21 December 2021

Patrick Reyntiens, artist of
window in Saint John’s,
Lichfield, dies at 95

Christ in Majesty … the East Window by John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

The current edition of the Church Times has two obituaries, both with Lichfield associations: the Right Revd Jonathan Gledhill, who as the Bishop of Lichfield in 2003-2015, who died on 1 November at the age of 72; and the artist Patrick Reyntiens, who collaborated with John Piper in many of his works, including ‘Christ in Majesty,’ the East Window in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, and the great stained-glass windows in the Baptistry in Coventry Cathedral, and who died on 25 October at the age of 95.

Saint John’s Hospital and its chapel date back to 1135. Saint John’s Hospital, which provides sheltered housing for retired people, is one of the finest 15th century brick buildings in England. I had my first living experience of the light and love of God when I first visited this chapel as a teenager in 1971. It remains a living experience to this day, and I return to visit this chapel constantly as a pilgrim every year; it is also an experience that it seems appropriate to recall this evening on the Winter Solstice (21 December 2021).

The chapel and the east range facing Saint John Street are part of the original mediaeval foundation, but ancient and modern come together with John Piper’s magnificent interpretation of ‘Christ in Majesty’ in stained glass, which was installed in 1984.

John Piper (1903-1992) is best-known for his Baptistry window in Coventry Cathedral. Throughout his working life, he collaborated regularly with the artist Patrick Reyntiens.

Working closely with Patrick Reyntiens, Piper designed the stained-glass windows for the new Coventry Cathedral as well as the East Window in Saint John’s, Lichfield. This window is Piper’s last major undertaking, and was executed by Patrick Reyntiens in 1984. Piper’s inspiration for the window came from his drawings and paintings of Romanesque sculptures during his many visits to French from 1955 to 1975.

The window shows ‘Christ in Majesty,’ dressed in royal purple and flanked by angels within a mandorla surrounded by the symbols of the Four Evangelists: Matthew (angel), Mark (lion), Luke (ox) and John (eagle). They appear aged, perhaps because Piper was thinking of the residents of Saint John’s Hospital who pray daily in the chapel.

The window provides a splash of deep, vibrant colour above the altar in the chapel. But it is also a window of great solemnity power. The cross behind Christ is in the shape of the Mercian cross, the cross that also features on the coat-of-arms of the Diocese of Lichfield.

While Piper occasionally painted and etched, discussed or supervised some of the painting and etching of some of the glass used in his windows, he did not make the windows himself. The majority of the work was done by artist craftsmen, most particularly Patrick Reyntiens. Piper wrote in Stained Glass: Art or Anti-Art?: ‘The great windows of modern times are all the work of artists working with collaborative craftsmen.’ Sometimes he did not see the glass from delivering the cartoons until a window was near completion, before the leading process, as he trusted the interpreters. This was mostly the case with the Saint John’s window.

Patrick Reyntiens, who translated Piper’s design, moved to a new workshop in Dorset before he began making the window. Penelope Betjeman (1910-1986), writer and wife of the Poet Laureate John Betjeman, had first introduced them in 1954, and for over 35 years Piper collaborated with Reyntiens, who was 22 years younger and soon became one of the leading 20th century stained-glass artists in Britain.

Piper’s faith has been described as middle-of-the-road, traditionalist Anglican; Reyntiens was committed to his Roman Catholic faith, which he interpreted liberally but regarded as a central aspect of his life; in both cases, their faith added profundly to their projects.

The Reyntiens family was of Flemish and Russian descent. Patrick was born in at 63 Cadogan Square, London, on 11 December 1925, and was educated at Ampleforth, Regent Street Polytechnic School of Art, and Edinburgh College of Art, where the life models included Sean Connery, the future Bond actor, and where Patrick met his future wife, the painter Anne Bruce (1927–2006).

He soon focused on stained glass and received the Andrew Grant Fellowship, a two-year travelling fellowship in 1954-1955. When he returned to England, he became assistant to the master Arts-and-Crafts stained-glass maker Joseph Edward (Eddie) Nuttgens (1892–1982), a neighbour and friend of Eric Gill.

From Eric Gill’s ideas, Reyntiens inherited the concept of the need for integrity in one’s craftsmanship and a belief that to be a craftsperson was a ‘holy’ pursuit and a spiritual calling. Eventually, Patrick became Head of Fine Art at Saint Martin’s School of Art and Design in London.

After Penelope and John Betjeman introduced John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens, Patrick contributed much to John’s glass designs. He had suggested the theme behind the Coventry Cathedral window: the architect Basil Spence had originally conceived the Baptistry window to be of ‘pale, almost white glass with a slight tint of pink and pale blue.’ When John was stuck for inspiration, Patrick suggested that he should imagine a bomb or burst of glory, symbolising the power of the Holy Spirit at the centre of the Baptistry window and design a huge explosion of light around it, similar to the aureole of light around the dove above Saint Peter’s throne in the basilica in Rome.

Reyntiens also contributed to the inspiration of the Corona in Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. He recalled a description in Dante’s Divine Comedy of the Trinity as three great eyes of different colours communicating with each other. The spectrum of colour in the corona was arranged around three intense bursts of white light, which relate to each other across the lantern yet focus different colours into the interior liturgical space as the day progresses.

Encouraged by John Piper, Patrick and Anne began a school teaching design and manufacture at Burleighfield House, Loudwater, near High Wycombe, which they ran from 1963 to 1976. They then opened a larger teaching workshop in Beconsfield in 1977.

The Corona of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral has large areas of stained glass by John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens in three colours – yellow, blue and red – representing the Trinity (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The glass for Saint John’s Chapel, Lichfield, is more conventional in its creation in leaded glass, although its design is deliberately bold and uses many techniques in painting and etching the glass, as well as creating different intensities of light.

By the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the Lichfield window was commissioned, tensions had arisen between Piper and Reyntiens over the financing of Piper’s projects. However, they continued to work together creating impressive, vibrant and harmonious art.

The tensions between these two great artists is reflected in their correspondence during the process of commissioning and making the window for Saint John’s. The delays in confirming and financing the project meant that Reyntiens suffered financial losses. He had ordered glass, booked studio time for the window and given more focus to the commission because of its significant importance. It proved to be a difficult commission practically and financially. Nevertheless, Patrick was professionally and spiritually committed to making a success of their last major collaboration.

The commission may have come about because John Piper had several connections with Lichfield. He was commissioned by the Dean of Lichfield, Frederic Iremonger, in 1947 to design the poster for the cathedral’s 750th Anniversary celebrations. He also designed a textile cover for the chancel reredos, and John and his wife were close friends of the photographer Janet Woods (1912-1998), daughter of Edward Sydney Woods, Bishop of Lichfield, and her husband, the wood engraver Alan Reynolds Stone. Piper also wrote in 1968 about his admiration for the 16th century Herkenrode Glass in Lichfield Cathedral.

The East Window in Saint John’s was commissioned to replace a window of plain quarry glass that had been installed in 1870. The ‘Christ in Majesty’ window, dedicated in 1984, was John Piper’s last major project with Patrick Reyntiens.

Patrick created the patterns for the leadwork, which in the blue mandorla of the chapel window especially adds extra life and radiance to Piper’s design.

In his detailed study of the window, Ian McKillop identifies many differences between Piper’s cartoon for the Lichfield window and the finished stained glass are seen in the differences between media and the choice of coloured glass. The blues of the mandorla, reds of the ox, greens of the angels and surround are far richer than in the cartoon. But the greatest difference in colour is found in the yellows of the light radiating from Christ’s face, the Cross and the lion.

The Cross becomes the radiant focus of the whole design. The face in the cartoon is quieter and vaguer than in the glass, and Piper’s original suggests a rather gentler expression; in the glass his face feels more severe. In interpreting Christ’s hands, Reyntiens was more subtle, creating their gentle gesture by simple painted and etched lines on the glass.

The variations of colours in Christ’s robes give his garments an enriched majesty. The blues around the sun and moon are also far more richly varied than in the cartoon. The painting of the angels is not as strong as the rest of the design but are close to Piper’s original.

Patrick Reyntiens was made an OBE in 1976. His last commissioned work was completed in 2017, when he was 92. His obituary in the current edition of the Church Times notes that ‘his career had been sustained by his deep faith.’ He died on 25 October 2021. Anne died in 2006; they are survived by two sons and two daughters.

The Baptistry Window in Coventry Cathedral, designed by John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens … it is 81 feet high and contains 195 lights of stained glass in bright primary colours (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Additional reading: ‘Christ in Majesty’ 1984, by John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens, Chapel of Saint John Baptist, Lichfield, a Study by Iain McKillop (2019), https://mckillop.weebly.com/john-piper--patrick-reyntiens---christ-in-majesty-window---st-johns-lichfield.html

Praying in Advent 2021:
24, Saint Thomas the Apostle

Carravagio: The Incredulity of Saint Thomas

Patrick Comerford

We are in the last week of Advent, and there are Christmas sermons and the details of Christmas services to attend to. Today (21 December2021) is going to be a busy day, but before this busy day begins, I am taking some time early this morning for prayer, reflection and reading.

Each morning in my Advent calendar this year, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, Reflections on a saint remembered in the calendars of the Church during Advent;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Saint Thomas the Apostle … a sculpture on the west façade of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

This day in Advent [21 December] was once marked in the calendars of the Western Church, including the Book of Common Prayer, as the feast day of Saint Thomas the Apostle and was once a major feast day in the Church.

This commemoration was moved long ago to 3 July, the date given in the Martyrology of Saint Jerome and the day on which his relics are said to have been moved from Mylapore, near Madras, on the coast of India, to Edessa in Mesopotamia. After a short stay on the Greek island of Chios, the relics were moved in September 1258 to the West, and are now said to be in Ortona in Italy.

In the Orthodox Churches, Saint Thomas is remembered each year on Saint Thomas Sunday, or the Sunday after Easter, and on 6 October. He is now celebrated on 3 July in the Book of Common Prayer (2004) in the Church of Ireland and Common Worship in the Church of England, although he is still commemorated on 21 December in the Episcopal Church (TEC).

I think of Saint Thomas as an appropriate apostle to recall in Advent, for he reminds us that all our Christmas celebrations are meaningless without faith in the Resurrection.

In the Gospels, Saint Thomas is named ‘Thomas, also called the Twin (Didymus).’ But the name ‘Thomas’ comes from the Aramaic word for twin, T'oma (תאומא), so there is a tautological wordplay going on here.

Syrian tradition says the apostle’s full name was Judas Thomas, or Jude Thomas, but who was his twin brother (or sister)?

The Temple of Apollo in Didyma … one of the most important shrines and temples in the classical world to Apollo and his twin sister Artemis (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I have often visited Didyma on the southern Anatolian coast. There the Didymaion was one of the most important shrines and temples in the classical world to Apollo and his twin sister Artemis. Apollo was the sun-god, the sun of Zeus; he was the patron of shepherds and the guardian of truth, and in Greek and Roman mythology he died and rose again.

Is the story of Saint Thomas’s doubts an invitation to the followers of the cult of Apollo to turn to Christ, the true Son of God the Father, who is the Good Shepherd, who is the way, the truth and the light, who has died and who is truly risen?

We can never be quite sure about Saint Thomas in Saint John’s Gospel. After the death of Lazarus, the disciples resist Christ’s decision to return to Judea, where there had been an attempt to stone Jesus. But Thomas shows he has no idea of the real meaning of death and resurrection when he suggests that the disciples should go to Bethany with Jesus: ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him’ (John 11: 16).

And while Thomas saw the raising of Lazarus, what did he believe in?

Could seeing ever be enough for a doubting Thomas to believe?

The Apostle Thomas also speaks at the Last Supper (John 14: 5). When Christ assures his disciples that they know where he is going, Thomas protests that they do not know at all. He has been with Christ now for three years, and still he does not believe or understand. Seeing and explanations are not enough for him. Christ replies to this and to Philip’s requests with a detailed exposition of his relationship to God the Father.

In the Resurrection story in Saint John’s Gospel, Mary does not recognise the Risen Christ at first. For her, appearances could be deceiving, and she thinks he is the gardener. But when he speaks to her, she recognises his voice, and then wants to hold on to him. From that moment of seeing and believing, she rushes off to tell the Disciples: ‘I have seen the Lord.’

Two of the disciples, John the Beloved and Simon Peter, have already seen the empty tomb, but they fail to make the vital connection between seeing and believing. When they hear Mary’s testimony, they still fail to believe fully. They only believe when they see the Risen Lord standing among them, when he greets them, ‘Peace be with you,’ and when he shows them his pierced hands and side.

They had to see and to hear, they had to have the Master stand over them in their presence, before they could believe.

On the first Easter Day, the Disciples locked themselves away out of fear. But where is Thomas? Is he fearless? Or is he foolish?

For a full week, Thomas is absent and does not join in the Easter experience of the remaining disciples. He has not seen and so he refuses to believe. When they tell him what has happened, Thomas refuses to accept their stories of the Resurrection. For him hearing, even seeing, are not enough.

Thomas wants to see, hear and touch. He wants to use all his learning faculties before he can believe this story. He has heard, but he wants to see. When he sees, he wants to touch … he demands not only to touch the Risen Christ, but to touch his wounds too before being convinced.

And so for a second time within eight days, Christ comes and stands among his disciples, and says: ‘Peace be with you.’

Mary was asked in the garden on Easter morning not to cling on to Christ. But Thomas is invited to touch him in the most intimate way. He is told to place his finger in Christ’s wounded hands and his hand in Christ’s pierced side.

Caravaggio has depicted this scene in his painting, The Incredulity of Saint Thomas. Yet we are never told whether Thomas actually touched those wounds with his fingers. All we are told is that once he has seen the Risen Christ, Thomas simply professes his faith in Jesus: ‘My Lord and my God!’

In that moment, we hear the first expression of faith in the two natures of Christ, that he is both divine and human. For all his doubts, Saint Thomas provides us with an exquisite summary of the apostolic faith.

Too often, perhaps, we talk about ‘Doubting Thomas.’ Instead, we might better call him ‘Believing Thomas.’ His doubting leads him to question. But his questioning leads to listening. And when he hears, he sees, perhaps he even touches. Whatever he does, he learns in his own way, and he comes not only to faith but to faith that for this first time is expressed in that eloquent yet succinct acknowledgment of Christ as both ‘My Lord and My God.’

In our society today, are we easily deceived by appearances?

Do we confuse what pleases me with beauty and with truth?

Do we allow those who have power to define the boundaries of trust and integrity merely to serve their own interests?

Too often, in this world, we are deceived easily by the words of others and deceived by what they want us to see. Seeing is not always believing today. Hearing does not always mean we have heard the truth, as we know in Irish life and politics today. It is easy to deceive and to be deceived by a good presentation and by clever words.

Too often, we accept or judge people by their appearances, and we are easily deceived by the words of others because of their office or their privilege. But there are times when our faith, however simple or sophisticated, must lead us to ask appropriate questions, not to take everything for granted, and not to confuse what looks like being in our own interests with real beauty and truth.

Saint Thomas is a reminder that Christmas points to Easter. His story reminds us that the incarnation is not just a nice occasion for a winter festival and giving thanks after the Winter Solstice that the sun is returning and the days lengthening. It reminds us that Christmas Day has no meaning without Good Friday and Easter Day. Christmas faith is only meaningful when it is faith in the Resurrection.

Saint Thomas’s Church, Dugort, Achill Island (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 1: 39-45 (NRSVA):

39 In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, 40 where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. 43 And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? 44 For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (21 December 2021) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for everyone living with HIV/AIDS. May we help and support them rather than stigmatise them.

Yesterday: Saint Ignatius of Antioch

Tomorrow: Fyodor Dostoevsky

Saint Thomas the Apostle … an icon in the Chapel of Saint Columba House, Woking (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org