02 December 2023

Three windows in
Lichfield Cathedral
with Advent and
Christmas themes

The Great West Window in Lichfield Cathedral by Clayton and Bell depicts the full Christmas story (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

I was writing enthusiastically on this blog about the images of Christ the King in Lichfield Cathedral earlier this week. Later that same day (29 November 2023), I was in Lichfield Cathedral for the funeral of a friend who had died at the age of 65.

Both Lichfield Cathedral and the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital in Lichfield have been like spiritual homes to me for more than 50 years, since I was in my late teens. As on every return visit to Lichfield, I visited both places this time too for prayer and spiritual refreshment.

I never cease to wonder at how I can see things with fresh eyes each time I visit either place. And, on this latest visit to Lichfield Cathedral, I found myself viewing three windows with Advent and Christmas themes that are appropriate at this time of the year.

In the past, I have blogged about many of Charles Eamer Kempe’s windows in Lichfield Cathedral and Saint John’s Chapel, including the great Kempe window in the south transept of the cathedral, which I described last Wednesday. But the facing window in the north transept and the great West Window are both by Clayton and Bell, in whose studio Kempe studied and trained.

Many people are very familiar with the west front of the cathedral, with its rich collection of statues of Biblical figures, saints and kings. But few people notice the rich west window which can only be appreciated from inside the cathedral, and they people may only catch a glimpse of it as they glance up from the nave as they are leaving the cathedral.

The figures in the upper register of the West Window are: the Archangel Gabriel, Saint Joseph, the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child and the Three Wise Men (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The west window, with its depictions of the Nativity cycle, was designed by Clayton and Bell and was inserted after the window tracery was redesigned by Sir George Gilbert Scott in the 1860s.

The large West Window has undergone several changes in its tracery, and the present window differs considerably from the mediaeval window. There is no record of the glass that filled the West Window before the English Civil Wars, and the tracery was destroyed in the Civil Wars. Some accounts say the window was filled with glass in the 1670s by the Duke of York, later King James II. Later it was filled with painted glass Brookes through a legacy left by Dean John Addenbrooke, who died in 1776.

However, the west window was regarded as so ugly and unsuitable to the whole spirit of the cathedral that it was removed by Scott in 1869 during his restoration of the cathedral. He replaced the 17th-century window by one he considered ‘more in character, though possibly a little too late in detail.’

The lower part of the West Window depicts the Annunciation, the Angel appearing to Saint Jospeh, the Nativity, the Magi on their journey, their encounter with Herod, and the flight into Egypt (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The glass in the Great West Window was placed there in 1869 in memory of Canon John Hutchinson, who was the Canon Precentor of Lichfield Cathedral and Rector of Blurton, North Staffordshire. The window was paid for by public subscription.

Hutchinson had been a residentiary canon before being installed as a precentor in 1850. It is said that he, ‘perhaps, of all was most eager for the restoration of the cathedral.’ The wholesale renovation of the interior of the cathedral by Sir Gilbert Scott was due to his energy, enthusiasm and powers of persuasion, inspired by Hutchinson’s visits to Ely Cathedral and some other recently restored churches. He died on 27 April 1865.

The present window was designed by Clayton and Bell, a prolific and proficient stained-glass workshop in the late 19th and early 20th century. The partners were John Richard Clayton (1827-1913) and Alfred Bell (1832-1895). The company was founded in 1855 and continued until 1993.

The west window is a six-light window depicting the Birth of Christ. The figures in the upper register are: the Archangel Gabriel at the Annunciation, Saint Joseph, the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child, and the Three Wise Men. The smaller panels below depict: the Annunciation, the Angel appearing to Saint Jospeh, the Nativity, the Magi on their journey, their encounter with Herod, and the flight into Egypt.

The ‘Tree of Jesse’ Window in the north transept by Clayton and Bell (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

In the south aisle, Clayton and Bell also designed the window in memory of Mary Muckleston, who died in 1873. It depicts Jesus and Lazarus, Jesus with Mary and Martha and Mary Magdalene washing the feet of Jesus.

Clayton and Bell also designed the ‘Tree of Jesse’ Window in the north transept in 1893. The new glass and the new window were given by James Chadwick, a cotton manufacturer, of Hints Hall, near Tamworth.

The five-light north window is known as the Jesse window, and illustrates the account of the genealogy of Christ according to Saint Matthew (see Matthew 1). The figures beginning from the west side represent: 1, Ahaz, Asaph, Abijah; 2, Hezekiah, Solomon, Rehoboam; 3, the Virgin Mary and Child, Salathiel, David, Jesse; 4, Josiah, Johoshaphat, Joram; (5) Manasseh, Jotham, Uzziah. There are angels in the four side lights.

Chadwick also paid for rebuilding Saint Bartholomew’s Church, Hints (1882-1883), designed by John Oldrid Scott, a younger son of Sir George Gilbert Scott, and the adjoining vicarage, now known as Chadwick House.

The window in the south aisle by Ward and Hughes in memory of Isabella Stephen (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

A third window in Lichfield Cathedral with Christmas-related themes is the window in the south aisle depicting Faith, Hope and Charity.

This three-light window is in memory of Isabella (Birkmyre) Stephen, wife of Leslie Oscar Stephen (1819-1898), a railway director, of Burton on Trent. She died on 9 January 1876, and their son, Sir Alexander Condie Stephen (1850–1908), was a British diplomat who also translated from Russian and Persian, including the poetry of Mikhail Lermontov.

The window was made by Ward and Hughes (formerly Ward and Nixon) in 1876. The figures of Faith and Hope are to each side of Charity, represented by the figure of the Virgin Mary holding the Christ Child, with three children gathered at her feet.

The lettering between two sets of images reads: ‘And now abideth Faith, Hope and Charity, these three. But the greatest of these is Charity.

The three lower panels in this window depict the angels appearing to the shepherds in the field in Bethlehem (Luke 2: 8-20); the Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple in Jerusalem (Luke 2: 22-38), with Simeon holding the child, the Virgin Mary offering two doves, and Anna standing to the right; and, linking the Incarnation with the Resurrection, or Christmas with Easter, the Risen Christ appearing to Mary Magdalene.

The West Window in Lichfield Cathedral is best appreciated from the inside, standing in the nave (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Daily prayers in the Kingdom Season
with USPG: (28) 2 December 2023

Eric Gill’s last work is the Crucifixion in the Chapel of Saint George and the English Martyrs in Westminster Cathedral, showing the Crucified Christ as Christ the King (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

In this time between All Saints’ Day and Advent Sunday, we have been in the Kingdom Season in the Calendar of the Church of England. Advent begins tomorrow with Advent Sunday or the First Sunday of Advent (3 December 2023).

There is a lot of activity in Stony Stratford later today, including street dancing and music, the Christmas Fayre in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, the Lantern Parade this afternoon and switching on the lights on the Christmas Tree in Market Square at 5 pm.

But, before this day begins, I am taking some time for prayer and reflection early this morning.

Since the Feast of Christ the King last Sunday (26 November), I have been reflecting each day this week, I have been reflecting on Christ the King, as seen in churches and cathedrals I know or I have visited. My reflections have followed this pattern:

1, A reflection on Christ the King;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The Byzantine-style mosaic in the tympanum in Westminster Cathedral shows Christ as the enthroned Pantocrator (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Christ the King in five cathedrals:

To conclude this week’s series of reflections on the theme of Christ the King, this morning I am looking at six images of Christ the King in five cathedrals: Westminster, Coventry, Llandaff, Cobh and Torcello, in four countries – England, Wales, Ireland and Italy.

I know of at least two images in Westminster Cathedral depicting Christ as Christ the King. John Betjeman once called the cathedral ‘a masterpiece in striped brick and stone in an intricate pattern of bonding, the domes being all-brick in order to prove that the good craftsman has no need of steel or concrete.’ HS Goodhart-Rendel, in his English Architecture since the Regency, says it is ‘a work of extraordinary beauty and grandeur.’

After two false starts, building started in 1895 under Cardinal Herbert Vaughan (1832-1903) Archbishop of Westminster, with John Francis Bentley (1839-1902) as the architect. The cathedral was dedicated to the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Latin dedication above the portal arch reads: Domine Jesus Rex et Redemptor per Sanguinem tuum salva nos, ‘Lord Jesus, King and Redeemer, heal us through your blood.’

The Blessed Sacrament Chapel was decorated in 1960-1962 in a traditional, early Christian style. The mosaics were designed, Boris Anrep, also known for his decorations in the Cathedral of Christ the King in Mullingar, Co Westmeath.

One image of Christ the King in Westminster Cathedral is by the English sculptor Eric Gill. The Stations of the Cross and the carving of the Crucifixion in the Chapel of Saint George and the English Martyrs are among the finest examples of Gill’s work.

The Crucifixion above the Altar in the Chapel of Saint George and the English Martyrs is the last work by Gill, who died in 1940. It shows Christ not as a victim but gloriously triumphant over death. On the left stands Saint Thomas More, Lord Chancellor of England, and on the right Saint John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, both executed on the orders of King Henry VIII in 1535.

The second image of Christ the King in Westminster Cathedral is in the deeply recessed arch over the main, central entrance. The tympanum shows in a Byzantine-style mosaic (from left to right), Saint Peter kneeling with the Keys of Heaven, the Virgin Mary, Christ as the enthroned Pantocrator, Saint Joseph holding a lily, and King Edward the Confessor kneeling in royal regalia.

Christ blesses the world with his right hand, and in his left hand he holds the Book of Life, with the Latin inscription: Ego sum ostium per me si quis introierit salvabitur, ‘I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved’ (John 10: 9).

In Coventry Cathedral, Graham Sutherland’s powerful tapestry. ‘Christ in Glory,’ depicts the risen Christ in the glory of God in Heaven. The tapestry is in the Lady Chapel and dominates the view along the cathedral nave.

The design depicts Christ seated in a mandorla or almond-shaped aura of light – often used in mediaeval art to show Christ as a divine being. The figure of Christ is surrounded by beasts representing the four evangelists – Mark (winged lion), John (eagle), Luke (calf) and Matthew (winged man) – as well as an image of Saint Michael, to whom the cathedral is dedicated.

The design and creation of the tapestry preoccupied Sutherland for almost a decade. The tapestry measures 23 metres tall, 12 metres wide, weighs about a ton and has over 900 colours. It was woven in one continuous piece by hand, from behind, on a 500-year-old loom made from two tree trunks, in a workshop near Aubusson in France. It is made from Australian and French wool that was hand-dyed using water from the local river.

Sir Jacob Epstein worked closely with Sir Basil Spence and Graham Sutherland in Coventry Cathedral.

Epstein’s ‘Majestas’ in Llandaff Cathedral was commissioned by the Dean and Chapter with funds allocated to replace stained glass lost in bombing during World War II. Christ looks not at the congregation at his feet but through the clear glass of the cathedral west to the wider world beyond. The aluminium figure is 16 ft high, weighs 7 cwt and was cast by the Morris-Singer works in Lambeth.

On the eve of the rehallowing of the nave on 10 April 1957, Bob Evans, the new curate of Llandaff, found himself sitting silently in the nave alongside Epstein. He asked the sculptor: ‘Was it difficult for you, a practicing Jew, to create a Christ for a Christian congregation?’

Epstein replied, ‘All my life I have searched for truth and beauty and, in the end, I discovered that it is in the idea of the Christ that they are to be found.’

After Epstein died in 1959, the original plaster figure from which his Majestas was cast was gilded and moved to Riverside Church in New York.

Christ the King is depicted in in the central tympanum of Saint Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh, Co Cork. Christ is seen with the emblems of the four evangelists: Matthew (winged man), Mark (lion), Luke (bull) and John (eagle). The composition includes Saint Patrick (right) and Saint Ita (left). The Twelve Apostles are in the lintel (from left): Philip, Thomas, James the Greater, John the Apostle, Simon the Zealot and Peter; and right Paul, Matthew, Matthias, Andrew, Bartholomew and James the Lesser.

On the island of Torcello in the lagoon of Venice, the Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta is a magnificent Byzantine-Italian cathedral. It rises above the island, with the Bell Tower and Church of Santa Fosca alongside.

The cathedral was founded in 639, and underwent radical rebuilding in 1008. The basilica includes many earlier features, and has much 11th and 12th century Byzantine work.

The mosaic in the right apse depicts Christ Pantocrator enthroned between two archangels, Saint Michael and Saint Gabriel, with the Lamb of God in a medallion of the vault.

‘Christ in Glory’ … Graham Sutherland’s powerful tapestry in Coventry Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 21: 34-36 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 34 ‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35 like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.’

Sir Jacob Epstein’s figure, ‘Christ in Majesty,’ is raised above the nave in Llandaff Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Saturday 2 December 2023):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), has been ‘Preventing Mother-to-Child HIV Transmission.’ This theme was introduced last Sunday.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (2 December 2023) invites us to pray in these words:

As we prepare for Advent Loving Lord, let us be reminded that you are a light to the world.

Christ the King in the central tympanum of Saint Colman’s Cathedral, Cobh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Collect:

Eternal Father,
whose Son Jesus Christ ascended to the throne of heaven
that he might rule over all things as Lord and King:
keep the Church in the unity of the Spirit
and in the bond of peace,
and bring the whole created order to worship at his feet;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Stir up, O Lord,
the wills of your faithful people;
that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works,
may by you be plenteously rewarded;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

This Post Communion Prayer may be used as the Collect at Morning and Evening Prayer during this week.

Additional Collect

God the Father,
help us to hear the call of Christ the King
and to follow in his service,
whose kingdom has no end;
for he reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, one glory.

Collect on the Eve of Advent I:

Almighty God,
give us grace to cast away the works of darkness
and to put on the armour of light,
now in the time of this mortal life,
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility;
that on the last day,
when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
to judge the living and the dead,
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Yesterday’s Reflection (Church of Christ the Saviour, Ealing Broadway)

Continued Tomorrow

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

Christ Pantocrator enthroned between the Archangel Michael and Archangel Gabriel, in the south apse of the basilica in Torcello in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)