The Windows of Lambeth Palace Chapel: A Guide, by Lyndall Hacker and James Thomson, with a foreword by the archbishop of Canterbury and photography by Brian Ellis FRCS, London, 2014, 111 pages, numerous colour illus. Available in print from BLURB, or as a free PDF here.

This publication is a welcome introduction to the modern stained glass in the chapel of Lambeth Palace, a medieval building on the south side of the River Thames, which has been used from about 1197 as the official London residence of the archbishop of Canterbury. It is written by two guides at the palace and benefits from excellent photography throughout.

Fig. 1. Lambeth Palace

Fig. 1. Lambeth Palace

The book begins with a brief description of the history of the chapel glazing, the first record of which dates from the archbishopric of John Morton (c.1420–1500, archbishop 1486–1500), when a typological scheme showing scenes from the Old and New Testaments was installed. A description of the chapel glass published in 1695 also says that the windows included a device of a mort (a flacon) on a tun. This glass was almost certainly damaged during the Reformation, and by the early seventeenth century the windows were described as ‘deformedly patcht up with ordinary glass’.

All changed when William Laud (1573–1645, archbishop 1633–1645) was installed as archbishop. He set about restoring and redecorating the chapel to produce a beautiful and exemplary setting for his own private worship. Thanks to the 1695 description mentioned previously, and the notes of William Prynne (1600–1669), a puritan critic of Laud, it is possible to reconstruct this scheme. The east window behind the altar depicted the Crucifixion with, below the cross, the high priests and soldiers, along with the instruments of the Passion. The two thieves were shown crucified to either side of Christ, and the window was inscribed with the date 1634. The side lights at the east end showed Abraham and Isaac, and the brazen serpent. Another window, probably at the west end, contained the twelve Apostles and Christ sitting in judgement over the world. The flanking panels seem to be have copied from the forty-leaf block-book edition of the so-called Biblia Pauperum, first produced in the Netherlands in 1464–65. They showed, among other scenes, Solomon judging the case of the disputed child, and David as judge; Jonah emerging from the belly of the whale, and Christ rising from his tomb; Samson carrying away the gates of Gaza, and the Ascension of Christ; the Queen of Sheba visiting Solomon, and the wise men or Magi adoring the Virgin and Child.

To extreme Protestants like Prynne the revival of such imagery in churches was tantamount to popery and a conspiracy to reinstate Roman Catholicism in England. Laud was accused of treason and executed in 1645. The chapel windows were probably destroyed around the same time and may have been replaced by clear glazing until Archbishop Archibald Tait (1811–1882, archbishop 1868–1882) commissioned the well-known firm of Clayton & Bell to install new stained-glass windows c.1876. Sadly this glass did not survive the Second World War, being completely shattered by enemy action on 10 May 1941.

After the war, Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher (1887–1972, archbishop 1945–1961) asked the talented architect John Seeley (1899–1963, 2nd Lord Mottistone after the death of his famous father in 1947) and his business partner, Paul Paget (1901–1985), to make a careful study of all the records concerning the biblical scenes that had been portrayed in the chapel’s windows since those installed by Archbishop Morton in 1486, as a precursor to commissioning a new scheme. The resultant windows were designed by Carl Edwards (1914–1985), one of the best stained-glass artists of the twentieth century. On 19 October 1955, the chapel, together with the east window (window 4), was rededicated during a splendid service in the presence of Her Majesty The Queen and other members of the royal family. A further six windows were installed during 1956.


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