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Pentecost,

Shipston-on-Stour 1

This is the first of three windows Dad made for the Church of Our Lady and St Michael at Shipston-on-Stour, the other two being figurative depictions of angels for the church’s porch (see here).

 

The church building was purchased by the Catholic Church in 1978. Now Grade II listed, it was originally the chapel of a Poor Law Union workhouse built in 1836-8. By the 1970s both the workhouse and the chapel had become derelict and the chapel was vandalised (a history of the building can be found here).

 

Shortly after its purchase, Dad was invited to assess the vandal damage to the windows. It was extensive: all the windows had been shattered and were peppered with holes.

 

The East window in particular was so badly damaged that it would have been virtually impossible to repair and not within the renovation budget. Dad suggested that, instead, a completely new East window in a simple abstract design would be the most economically viable option, an idea which the priest, Fr David Keniry, liked.

 

Because the church is situated in the Parish of Our Lady and the Apostles, Fr Keniry asked Dad to submit a design for the window depicting Pentecost, which commemorates the Holy Spirit’s descent upon Our Lady and the Apostles.

Pentecost window, Shipston-on-Stour

The two main features of the biblical Pentecost narrative were “a sound like the rush of a violent wind” and tongues “as of fire” that appeared and rested upon each person present, which are understood as the presence of the Holy Spirit (see Acts 2.1-4). Imagine the scene – what a powerful image!

 

Dad wanted to capture this dynamic moment in abstract form using simple shapes and colour. With it being a true East window (often East windows in churches aren’t actually East-facing) he also wanted to take advantage of the light that would naturally pour through at certain times.

 

To maximise the effect of the natural light, he used a lot of what’s known as ‘reamy’ clear glass. Reamy glass is hand-made to give an irregular surface and texture and has a lot of movement in it. Such movement makes the light dance, which contributes to the dynamism of this window. Strong, almost vertical lines, emanating from the Holy Spirit at the apex of the central lancet and reaching down to the Apostles and Mary, add more to the vitality and intensity of the scene. The Holy Spirit is represented as a stylised white dove, surrounded by an aura of golden, heavenly light.

 

The strong verticals also create a sense of a powerful upwards surge from the Apostles and Mary towards the light. The Apostles themselves are represented by simple elongated angular shapes of green glass, green being the colour of earthly humanity. Mary, being slightly larger and in blue, her traditional colour, holds the central place among the Apostles and as such offers stability and strength.

 

The tongues of fire rest upon the heads of the Apostles and Mary as golden, fiery shards, filling them with the Holy Spirit.

 

The colours, shapes, and the dancing quality of the reamy glass capture the essence of the Pentecost scene and illuminate the altar before it. Or rather they used to. Unfortunately, some time around 2005, a reredos, a large, floor-standing altarpiece, was placed between the window and the altar. As you can see from the image on the right, (first image below, if on a mobile phone) the reredos partially obscures the Pentecost window and detracts from its original dynamic design.

***

 

This window is a good example of one of the perennial problems of photographing glass. When you’re looking at a window, your eyes are continually adjusting to pick up the brilliance of the light outside, the design of the window itself, and the way both interact. If you were looking at this window in real life, your eyes would also be seeing the fluttering leaves of the trees outside refracted though the reamy glass, and as you moved past it, the window itself would seem alive with movement.

 

None of this can be achieved in a single photograph. This can be seen quite clearly when you compare the main photo above with the one below (second photo below, if on a mobile). In the main photo the design of the window is clear whereas in the one below the light outside flares, burning out the lead lines and bleaching the colours. Both give a sense of the window, but neither can fully capture its dynamism.

Pentecost window, Shipston-on-Stour

The window as it now appears, partially obscured by a reredos. Click on the image to enlarge.

Pentecost window Shipston-on-Stour

A photo of the window for comparison with the main photo, showing the difficulty of photographing glass. Click on the image to enlarge.

Pentecost window design, Shipston-on-Stour

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

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