Chapter 11 The north transept windows: the church history sequence (2)

The series is continued with … Britain, England and Cornwall, carrying us through Primitive times, the days of Celtic Christianity, the conversion of the English … ( Master Scheme)288

After the long sequence in the confined north quire aisle, the recommended route now enters into the large open space of the north transept, dominated by the second of the Holy Trinity rose windows and its accompanying six lancets (N13, Chapter 4 and n15–20, Chapter 5). The transept also contains the next three lancets of the Church History sequence. As one turns right from the quire aisle into the transept there is an immediate abrupt change in the focus of their subject matter, from the development of the continental and eastern church in the quire aisle to the emergence of the church in Britain. This has already been anticipated by the inclusion of St Alban, Britain’s proto-martyr in the north quire sequence (n8), and indeed by the St Augustine panel (s12) in the south transept opposite.

n13. North Transept east 1: Saints Piran, Germanus and Petroc

Donor, dedicatee and insertion.

This window was inserted in by his ‘Widow’ in memory of William Henry Pole Carew of Antony House.289

This is the only window in the whole Church History sequence whose predella does not illustrate an event connected with the life of the dominant figure in the ‘speaking group’.

n13. St Piran with St Germanus and St Petroc. St Germanus holds a scroll on which is written Donum est dei diligere deum (It is the gift of God to love God).

The main figure is St Piran, who is portrayed tonsured, shaven and barefoot, wearing a monastic habit. His left hand supports a model of his oratory at Perranzabuloe.290 In the Middle Ages this shrine became one of the greatest three places of pilgrimage in Cornwall (along with St Day and St Michael’s Mount). The bell hanging from his right wrist was both a practical and sacramental symbol: besides summoning the people the bell was also a sign of the spiritual presence. He was one of the earliest Welsh missionaries to Cornwall, and died c480.

The figure seated to the left represents St Germanus vested in Bishop’s robes including mitre and gloves. His right hand holds a crozier, his left holds the top of a scroll. He was Bishop of Auxerre, and visited Britain in 429 and again in 447 to combat the Pelagian heresy.

The figure seated to the right represents St Petroc, who, like St Piran, is also shown clean-shaven, tonsured, and wearing a monastic habit. His right hand rests upon a closed book and his left hand holds up a chain. He has claims to be Cornwall’s most famous saint, and his remains were deposited at Padstow, which became an early centre of the Cornish see. About his shrine and relics were removed to the parish church of St Petroc, Bodmin.

The predella scene represents the ‘Alleluia Battle’ in 447, when St Germanus directed his British forces in a famous victory over a combination of Picts and Saxons. In the foreground, several figures in tunics with weapons and circular shields flee from the figure of the bishop and his companion monk who stand on the crest of a hill with a scroll bearing the word ‘Alleluia’ issuing from them. The battle, fought probably in what is now North Wales, was traditionally held to have been won without bloodshed.

The connecting theme for the group of three figures is obviously one of mission to Britain, and particularly Cornwall, from both mainland Europe and the Celtic West. The group contains the two most famous Cornish saints, yet the predella focuses on St Germanus. He was born in Auxerre in Roman Gaul, and so technically was also a Celt. He visited the site of St Alban’s martyrdom in 429, so providing a link with window n8, and traditionally is supposed to have taught St Patrick. The main reason why he was chosen for the predella scene above St Piran and St Petroc is probably because the church dedicated to him at St Germans was the original cathedral for Cornwall, and its Bishops of St Germans are recorded from 931 to c1040.291 There is therefore a strong case to be made for the symbolic link between the dedicatee of Cornwall’s old cathedral and this Victorian cathedral of the new Diocese of Truro.

n14. North Transept east 2: Saints Gregory, Martin of Tours and Patrick

Donor, dedicatee and insertion.

This window was inserted in memory of Canon Paul Bush after his death in by his ‘Children’. He was holder of the stall of St Paul, .

In many respects n14 must be considered as a pair with n13, in that their basic text is the theme of mission to Britain. It is significant that the theme of the emergence of the Church in Cornwall and the two most important Cornish saints in the earlier window in the north transept sequence precedes the positioning of St Gregory, the last of the Latin Doctors in this sequence of Church History.

n14 main scene. St Gregory with St Martin and St Patrick.
n14 main scene detail. St Martin and St Patrick, with the frog and snake that he banished from Ireland.

St Gregory, c, is portrayed standing, clothed in Papal vestments including the crown. A dove hovers above his right shoulder; the dove is his customary attribute indicating the influence of the Word of God on his many writings. Mason obviously regarded this as the end of the first part of the Church History q sequence when he commented that the See is, I think, well represented by St Clement at one end of the first series and St Gregory at the other.292

The figure seated to the left represents St Martin, c, clad as a Roman legionnaire. Over his shoulder is a crozier, indicating his later position as Bishop of Tours. He has a sword in his hand and a cloak over his knees. This represents the event when he divided his cloak with his sword to share with a beggar. The liturgical significance of this scene is shown in a sculpted panel over the entry to the baptistry from the baptistry vestibule (Chapter 8). The portrayal in this window emphasises Martin’s dual function as soldier and bishop.

The figure seated to the right represents St Patrick, c, wearing a monastic habit and neck Trinity ornament of Celtic design. He holds a shamrock in his right hand and a staff in the left. At the base of his staff are a frog and a snake, which traditionally St Patrick banished from Ireland.

n14 predella. St Gregory meeting English children in the Roman market.

The linking theme between the three is revealed in the predella scene which represents St Gregory (not yet Pope) meeting English children on sale in the Roman market. He is reputed to have said Not Angles but angels.293 Later, as Pope Gregory, he was to send St Augustine of Canterbury n21 to Britain as missionary to covert the Anglo-Saxons. When Mason was considering dropping St Leo from the Master Scheme he weighed the alternatives in the following: The only other thing I could think of was to drop St Patrick. But I would be sorry to omit Patrick, and Gregory’s connexion with us, as well as his personality (far greater to my mind than Leo’s), makes it proper that he should be the principal figure in a group.294 Patrick was also a key figure in stimulating missionary activity to Britain, but from the opposite geographical direction. However, there is also a sub-text that can be read into this ‘speaking group’, and this is hinted at by the inclusion of St Martin of Tours. All three defined mission as taking pity on the poor as an essential element in Christian belief, providing liberation in both spiritual and literal terms. In so identifying pagan Cornwall as poor, these two windows define Christian mission around the concept of the plight of the marginalized, reflecting Benson and Mason’s vision of mission in the new diocese of Truro.

n21. North Transept St George Chapel: Saints George, Joseph of Arimathaea and Augustine

Donor, dedicatee and insertion.

The St George window was inserted in in memory of Joseph Roberts and his sister Mary Penelope Roberts of Southleigh, Truro.295

The reading of this window presents more difficulties, both theological and practical, than the other two windows in the transept. This area of the north transept was designated and laid out as St George’s chapel until the early 1980s. It was an open chapel, dedicated to among others the Boy Scouts’ movement, and there would have been originally an uninterrupted view of n21. Since then the area has been reordered and is now an office and store room/shop, so visual access to the window is now severely restricted. In the inter-war period the view of the other two windows in the north transept (n13/n14) had been blocked when the Bolitho organ was installed there. This organ was removed in ,296 so ironically as access to one window in the transept became restricted, the other two were revealed.

n21 main scene. St George with St Joseph of Arimathaea and St Augustine of Canterbury.

St George is the dominant figure in the group. His portrayal is conventional, clad in armour and helmet. His left arm supports a shield bearing his cross and his right hand holds the tip of a cross that carries a pennant which is also embellished with the saint’s emblem. The figure seated to the left represents a bearded St Joseph of Arimathaea wearing Biblical/Roman costume, with the Holy Grail in his right hand. The figure seated to the right represents St Augustine of Canterbury. He is vested in Archiepiscopal robes including mitre and gloves, and a liturgical stole (the pallium) sent by Gregory.297 His right hand supports a square panel featuring a crucifix at the centre, whilst his left holds a pastoral staff in the shape of a cross.

For once there are few clues to the interpretation of this disparate combination as a ‘speaking group’. The predella is a very conventional depiction of St George slaying the dragon. The saint is in armour and chain mail, on a white horse (symbolising the judgement of evil at the end of time) about to plunge a lance into the dragon. On the face of it, there would appear to be little in common between a mythical saint that was adopted as England’s patron saint, a biblical personage and an historical missionary separated by over five hundred years. The predella image of the slaying of the dragon suggests a theme of Christian chivalry, and this iconic triumph of right over evil has been used as a subject for countless war memorials in stained glass and statuary.298 St George has become an essential part of the mythic English church, as indeed has St Joseph of Arimathaea. In addition to the pivotal part played by St Joseph of Arimathaea in the immediate events after the Crucifixion299, he is also according to ancient legend accredited with bringing the Holy Grail to Glastonbury and establishing the first British Christian church there. If one now places these two figures alongside the Cornish saints in the previous two windows, we now have a legendary narrative of the coming of Christianity to the Southwest.

As often happens with the Church History sequence, the final lancet of a group acts as a transition to what is about to come. St Augustine of Canterbury has already featured in s12 directly opposite in the south transept. This is yet another instance of Mason using the architectural space of opposite walls to interweave and develop historical and theological schemes, as he did in the quire transepts and retroquire (Chapters 7 and 10). In the lower scene of the south transept window s12, King Ethelbert and his wife (who was a Christian) greet Augustine who displays to the royal couple a panel showing the crucifixion. This is the same panel that St Augustine is holding in the ‘speaking group’ in n21. In the south transept window, the function of this Augustine scene was to shift the focus from the crises of the Church in general to the evangelizing of the Anglo-Saxons and the establishment of the Roman rite in England. In this north transept window the inclusion of St Augustine in such a disparate grouping fulfils the same function. It can be read as the culmination of the themes of all three lancets in the north transept. St Gregory’s dominant position in his group in n14 as the Pope who dispatched St Augustine to Britain is now clear, as are the legendary and mythic persons in all three groupings. Out of this narrative emerges the establishment of the Roman rite as the basis for British Christianity over its Celtic Christian predecessors.

So, as the recommended route turns right out of the north transept and into the north nave aisle, the stage is now set for the final, and longest, part of the Church History sequence.

References

  1. TC: p 48.
  2. TDK 1894 : p.162. CintW 5th August, 1893. RCG 1st August, 1893.
  3. The oratory is now in ruins, but parts of it remain hidden by sand dunes near Perranporth.
  4. HMB 2, p.1. After the Cornish see was combined with that of Crediton under the authority of Exeter.
  5. CCRO TCM 546/9 Letter from Canon Mason (7. Trinity Square, London) to Chancellor Worlledge, 27th July, 1891. Insertion of n14 WB & CA 1907-01-03 p 3. Comments on continuing involvement of Canon Mason.
  6. DM : p. 336
  7. CCRO TCM 546/9 Letter 28th July, 1891 from Canon Mason (7. Trinity Square, London) to Chancellor Worlledge.
  8. NCA DD/716/69/5 Diaries of Canon Mason. 5th October 1888 visited Clayton and Bell’s to see the first of the Church History windows for Truro. Donated by Mrs Grylls RCG 1888-10-18 p 5.
  9. The Bolitho organ was installed in St Breaca parish church, Breage in (Breage church guide). Archdeacon F Boreham The story of the windows of Truro Cathedral, undated, Truro, p7. Two beautiful windows, showing some saints of the early days in Cornwall, are in the North Transept, but, unfortunately, rather hidden by the Bolitho organ.
  10. DM : p. 339.
  11. St George occurs in fourteen war memorial windows in Cornish parish churches (author’s TRUROSEE catalogue of all windows in the Truro Diocese).
  12. Matthew 27, v.57.