stained glass workshop was involved in."

Maurice Billingsley writes: As I left the Crypt of Canterbury Cathedral today, I was drawn into the treasury room. Often there is one precious, ancient object to gaze upon. Today it was something old, something new.

The Church of the Incarnation in Dallas has commissioned from the Canterbury Cathedral glaziers, new windows taken from old - eight hundred years old - windows in Canterbury. A selection is now on display including this panel of the sacrifice of Isaac, the angel risking his hand and wing to withstand the blow Abraham is about to deliver.

The new windows, made using mediaeval techniques, are vibrant and unmarked by the centuries of weather and pollution that have damaged the originals. Unlike the old monks of Canterbury, the ministers at Dallas will be able to bring every detail of the windows to the scrutiny of viewers using modern IT. The monks would have embraced IT, of course, as an aid to spreading the Good News - as Agnellus Mirror does in our own small way.

I shall return more than once before the windows are parcelled up and dispatched to Texas.

The display can be seen in the Treasury area of the Crypt between 10am and 4pm during the week and on Saturday and between 12.30 and 2.30pm on Sunday. Normal Precincts charges apply. 

Always check the Cathedral website for details of any special events or services which may alter visiting times.

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