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Our Lady of Lourdes stained glass window at Holy Family Church, Dagenham, UK

Our Lady of Lourdes, Dagenham

In the early years of Dad’s self-employment as a stained glass artist, he had a run of “Our Lady” windows to design and make, windows depicting Mary, the Mother of Jesus. This isn’t too surprising given that most of his early jobs came via a Catholic agent of church furnishings. Of them all, this window of Our Lady of Lourdes in the Lady Chapel at Holy Family Church, Dagenham is the one that, looking back, he feels most warmly towards. This is partly nostalgic – it was the first window he was asked to submit a design for after going self-employed in 1979 – and partly because he likes the simplicity of the design.

 

Over the years, many windows have been made depicting the story of Our Lady of Lourdes who, according to the Catholic Church, appeared 18 times in 1858 to a poor, 14 year old girl, Bernadette Soubiroux, in a cave near Lourdes in France. Most of these windows are highly detailed and heavily painted.

 

Dad wanted to create a window that was more contemporary and stylised. His starting point was the glass itself. One of the overriding appeals of glass for Dad is its ethereal quality – it has substance yet is insubstantial, you can see glass and you can see through it. This quality of glass has always informed his work as a stained glass artist – as he always says, he likes to let the glass do the work in a window and not rely too much on paintwork.

 

His interest in letting glass do the bulk of the work is quite apparent here. Beautiful hand-made glass, full of texture and movement, and simple shapes form the main elements of the design which depicts a simple, stylised Mary in a white gown in the shape of a mandorla (an almond shape that often surrounds the figures of Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary in traditional Christian iconography). She wears the traditional blue sash and has “a yellow rose on each foot, the same colour as the chain of her rosary”, as described by Bernadette herself. Paintwork is kept to a minimum – the only painted areas are her face and feet and her rosary.

 

The cave, or grotto, in which Mary appeared to Bernadette is symbolised in the window by the simple background of dark blue glass. Appearing out of this darkness are a series of yellow diamonds. They represent candle flames, based on the familiar custom of lighting candles as prayer offerings at Lourdes.

Around Mary’s feet are a small number of pink roses after the style of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, a more modern take on the frothy mass of pink roses that often surrounds Mary in artistic representations of Bernadette’s vision.

Rose detail in Our Lady of Lourdes window, Dagenham

My very first memory of Dad as a self-employed stained glass artist is of when he was designing this window (I was 14 at the time). Part of the design process (after the design has been accepted and the window has been commissioned) involves the creation of what’s called a “cartoon”, a full-sized drawing of a window that acts as a template for cutting the pieces of glass. For the duration of this process, our living room became an extension of Dad’s workshop and he drew the cartoon on paper taped to the living room wall. At the time it seemed perfectly normal to sit watching telly with a large drawing of Mary peering down at us, but now I wonder how on earth Dad managed working in that environment with three kids milling around!

 

I also remember loving the hand-made pink glass he chose for the roses at Mary’s feet because it contained real gold. Glass that contains real gold seemed very special to my young mind, and highly appropriate for such a beautiful window.

The original design of the Our Lady of Lourdes window, Dagenham

The original design for this window. Click on the image to enlarge.

Roses at the feet of Our Lady of Lourdes, Dagenham

A close-up of Mary's feet and roses and showing the shrubbery behind the window. You can see the textures in the hand-made glass which gives movement to the window. The pink glass of the roses contains real gold. Click on the image to enlarge.

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