Medieval Painted and Stained Glass at Worcester Cathedral & Priory, Part I: The Cathedral
By Christopher Guy, Worcester Cathedral archaeologist
Introduction: The Buildings
Founded as a bishopric in the seventh century, Worcester Cathedral was transformed by St Oswald (Bishop of Worcester AD 961 – AD 992) who built a new church in the late tenth century and created a Benedictine monastery to serve it. Although the titular head of the monastery was the bishop, for practical purposes it was governed by a prior.
The core of the present cathedral building, including the crypt, was begun in 1084 by Bishop Wulfstan II (c.1008-95; canonised 1203), one of only three Anglo-Saxon bishops to remain in office after the Norman Conquest. The eastern end of the church was re-modelled after 1224, and the nave between 1309/10 and the 1370s. The crossing tower was rebuilt between 1357 and 1374. The ten-sided chapter house, in the east walk of the cloister, dates from around 1100 but was re-modelled externally between 1386 and 1393 when new glass was installed in the windows. The cloisters were rebuilt in the last quarter of the fourteenth and the first half of the fifteenth centuries and included several important glazing schemes – see Part II of this series[Figs 1 & 2].
The earliest glass: the thirteenth century
Nothing is known about any glazing in the Cathedral before the eastern arm was rebuilt in the early thirteenth century by Bishop William of Blois (enthroned 1218–1236), to house the shrines of St Oswald and St Wulfstan and the tomb of King John I, (1167 –1216; reigned 1199 until death). The king had chosen to be buried at Worcester because of his affinity with St Wulfstan whom he had adopted as his spiritual ally during a bitter dispute with Pope Innocent III (c.1160 – 1216: Pope 1198 -1216). A Purbeck marble effigy of the king, made probably c.1230, shows him lying upon a pillow supported by the smaller figures of Bishops Oswald and Wulfstan [Figs 3 & 4].
In 1991, an archaeological excavation alongside the exterior north-east side of the choir recovered numerous fragments of glass belonging to the thirteenth-century glazing scheme. The finds consisted almost entirely of white or uncoloured glass painted in grisaille with foliage and geometric designs. There were also a few pieces of blue glass, a complete roundel with a simple quatrefoil design and other pieces with paintings of leaf designs against cross-hatched backgrounds. Comparisons with the contemporary thirteenth-century glazing scheme at Salisbury Cathedral seem appropriate, where similar grisaille patterns were sometimes enriched with inserts of coloured glass [Further Reading: Foster; Brown] [Figs 5, 6, 7, 8].
Apart from the extensive use of grisaille glass in the hoir, it is possible that some coloured figural panels were installed above the high altar or around the shrine and tombs of Sts Wulfstan and Oswald. These may have included images of Christ and the Virgin Mary to complement a large miracle-working statue, known as ‘Owre Lady of Wyssyter’, which stood near the altar. Again it is possible that a cycle of windows depicting scenes from the Life and Miracles of St Wulfstan were installed in the Choir aisles or eastern transepts similar to the arrangement at Canterbury Cathedral where the shrine of St Thomas Becket was integrated with windows depicting scenes from his Life and Miracles, [Further Reading: Engel]. Coloured glass may also have enriched one or more of the subsidiary altars in the church, as at Salisbury Cathedral, where the east window in the chapel of St Stephen and All Martyrs probably contained a panel depicting the saint’s martyrdom [Further Reading: Brown] [Fig.9].
The Fourteenth and Fifteenth centuries
After the completion of the eastern arm, perhaps around 1260, the remainder of the church was re-modelled. The rebuilding of the nave began with demolitions in the early fourteenth century, but lack of money slowed the project down so that it was not until the 1370s that the high vaults were completed. These included the vaults over the chapels of St Mary Magdalene in the north transept and St Thomas Becket in the south transept. In both instances, we can speculate that the windows in these chapels may have contained images of the saints to whom they were dedicated. The centre bosses in the north transept depict St Mary Magdalene. The bosses in the south transept show a bishop, probably Becket [Figs 10 & 11].
Compared to the narrow lancet windows at the eastern end of the church, the nave windows were much wider and filled with upper light tracery. Based on the extensive remains of the glazing scheme, which dates from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, at Great Malvern Priory, eight miles south west of Worcester, it is possible that some of these windows might have shown scenes of Christ’s Infancy and Passion, episodes from Christian history, the stories of Saints and their lives, together with kneeling figures and inscriptions asking viewers to pray for the souls of the wealthy patrons who had donated these windows.
Several panels from the early years of this campaign can be seen in the upper lights of two windows in the south nave aisle. While heavily restored, both windows appear to be based on original designs. Together with some fragments elsewhere in the same aisle they are among the few surviving remains of the cathedral’s pre-Reformation glazing. They have been dated to 1330-1350. They were moved from the west window to their present locations in windows s18 and s20 in 1864.
At the top of window s18, the Coronation of the Virgin is depicted in two quatrefoils; in the eastern light, St Mary sits in a high-backed throne and offers her hand to Christ who is seated in the adjoining panel. He holds an orb representing the world in his left hand and blesses his mother with the other.
There may also be some medieval glass in s20 showing the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary.
Richard Marks has attributed these windows to a locally based, but otherwise unidentified, West Midlands workshop to which other mid-fourteenth-century windows in Worcestershire can also be assigned, including figures depicting St Katherine and St Thomas Becket at the nearby church of St Mary at Kempsey, five miles south of Worcester. An Annunciate Virgin, also by this workshop, and formerly in the church of St John the Baptist at Hadzor, about seven miles north-east of the city, was given to the Stained Glass Museum at Ely Cathedral by the Diocese of Worcester in 1976 upon the closure of the church,. Other examples of its work can be seen the Latin Chapel of Oxford Cathedral [Figs 12 – 18] [Further Reading: Marks, 1987].
As part of the rebuilding of the nave, a new west window was installed c. 1380 which contained considerable amounts of heraldic glass. When the seventeenth-century antiquarian Thomas Abington or Habington (1560-1647) visited the cathedral before its windows were destroyed by Parliamentary soldiers during the English Civil War he saw the arms of Bishop Henry Wakefield (1375-95), who commissioned the window. He also saw those of other prominent figures in the upper lights including Edmund, earl of March, Thomas, fourth earl of Warwick and Thomas Despenser, earl of Gloucester. Some of the lower lights featured figures of knights in full armour. Among them was Mounseur John Beauchamp de Holt who was executed by the ‘Merciless’ parliament in 1388 as part of a purge of Richard II’s cronies and close allies. His tomb effigy survives in the nave of the church. Behind him was a man in long robes of purple and scarlet with a sword by his side and a partially obliterated name – Helyas Spelly. Some of these figures were drawn by Richard Symonds (baptised 1617, d. 1660), a soldier with Charles I’s army, who visited the Cathedral in 1644 and made sketches and notes of what he saw.
The west window of the north aisle also contained heraldry including that of Edward, the Black Prince (d. 1376), Henry Bolingbroke, Duke of Lancaster, who overthrew Richard II in 1399 and was crowned Henry IV (d.1413), and Bishop Reginald Bryan (served 1352-61) who was nominated by the Pope for the vacant See of Ely in 1361 but died of the plague before he was enthroned [Further Reading: Abington: M. Green][Figs 19 & 20].
Symonds’ notes say that the North Choir aisle contained ‘in every part the picture of a B[isho]P or saint or some lay-men , his name (in a scroll..) & w(ha)t he gave to the church of Worcester’. This may be paralleled with the fifteenth-century glazing at Malvern Priory. Heraldry was also widespread in other parts of the eastern end with Abington recording, among many others, an image of Prior Walter de Legh (1370-80), accompanied by a number of lay figures, in the lady chapel. He also noted the arms of Bishop John Alcock (c. 1459-1500; bishop of Worcester 1476-1486) in the east window of the vestry, now the Chapel of St John, together with the inscription:
Alcock pontificem notat haec tibi parma Johannem
Felix sit vita Deus hic, sibi postea superna
[John Alcock, Bishop, heere is by these armes exprest:
God grant he first be here, and last in heaven blest]
A panel of Alcock’ss arms – a bishop’s mitre with three cocks below – can still be seen in the east window of the former Benedictine Priory of St Giles (now the church of St Mary and St Michael) at Little Malvern, a small hamlet about eleven miles south of Worcester.
The panel includes good examples of ‘jewelling’, a highly skilled technique for inserting small pieces of coloured glass into a larger sheet. It was made between 1480 -1482 by two of the most accomplished glass painters of the period, Richard Twygge and Thomas Wodshawe, who were employed by the Bishop when he refurbished the priory church. In addition to their work at Little Malvern, the firm also made the ‘Magnificat’ window at Great Malvern Priory. In the early sixteenth century (1507–10), a Richard Twygge (it is unclear what had happened to Wodeshawe) is recorded at work in the nave of Westminster Abbey where he is described as either ‘of’ or ‘from’ Malvern [Further Reading: Gilderdale Scott]. It is possible that the panel depicting the Bishop’s arms in the cathedral vestry at Worcester was also made by this partnership.
Apart from incidental losses caused by rebuilding schemes, the first wave of destruction probably began in 1538 when Henry VIII declared Thomas Becket a traitor, not a saint, and outlawed his image in glass and other art. More window glass was probably smashed shortly afterwards when the monastic shrines of St Oswald, St Wulfstan, and Bishop John de Coutances (d. 1198) who was revered as an unofficial saint in Worcester, were torn down in 1540.
Further damage almost certainly occurred during the reign of Edward VI after government injunctions in 1547 mandated reformers to destroy all shrines. . . pictures, painting and all other monuments of feigned miracles. . . so that there remain no memory of the same in walls, glass-windows, or elsewhere within their church or houses. Glimpses of the results can be seen in the cathedral chronicle for 1556 which includes reference to new glass windows in the clerestory of the choir: And the glasse windows above were taken downe, and newe glasse was sett there, which liteneth the quire verie muche.
The Civil Wars of the 1640s wreaked additional destruction after troopers from the Earl of Essex’s parliamentary army ransacked the cathedral. Windows which had survived earlier assaults were among their targets. According to the antiquary, Sir William Dugdale (1605 –1686), the soldiers broke, ‘in pieces divers beautiful windows wherein the foundation of the church was lively historified with painted glass’ [Further Reading: Dugdale]. On July 5th 1646, two parliamentary sentries smashed the carved stonework of one of the cloister windows to steal its ironwork.
Major changes to the fenestration of the main body of the Cathedral in the eighteenth century caused further losses, as both the great west and east windows were replaced in 1789 and 1792 respectively. In the nineteenth century, John Noake (1816 -1894), a local author, described seeing the arms of the see and local churches in the newly created east window before it was replaced in the ‘complete restoration’ of the church that was begun in 1857. In fact, by the time that campaign had finished in 1874, the architects Abraham Edward Perkins (1808-1873) and Sir George Gilbert Scott (1811-1878) had created new windows at both the east and west ends of the church and at the north and south ends of the main transepts. If any medieval glass had survived in its original location until that moment, it did so no longer.
The Chapter House
The chapter house enjoyed at least two glazing campaigns. Excavations undertaken by the cathedral archaeological team in the 1990s found fragments of thirteenth-century grisaille glass, chosen no doubt to maximise the illumination of the room’s richly decorated interior. This included wall paintings of angels holding books above every seat and a complex typographical painted scheme across the vaults pairing events from the Old and New testaments. Traces of a curving paint line on the central pillar of this room may be the remains of a Tree of Jesse scheme which added to this once theological ‘harmony of the testaments’ [Further Reading: Heslop].
In keeping with the rebuilding campaigns elsewhere in the cathedral, changes were also made to the chapter house in the late fourteenth century, including the insertion of four-light perpendicular windows. In 2003 during repairs to this building, an excavation was undertaken below the present floor area. Although headline discoveries included the remains of over 180 Anglo-Saxon graves, small amounts of glass were also recovered from the debris. These included some pieces of grisaille glass and some pieces coloured with typical post-1300 yellow stain. These included several discernible decorative fragments and a single Gothic script ‘letter’ from part of an inscription.
Symond’s account of the cathedral glazing included drawings of the heraldic glass (including the arms of England) in the convocation or treasury windows. Chapter houses were often glazed with the arms of benefactors, with other known examples at Salisbury Cathedral and York Minster.
In addition to the glazing of the Cathedral and its immediate precincts, including the adjacent Bishop’s palace and the priory buildings, painted and stained glass was almost certainly installed at the Bishop’s house at Kempsey and in the Priors’ residences at Battenhall (a mile south of Worcester), Crowle and Grimley.
A Journal kept by William Moore (Prior: 1518-1535), includes a reference dated 1525 for the purchase of window glass:
To Cornesshe Colshull for glassyng ye grete window in ye new chamber at Batnal , conteying 1xxxij feet, ye price of that ther is of ye armes and rowndes abated xvij feet, ye price of everie skochion viijd. of everie rownde vid. and everie foote of white glass vd. – x1ivs. vijd.’ [Further Reading: Fegan].
More interesting are entries in the same journal which refer to a glazing contract at Crowle Court, a moated timber-framed house used by the priors, sadly demolished in 1864. Moore actually names Edmund Glassyer of Alcester as the glazier responsible for painting the lower windows of the Court chapel with the figures of Mary and John, “ix foots and half” for 4s 12d.” (??), raising the possibility that this same person or workshop might have carried out at least some commissions in the cathedral itself [Fig. 24].
The same journal entry also notes that Edmund glazed ‘ye lyttull hole in ye ov’r chapel’ containing two and a half feet for twelve and a half pence and the ‘study window above and under’.
According to John Noake, a later visitor to this house reported seeing a window with Moore’s arms in the hall. Small fragments of rearranged late fifteenth-century glass can be seen in the west window of the vestry in the nearby parish church of St John the Baptist. They include an incomplete crowned and nimbed female head facing three-quarters right, (probably part of a Virgin and child panel) which Professor Marks has attributed to the Twygge and Wodeshaw partnership [Further Reading: Marks 1984] [Fig. 25].
Although nothing remains of the manor house at Grimley, several windows in the parish church of St Bartholomew contains fragments of fifteenthth-century painted and stained glass. They include a figure of God the Father with his hand raised in blessing and an Annunciation pairing of St Gabriel and the Virgin Mary.
Although the Cathedral now has very little medieval glass, the impact of its windows on the eve of the Reformation must have very impressive.
Despite bemoaning such losses, there is much good nineteenth-century glass in the Cathedral for visitors to see including work by Hardmans, Lavers & Barraud, William Wailes, Burlison & Grylls and Clayton & Bell.
I am grateful to the Dean and Chapter of Worcester; the Cathedral Librarian, David Morrison; Robin Whittaker, the Archives Manager and Diocesan Archivist Worcestershire Record Office; and to Sarah Brown, Roger Rosewell and Dr Joseph Spooner for their research and advice. I am also grateful to the copyright holders of the picture credits listed below for their permission to reproduce these images
The author: Figs 4, 5, 6, 8, 11. The Dean and Chapter of Worcester: Figs 1, 3. The Stained Glass Museum, Ely: 15. Roger Rosewell: 2, 7, 9, 10, 12, 13, 14, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 25.The Victoria & Albert Museum: Fig. 24.
Thomas Abingdon, The Antiquities of the Cathedral Church of Worcester, London, 1717 and 1723.
William Dugdale, A Short View of the Late Troubles in England, Oxford, 1681, p. 557.
E. S. Fegan (ed.), Journal of Prior William More, Worcestershire Historical Society, Worcester, 1914.
Valentine Green, A Survey Of The City Of Worcester, Worcester, 1764.
John Noake, The Monastery and Cathedral of Worcester, London, 1866.
R. Symonds, Worcester Cathedral, College, Cloisters & Treasury, folios 35-52v, British Library (BL) Ms. Harley, 965
S. Brown, Sumptuous and Richly Adorn’d. The Decoration of Salisbury Cathedral , 1999
D. Foster, ‘Thirteenth Century Grisaille Window Glass from Worcester Cathedral’, in C. Guy (ed), Archaeology at Worcester Cathedral: Report of the Eighth Annual Symposium March, 1998, Worcester, 1998, pp. 8 – 12
M. A. Green, Old Painted Glass in Worcestershire, Worcester, 1935. Reprinted in nine parts in Worcestershire Archaeological Society Transactions, 1935 – 48
R. Marks, The Stained Glass of the Collegiate Church of the Holy Trinity, Tattershall (Lincs.), New York & London, 1984
R. Marks, Stained Glass in England during the Middle Ages, London, 1993
R. Marks, ‘The Virgin Annunciate’, Cat. No 740, p. 534, in J. Alexander & P. Binski (eds.) Age of Chivalry, Exhibition catalogue, London, 1987
G. McNeil Rushforth, Medieval Christian Imagery, Oxford, 1936.This is an extensive study of the glazing of Great Malvern Priory. A CVMA (GB) study of The Medieval Stained Glass of Malvern Priory by Heather Gilderdale Scott is in preparation.
H. Gilderdale Scott, Prince Arthur Kneeling in Prayer: north transept (window nVI), Great Malvern Priory (Worcs.), Vidimus No 12, November, 2007
The Architectural Context
U. Engel, Worcester Cathedral: an Architectural History, London, 2007
C. Guy, Annual Symposium reports on archaeology at the cathedral. For a full list, see:
R. K. Morris, (ed), Medieval Art and Architecture at Worcester Cathedral, British Archaeological Association Conference Transactions, Volume 1, 1978.