The Morris windows at St Germans, Cornwall

Michael G. Swift

A version of this article was originally prepared at the request of St Germans P.C.C.

The Chancel east and South Chapel south windows at St Germans were both made by the William Morris studio of Merton Abbey, London. This studio was formed by Morris in originally as Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., and was reorganised in as Morris & Co. (‘the Firm’). At that date Sir Edward Burne-Jones became the sole stained glass designer, replacing earlier artists of the calibre of Morris himself, Rossetti, Madox Brown and Webb.

Artistically and historically the St Germans Morris windows are two of the most significant examples of nineteenth-century stained glass in Cornwall: proof if need be that Victorian glass could equal in quality the stained glass of the medieval period. Both were designed by Burne-Jones, who, in addition to his international reputation as a painter, designed stained glass windows for William Morris for nearly forty years up to his death in . The St Germans windows represent the aesthetic style and design features that characterise the Firm’s output in the final decade of the nineteenth century.

Chancel east

To the glory of God this window is dedicated by the donor Alfred Burton in the year

Figure 1. The east window in the chancel at St Germans.

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Figure 2. The South transept window of Albion Congregational Church, Ashton-under-Lyne.

This enormous five-light window is one of the largest in Cornwall (Figure 1). All of the ten main figures and angels in the tracery were designed in for the South transept window of Albion Congregational church, Ashton-under-Lyne (Figure 2). They were repeated at St Germans the following year in this window donated by Alfred Burton. The angel tracery for St Germans, however, is far superior to the tracery at Ashton-under-Lyne. Burne-Jones was paid £300 for his Ashton designs, and it was common practice for all the major Victorian studios subsequently to reuse the design cartoons for future commissions.

Figure 3. Tracery above the east window in the chancel at St Germans.

Figure 4. Detail in the tracery above the east window in the chancel.

The tracery at St Germans consists of twenty-four angels (Figure 3), most of whom are playing musical instruments—including a wide range of stringed instruments, the typical Burne-Jones long trumpets, and cymbals (Figure 4). They are all drawn in the fashionable aesthetic style with blue or red wings, similar to those in the South aisle west window at Ladock parish church, which was inserted in the same year. Whereas the background to the angels at Ashton is a distracting bright blue, here at St Germans the darker background brings out the details of the angels better, without diverting the eye from the main figures in the five lights below.


Figure 5. 2a. Longinus, the centurion.

s·mary sister of lazarus

Figure 6. 2b. Mary of Bethany.

jesus christ

Figure 7. 2c. Christ.

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s·mary virgin

Figure 8. 2d. The Blessed Virgin Mary.

saint paul

Figure 9. 2e. St Paul.

saint matthew

Figure 10. 1a. St Matthew holds a scroll on which is written euntes ergo docete omnes gentes docentes eos servare omnia quaecumque mandavi vobis et ecce ego vobiscum sum omnibus diebus usque ad consummationem saeculi (Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world (Matthew 28:19–20). Above St Matthew is his symbol, an angel.

saint mark

Figure 11. 1b. St Mark holds a scroll on which is written Initium evangelii Jesu Christi, Filii Dei. Ecce ego mitto angelum meum ante faciem suam [sic], qui praeparabit viam tuam ante te. Vox clamantis in deserto, Parate viam Domini (The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord (Mark 1:1–3). Above St Mark is his symbol, a winged lion.

saint stephen

Figure 12. 1c.St Stephen.

saint luke

Figure 13. 1d. St Luke holds a scroll on which is written Haec sunt verba quae locutus sum ad vos cum adhuc essem vobiscum quoniam necesse est impleri omnia quae scripta sunt in lege Moysi et prophetis et psalmis de me (These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me (Luke 24:44). Above St Luke is his symbol, a winged bull.

saint john

Figure 14. 1e. St John the Evangelist holds a scroll on which is written In principio erat verbum, et verbum erat apud Deum, et Deus erat verbum (In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God) (John 1:1). Above St John is his symbol, an eagle

The upper-tier main figures are, from left to right, the Centurion (Figure 5); Mary, sister of Lazarus (Figure 6); Christ (Figure 7); Mary Virgin (Figure 8); and St Paul (Figure 9). The lower-tier figures are, from left to right, St Matthew (Figure 10); St Mark (Figure 11); St Stephen (Figure 12); St Luke(Figure 13); and St John (Figure 14). Each figure is set within a simple border design and above a bold inscription, in this case black lettering on white rather than the customary white Morris script on a black background. These inscriptions were missing in the Ashton design. All the figures stand on a typical Morris vegetation-pattern base. William Morris had died in , and up to his death he was in the habit of supervising every detail in new commissions. All the figures are set against diamond quarries with a subtle background of grape, vine and oak motifs.

The style of the main figures was quite unique to the Morris firm (but later imitated by admirers of Burne-Jones in other studios, notably Henry Holiday for Powells of Whitefriars). Their style is totally aesthetic and totally unrealistic. No reference is made to conventional religious representation: everything is an expression of Beauty—Art for Art’s sake. This applies particularly to the way in which all the male figures are represented—all are beautiful young men regardless. The two female figures are treated in the same manner, and there is no acknowledgement of the age of the Blessed Virgin. St Paul is at the farthest extreme from the usual bald, middle-aged depiction, and all of the evangelists with their Latin scrolls have the same idealised aesthetic features. While we are focussed on the evangelists note the manner in which their emblems of angel, winged lion, winged ox and eagle hover above their heads in a wonderfully surreal manner. The original Ashton designs with their blue-sky backgrounds are much less effective. The centurion and St Stephen (sad loss of facial paint here) complete the set, but by far the most radical design is that of Jesus. Burne-Jones excelled himself here with a vision of a generalised figure of great beauty with the stigmata and crown of thorns for reference, and a chalice at his feet. Note especially the cross as a living tree—William Morris would certainly have approved! Overall, this whole window has a grace and balance that the Ashton window conspicuously lacks.

To the casual visitor, however, the most striking feature of this window must be its colour. Morris used the highest quality of hand-blown antique glass for this window, and even on the dullest of days the window glows and throbs with translucent colour. One feature of so many Morris windows is the way they use the deepest colours for figures which are then set in light backgrounds: thus avoiding the fault of so much Victorian glass where provision for natural light is not allowed for and the church interior becomes impossibly gloomy. It is worth taking some time examining the ways in which the dominant colours used in the window are balanced one against another. Christ is the central focal point for the window, and the amazing variations of reds used for his clothes are repeated in a more subdued fashion for St Matthew and St John at the extreme edges of the window. Both Marys have the typical Morris green as a dominant tone (which is not the conventional colour for the Virgin Mary) but which further emphasises the red figure of Christ in the centre. The centurion and St Paul at the edge of the upper tier are in blue, mirroring Sts Mark and Luke below in the inner positions, making a very harmonious balance. St Stephen, directly below Christ, is the only multi-coloured figure, which helps to ensure Christ is the focal point. One can only conclude after a close comparison with the original Ashton window that the window at St Germans is a far greater artistic success in its management and choice of colour.

South chapel

The two windows of a total of six lights in the south wall of the South Chapel were also donated by Alfred Burton in . All the designs are by Burne-Jones. Following his death in , the Firm re-used his designs for decades, and so although this is a later insertion than Chancel East, the designs are mostly much earlier, and show how Burne-Jones’ designs changed over the decades.

Figure 15. a. Joy. b. Justice. c. Faith.

Figure 16. d. Hope. e. Charity f. Praise.

The figures are all allegoric females depicting Christian Virtues, namely from left to right Joy, Justice, Faith (Figure 15): Hope, Charity, and Praise (Figure 16). The main figures do not have borders this time, but are set in diamond quarries with rose and oak motifs, which allow the maximum light in whilst accentuating the rich colours for each figure. Each one stands on the typical Morris vegetation-patterned base, but this time instead of an inscription there is a multi-coloured band. This device harks back to some of the earliest Morris windows (for example at the Chancel east window of at Ladock) when Morris and Webb designed colours in horizontal bands to run throughout the glazing patterns: concentrating the colour whilst again allowing for natural light.

Figure 17. Detail from Charity in Figure 16.

Photograph copyright ©, used with permission of Ryan Smith.

Photograph copyright ©

The earliest design is ‘Joy’, which is shown as an angel blowing a long trumpet, first used at Cheddington, Staffs in . This is so typical of Burne-Jones’ middle period, where his figures have a life and vigour lacking in his later aesthetic designs. The movement in the red clothing of the angel is really remarkable, offset by the blue wings. The next design is ‘Charity’, which used his design for St Martin of Tours from Brampton in . St Martin is in the act of dividing his cloak, to give one half to a beggar (Figure 17). Although he is supposed to be a Roman soldier, he is here portrayed in Burne-Jones’ idiosyncratic armour that he used frequently in his oil paintings (e.g., the ‘Perseus’ series). Next in chronological design comes ‘Justice’, first used for Boston USA in . This helmetted figure holds the scales of justice in one hand whilst carrying a long sword in the other. ‘Faith’ and ‘Hope’ were both designed in the following year for Llandefeilog, Carmarthen. ‘Faith’ is a female figure holding a palm in one hand with a chalice that contains a serpent (a poisoned cup) in the other. Hope is a traditional representation where the female is looking to Heaven with hand outstretched to receive a crown as a token of eternal glory.

This leaves us with ‘Praise’, the original design of which was for the north transept window at Ashton-under-Lyne in as one of a group of Old Testament figures. At Ashton she appears as Miriam, but the addition of a pair of red wings transformed her into the allegorical figure of ‘Praise’ for St Germans. In , Burne-Jones produced a famous design for Miriam at St Michael and All Angels, Waterford, Hertfordshire, a typical product of the Firm’s 1870s output, where the vigour, movement and swirling draperies capture the ecstatic moment of Miriam’s dance. At St Germans, the newer Miriam design is lower key. However, despite the angelic transformation, the combination of her flowing hair and aesthetic dress puts her firmly into the category of a pre-Raphaelite ‘stunner’, and therefore forms an apt conclusion to these remarkable windows.