Chapter 9 The south transept lancets: the prelude to the Church History sequence

Donor, dedicatee and insertion.

The three lancets beneath the south transept rose window contain some of the earliest designs to be approved for the new cathedral. They were a memorial to Colonel Charles Lygon Cocks of Treverbyn Vean, and donated by Lady Rowe and the many friends of Colonel Cocks.213 The decision on the cost of the memorial was decided as early as , and designs were approved in the following . The stained glass for these lancets and the rose window above was inserted in time for the cathedral’s consecration in . The total cost of the lancets was £296.214

The recommended route now returns from the intimate and detailed narrative and figurative windows of the baptistry area to the vast space of the crossing, where the lancets beneath the south rose are best viewed. We have already examined the profound theological schemes that form the basis of the iconography in the rose windows and the great east window (Chapters 4 and 6), and the intention behind these lancets was equally profound:-

… in the Rose [above] is depicted the mystery of Pentecost, the Descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles … In the three lights below are depicted various manifestations of the working of that Divine Spirit in the various great crises in the Church’s History, through which it has been guided by the abiding presence of the Holy Ghost since His first descent on the day of Pentecost.215

To this end, the iconography of the lancets revolves round the figures portrayed in the central panel of the middle lancet s11. These represent St Cyprian, St James the Less and Saint Athanasius, each wearing episcopal vestments including mitres and pastoral staffs. These leaders of the early Church presided over Councils to resolve great ‘crises’. Round this panel are grouped eight narrative scenes setting the context for these pivotal events. The sequence of events is not strictly chronological, and the first and last scenes are best read as prelude and coda to the themes of windows in other parts of the building, rather than being integral to the central idea of ‘crisis’.

On both artistic and theological grounds, these lancets are the least effective windows in the whole of the cathedral. They are totally dominated by the Pentecost rose window above, and the trio of three narrative scenes and inscriptions in each lancet is too small and at far too great a height to make any real visual or theological impact. Their impact is further diminished by the fact that the inscriptions are in Latin. Also, too many of the scenes lack any dramatic content, consisting mainly of groups of indistinct figures engaged in debate (no matter how momentous the subject of the debates may have been in the evolution of the Church).

Even the basic designs of the lancets prevent the windows being easily read and interpreted. The narrative panels are crowded into small spaces by the profusion of canopies and angels at the top of the lancet, and by the double borders (decorative and architectural) at each side. Mason criticised the borders of later windows as being too busy,216 and one must conclude that at this early stage he was not actively involved in overseeing these designs at Clayton and Bell.

s10

s10. The left-hand lancet below the south rose window.

s10 3. Protomartyr lapidatvr (The first martyr was stoned to death).

The martyrdom of St Stephen. Saul, on the right-hand side, looks on.

In the Master scheme of the upper scene is detailed as ‘the work of Stephen’. This subject had, however, already been included in the design for n2 (Chapter 6) where the saint appears before the Sanhedrin, so here (s10 3) instead we have another version of Stephen’s martyrdom.217 Whilst the main emphasis of the version in the quire aisle is on the depiction of the first Christian martyr, here the dominant element is the on-looking figure of Saul. This scene therefore links the theme of martyrdom portrayed in the great east window with the crises facing the early church in these lancets in the south transept.

s10 2. Primitiae gentivm tingvntvr (The first of the Gentiles are baptised).

The baptism of Cornelius by Peter. The centurion’s helmet is placed on the ground, whilst his family is grouped behind him.

The central scene (s10 2) shows the baptism of Cornelius by St Peter,218 the first recorded baptism of a Gentile. The centurion’s helmet is placed on the ground, whilst his family is grouped behind him. Incidentally, this event is also recorded in the baptistry window in St Mary’s Aisle SMs14 (Chapter 14) which was not of course part of the Master Scheme.

s10 1. Magister gentivm Athenis evangelizat (The teacher of the Gentiles preaches in Athens).

St Paul in Athens.

The lower scene (s10 1) takes up the appearance of Saul at Stephen’s martyrdom and the spread of the Gospel amongst the Gentiles by showing St Paul in Athens. Paul is shown accompanied by either Silas or Timothy addressing a mixed group of men and women. This suggests the scene is not Paul’s speech before the council of the Areopagus,219 where the audience was solely male, but rather a reference to the small mixed group of Athenian converts.220 Thus together these two events set the context for the first great crisis of the church, the issue of the inclusion of Gentile converts.

s11

s11. The central lancet below the south rose window.

s11 3 upper part, showing Ecclesia and Synagoga, who symbolise the Christian and Jewish religions respectively. Ecclesia wears a crown and holds a cross-topped staff in her left hand and a chalice in her right hand, and looks confidently forward. Synagoga is blindfolded and drooping, and holds a broken lance in her right hand and tablets containing the Ten Commandments in her left hand.

s11 3. Concilivm Hierosolymitanvm (the Council of Jerusalem).

St James the Less is shown presiding in the centre, with St Paul to his left holding a text and accompanied by St Barnabas, whilst on his right is St Peter.

Although it does not follow the biblical chronology, the next scene (s11 3) at the top of the central lancet depicts the Council of Jerusalem, called to debate this issue.221 St James the Less is shown presiding in the centre, with St Paul to his left holding a text and accompanied by St Barnabas, whilst on his right St Peter is shown writing what one assumes to be James’ apostolic letter that resolved the conflict.

s11 2. S(anctvs) Cyprianvs S(anctvs) Jacobvs Domini frater S(anctvs) Athanasivs (St Cyprian, St James the brother of the Lord, St Athanasius).

Flames emerge from the book that St Cyprian holds in his left hand, and from the book on the floor beside his crozier, an allusion to his description of the flames of Hell. St  James holds a fuller’s club (the instrument of his martyrdom). St Athanasius holds a book in which is written Quicunque vult salvus esse, ante omnia opus [est ut teneat catholicam fidem] (Whosoever will be saved: before all things it is necessary [that he hold the Catholick faith]) which is the beginning of the Athanasian creed).

The central panel (s11 2) forms the central key for reading the whole set of lancets, focussing as it does on the dominant figures that were involved in three pivotal crises of the early Church. St James the Less, labelled ‘Domini Frater’ is the central figure, flanked by Saints Cyprian and Athanasius. St James’ central role in the Council of Jerusalem has already been noted. St Cyprian led his church through periods of persecution, and was deeply involved with contemporary crises such as the controversy over the lapsed at the Council of Carthage (), and heretic baptism. St Athanasius (c) played a leading part in the argument against Arius and Arianism at the Council of Nicea (). St Cyprian appears also in n7 and St Athanasius in n10 (Chapter 10).

s11 1. Concilivm Nicaenvm (The Council of Nicea).

The lower panel (s11 1) shows the Council of Nicea (), summoned by Emperor Constantine to resolve the Heresy of Arianism. The scene depicts a group of seated figures in episcopal vestments holding staffs and seated around a central lectern. Individual identification of any of the figures is impossible.

s12

s12. The right-hand lancet below the south rose window.

s12 3. Divitias pavperes ecc(lesi)ae S(anctus) Lavrentivs ostendit (St Lawrence shows the poor as the riches of the Church).

St Lawrence is depicted wearing deacon’s robes, and in the foreground are blind, crippled, lame and suffering figures.

The strictly chronological sequence is again disrupted by the inclusion of two events that preceded the Council of Nicea. The upper panel (s12 3) depicts St Lawrence (b ) displaying the poor as the treasures of the Church. The saint is depicted wearing deacon’s robes; whilst in the foreground are a variety of ragged figures. St Lawrence’s action in refusing to surrender the precious treasures of the church to imperial demands led to his martyrdom, and the scene can be read as a crisis born from the conflict between the authority of church and state and the resultant persecutions.

s12 2. Constantinvs Avgvstvs crvcem agnoscit (Constantine Augustus acknowledges the cross).

The conversion of Constantine, who kneels before his army, with rays representing the Holy Spirit and the sign of the Cross descending upon him from the upper right corner of the scene. Above the sun is part of the message ‘In hoc signo vinces’ (In this sign you will conquer) that Constantine is reputed to have seen.

The middle scene (s12 2) depicts the conversion of the Emperor Constantine (c). He is the central kneeling figure before his army, with rays representing the Holy Spirit and the sign of the Cross descending upon him from the upper right corner of the scene. The conversion occurred prior to the Battle of the Milvian Bridge which led to the defeat of Emperor Maxentius and the official establishment of Christianity in the Roman Empire. At this point, Christianity ceased to be the religion of a persecuted minority.

s12 1. S(anctus) Avgvstinvs Doroberniae praedicat (St Augustine preaches at Dorobernia [Canterbury]).

Augustine, holding a panel portraying the Crucifixion, preaches to King Æthelberht and his wife Bertha, who has a small cross on her dress showing that she was a Christian.

The lower scene (s12 1) depicts St Augustine preaching at Canterbury (). King Æthelberht and his wife (who was a Christian) are seated listening to Augustine, who displays to them a panel portraying the Crucifixion. He holds a similar panel in n21 in the north aisle. This scene shifts 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. Just as the opening scene of Stephen’s martyrdom in this sequence looked back to the schemes in the great east window, so this last scene in the third lancet anticipates many of the subjects in the Church History sequence of the quire, north transept and nave aisles.

One must conclude that the architectural setting for these lancets is totally inappropriate for themes carrying such a weighty theological content. Sadly, the working of that Divine Spirit in the various great crises in the Church’s History222 does not translate into an effective visual image in such a setting, where they are subordinate to the rose window and remote from the viewer.

Happily, this is not a problem in the remaining stained glass windows in the cathedral, the whole of the Christian History sequence, where the windows are much closer to the viewer. Yet even here the earlier inscriptions are still in Latin in the retro-quire, north quire aisle and north transept. It is only after the first two lancets of the nave aisle that the inscriptions are in English and the narrative of the history of Christianity becomes immediate and accessible to the viewer.

References

  1. ABD, p 123. Colonel Cocks was responsible for the research which led to the decision on the two types of Cornish granite to be used in the building’s construction.
  2. CCRO TCM/435 Minutes of the Executive Committee resolved that the Cocks memorial should be a window not exceeding £300. Designs submitted .
  3. TC: p 47.
  4. NCA DD/716/69/5, Diaries of Canon Mason . Dated : The figures are rather small to please me, and the border a little busy, but it is a well made window: referring to n21 north transept, St George window.
  5. Acts 7:55–60
  6. Acts 10:48
  7. Acts 17:23–31
  8. Acts 17:34 among the which was Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman called Damaris and others with them.
  9. Acts 15.
  10. TC: p 47.