Conclusion A Victorian vision fulfilled

Benson’s vision

The subtitle of this work is ‘A Victorian vision fulfilled’. Throughout, the dual aims have been to define Benson’s vision for the stained glass windows of Truro Cathedral and to establish how that vision was fulfilled. This work of detection has confirmed Benson for the first time as the originator of the Master Scheme of 1887, and has also identified those who were responsible for completing his vision in the following decades.

Benson intended that his Master Scheme for the stained glass windows would be the visible expression of what he called his concept of Unity—a concept which embraced both his vision for the new Cathedral and for the role of the Church in the new diocese of Cornwall. At his sermon for the consecration of the cathedral on 3rd November 1887, he referred to three great lines of Unity; the search for Truth, the reality of Worship, the lessons learnt from History.439 In the Introduction to this work, it was argued that the window scheme was Benson’s response to the challenges that faced the Church in what has been termed an ‘Age of Doubt’. Benson first stated his concept of Unity ten years before the cathedral’s consecration in his Enthronement Sermon on 1st May 1877, when he positioned his vision as an alternative to what he saw as the unwelcome contemporary compromises within and outside the Church:

It [Benson’s concept of Unity] is contrary to the common judgement of our time. Unity through compromise—that is the new maxim—unity by extending our list of non-essentials, and surrendering them as fast as we may.440

Benson saw the artistic representation of his concept of Unity in the stained glass windows as a fundamental part of the new cathedral. The didactic nature of the Master Scheme was the result of Benson’s passionate advocacy of his vision of Unity, and his view that such a robust response was essential to combat what he saw as the currently perceived threats to the Church. The Master Scheme for the stained glass windows was to be the aesthetic expression of the three elements of Benson’s Unity—theological truth, the reality of worship and the lessons of history.

The vision and the cathedral in the 19th century

Even whilst the foundations of the new cathedral were being excavated in 1880, Benson, assisted by Mason, had already completed the broad outlines of the Master Scheme, and Pearson’s earliest architectural designs had been formulated to accommodate them.

Quite rightly, whenever the architecture of Truro Cathedral is discussed, praise has always been given to John Loughborough Pearson, yet never before has Benson’s vision for the stained glass windows within Pearson’s architecture been fully examined and evaluated. Because there were so few subsequent alterations to Pearson’s basic designs the building became a veritable time capsule of the Victorian Age of 1880. It was a classic example of what Victorian High Churchmen such as Benson and Pearson thought a new cathedral worthy of the Glory of God should be, and how such a building should be the focus for a newly created Diocese.

The momentous significance of Benson’s decision to build a new cathedral for the Diocese is illustrated by the Bishop of Carlisle’s comments in 1872,  just four years before Benson’s appointment:

We never in England … build a cathedral, and if we did, no-one would venture to choose to design a structure such as those which the Medieval architects have left us; nor is there any probability that any conjunction of circumstance will in future make such a thing possible … we may as well expect another Iliad from a Greek poet as another cathedral from an English architect.441

He obviously did not anticipate the effect of Benson’s vision and leadership, the genius of Pearson, and the new-found spirit of the church in Cornwall! By comparison, when the nineteenth-century sees of Wakefield, Liverpool and Newcastle were founded, their Bishops were too busy with other challenges in their dioceses to worry about the building of a new cathedral.442

However, throughout the planning stages, Pearson had to cope with Benson’s demands on major architectural features down to the small details:443

Benson’s over-riding requirement was to have a cathedral; not a large church and certainly not an enlarged parish church, but a cathedral that should look like a cathedral in the traditional sense, and serve an ancient faith with revived forms of worship in a revived ancient see.444

Benson’s book, The Cathedral: its necessary place in the life and work of the Church, published in 1878 just months before Pearson was appointed as architect, was a rigorous statement of Benson’s traditional and hierarchical views on the role of a cathedral in a Diocese, using throughout the historic example of Lincoln cathedral. It undoubtedly informed many of the demands he was to make on the architect. Pearson had been the cathedral architect at Lincoln whilst Benson was Canon Chancellor from 1874 onwards. Pearson already had an enviable reputation for his success in providing designs that fulfilled the Tractarian desire to have churches reminding them of their ancient faith,445 and the architectural similarities between the cathedrals of Lincoln and Truro are very strong. In broadest outlines, both buildings have the same cruciform shape with extra quire transepts and a square east end, a central tower and two west towers. Pearson’s drawings of 1879 showed his mastery of the external Gothic features of towers, pinnacles and flying buttresses, combined with an interior dominated by towering noble perspectives of pillars and pointed arches, single lancets, rose windows and stone vaulting. The empathy between the architect and the bishop is revealed in Benson’s later comment I recognise Pearson’s tender hand which makes things new but leaves them looking old.446

Pearson’s plans showed Truro cathedral to be an unashamed product of the Pugin-inspired Gothic Revival of the nineteenth century. However, even by 1880, this architectural style was definitely on the wane and by the time of the cathedral’s completion in 1910 was to all intents and purposes considered to be totally old fashioned.

It is important to remember that the Victorian use of the Gothic Revival style implied an acceptance of the earlier Gothic principles and ethics.447 Pearson’s adoption of the Early English architectural style (with some French influences448) was ideal for Benson and Mason’s vision of the cathedral’s stained glass windows. The rose windows, with their theme of the Holy Trinity, afforded a spectacular opportunity for Clayton and Bell to produce some of their finest work. The great windows of the quire and sanctuary, with their massing of three or four lancets, enabled Benson and Mason to fill them with multiple panels of narrative and typological scenes, of a complexity and scale not seen since the medieval cathedrals in England and Europe. Significantly there is only one window where a narrative scene was allowed to spread over into adjacent lancets.449 One result of our exhaustive survey of all the windows has been an awareness that every detail in all of the windows is there for a purpose, and that nothing is there by chance. Here was the visual expression of Benson’s ‘search for theological truth’.

The windows also served Benson’s vision for ‘the reality of worship’. Such complex subject-matter and iconography was entirely appropriate to the sacramental purposes of these vast spaces of the quire, transepts and nave, yet it was equally effective in the intimacy of the baptistry’s liturgical area.

Finally, the all-pervading presence of single lancets throughout the rest of the building provided the third element of Benson’s concept of Unity— ‘the lessons learnt from History’. It was the ideal architectural form for a glazing scheme that told a multi-layered narrative of the whole of the history of the Church through the portrayal of individuals, singly and in groupings of three figures, with their accompanying narrative predellas. From a teaching point of view, each single lancet therefore could be studied individually without the distractions of being part of a multi-light window.

Aesthetically, their vision was achieved throughout by a combination of Pearson’s architectural forms and the unity of Clayton and Bell’s artistic style, colour schemes and design. Indeed, the aesthetic unity of the glass combined with Pearson’s exquisite sense of architectural proportion results in the interior of the building appearing to be much larger than it is. One intention behind the windows was for their noble form and colour … to give rich colouring and brightness to the completed building.450 This was appreciated by John Betjeman in his perceptive observation:

Pearson was also sparing in his use of colour. He liked the structural materials to provide their own colour, and he never painted ironwork or woodwork. Stained glass and altar frontals and banners and vestments were the only colours other than the natural shades of wood, stone and iron which he permitted.451

This comment emphasises the aesthetic role of the stained glass windows. Yet, as we have seen, the layers and complexities of the Master Scheme exploited Pearson’s vast architectural spaces to maximum effect in order to portray Benson’s vision of Unity in terms of Truth, Worship and History.

Public response to the vision: patronage

The publication of the 1887 Master Scheme expressed Benson and Mason’s confidence in their intentions behind the whole glazing scheme but also an uncertainty as to how long it would take to complete. Significantly, the publication expressed their concerns that the new glass of Truro should not fall into the aesthetic, didactic and practical traps that many older cathedrals had fallen into:

This long and comprehensive series has been designed in the hope that some day the windows of the Cathedral of Cornwall may contain, in noble form and colour, a consecutive outline of the Church’s history, and serve not only to give rich colouring and brightness to a completed building, but as a perpetual means of instruction to God’s people … It will have the further advantage of suggesting subjects to future donors of memorial windows. In many of our older Cathedrals … the windows are often disfigured, not only by inferior glass, but incongruous subjects; while in other cases, where the material and execution are good, there is a total lack of sequence of thought, and an absence of clear and definite meaning in the glass that has, perhaps, cost very large sums of money.452

This statement was made in 1887 when less than one fifth of the stained glass windows had been inserted, and when building work was about to cease through lack of funds. Benson’s famous reply to the challenge that his financial demands for his Cathedral were draining Cornwall of money was You’re right! I am! But I am not draining them of their zeal!453

However, as we have seen, the qualms of the authors of the Master Scheme were unfounded, and their faith in Cornish zeal was justified. Despite the late nineteenth century economic depression throughout the county of Cornwall and the suspension of building for twelve years, Truro cathedral managed to find donors for a total of sixty-nine windows within the space of just twenty-six years. This in itself was an astonishing achievement considering that the overwhelming efforts for fundraising were directed towards the actual construction of the building itself, not for its fittings and fixtures. It has been estimated that the total building costs for Truro cathedral were in the region of £200,000. The prices of twenty five of the windows are recorded,454 and from that it is possible to extrapolate that the total cost of the stained glass windows (excluding those in St Mary’s aisle) would have been around £10,000, or 5% of the total building costs.

This proud tale of willing patronage is in telling contrast to Truro’s nearest cathedral neighbour at Exeter. Truro’s unique achievement is shown vividly when contrasted with the history of the Victorian glazing of Exeter cathedral. There, a mere thirty-one new stained glass windows were inserted over a much longer period of thirty-five years. Although most of Exeter’s Victorian windows were destroyed through enemy action in 1942, documentary evidence455 shows that the caustic criticisms in Truro’s Master Scheme of the glazing in older cathedrals were applicable to Exeter cathedral in the nineteenth century. This was one of the older cathedrals whose windows contained incongruous subjects, lack of sequence of thought and an absence of clear and definite meaning. Whilst Exeter’s new Victorian windows were entrusted to a range of prestigious studios, such as Clayton and Bell, Burlison and Grylls, Powells, the local studio of Drake, and Hardman of Birmingham, the end result was a compete lack of uniformity in both artistic style and subject matter. There is very little evidence that Exeter’s Victorian windows related to liturgical or architectural space, or even one to another.456

The hope enshrined in Truro’s Master Scheme that it will have the further advantage of suggesting subjects to future donors of memorial windows was a magnificent understatement. In fact, there seem to be hardly any instances where potential donors did not willingly accept what was in the original Master Scheme or one of its later drafts. One instance will illustrate this point. Mason queried the reason behind the potential donation of one of the north quire aisle windows after the changes he had made to the Master Scheme:

but I should be glad to know whether it was the position (No. 8) which led Mr Thornton to choose that window, or the subject. In the former case, would he equally like the new No. 8 (St Benedict with St Anthony and St Scholastica) or would he like to take the new No 5 (St Helen with Origen and Jerome)?457

Note that at this early date (1890) it was Mason who was controlling the negotiation between Worlledge, Chapter and the donor. Significantly, as in the later case of the Wesley window, the donor was offered an alternative window, but not a change in the subjects set down in Mason’s new version of the Scheme.

The vision and the cathedral in the 20th and 21st centuries.

National attention focussed on Truro cathedral with the pomp and ceremony of the foundation stones service in 1880, and the official consecration and benediction services in 1887, 1904 and 1910. Also, there were two further periods when there was major national interest in Truro Cathedral. The first was between 1878 and 1880, when Bishop Benson embarked on nationwide fund-raising campaigns, and there was much public speculation over the choice of the architect.458 The second period was during the national debate after Archbishop Benson’s death in 1896 on what would be the most suitable memorial to his memory.

Sadly, after the cathedral’s completion and the First World War, both the building and its windows gradually slid from the nation’s consciousness for most of the twentieth century, eclipsed by the succession of new cathedrals at Liverpool, Guildford and Coventry. The enthusiasm for Cornwall’s cathedral shown by Cornish donors and patrons in the years up to 1914 seems to have somewhat evaporated in the following decades.

It is a pity that, with three honourable exceptions in the 1980s and 1990s,459 nearly one hundred years passed without any comprehensive attempt to convey and interpret the scope and detail of Benson’s and Mason’s vision for the stained glass to the general public. The failure of the cathedral from the end of the First World War to acknowledge the unique character of these windows and to make their content and meaning accessible to congregation and visitors alike is greatly to be regretted. This is in contrast to the esteem in which the Father Willis organ continues to be held.460 The organ and the stained glass windows are the two internal features of the cathedral of national importance and significance, yet it appears that, in a pervading artistic climate during most of the twentieth century which denigrated all things Victorian, the Cathedral seemed almost to turn its back on what we can now see is one of its greatest treasures.461

The vision and the diocese

One of the most notable features of the Master Scheme was the way in which Benson and later Mason used the windows to assert a sense of Cornish identity. Benson was always aware that the legacy of Cornish heritage was different from that of the rest of England. He deliberately chose to underline the differences between the new diocese and the old Diocese of Exeter: hence his emphasis upon the Celtic Christian origins in the county, and the inclusion of eminent Cornish figures in the Church History sequence. It is important to appreciate that the early date of the start of the Master Scheme (1878–1880) predates many other aspects of the ‘Celtic-Catholic revival’462, which later came to embrace art, the Cornish language and literature. We have also seen how the Cornish dimension of the window scheme was later enlarged by the Cornish industry windows, which looked back to a recent Cornish history, and forwards to the future prospects for the county.

Within the diocese, the manner in which the windows scheme was supported by donors, mostly from Cornwall, for three decades was truly remarkable. Also, the significance of mission as a fundamental theme in the windows scheme was mirrored in the missionary efforts throughout the Cornish parishes of Mason and his successors, and in the spread of new mission churches throughout Cornwall.463

Another aspect of the connection between Benson’s vision and the diocese concerns the Cornish nonconformists. The relationship between the new cathedral and Cornish Nonconformists is a difficult and complex subject.464 Mason’s own relations with the Cornish Nonconformists were summarized thus:

I do not suppose that there ever was in Truro so outspoken an advocate for the distinctive doctrine and practice of the English Church, as Canon Mason in those early days. He did not scruple to speak openly and plainly of the differences between Church and Dissent, yet I doubt if any man has ever been so respected, and even loved, by Nonconformists, ministers as well as people.465

A deliberate intention behind the glazing scheme was to emphasise the authenticity of the Church of England as the true inheritor of earlier catholic traditions, in other words ‘the distinctive doctrine and practice of the English Church’. The new cathedral was built almost next door to one of the largest and grandest Methodist chapels in the county; they even shared the same dedication of St Mary’s, Truro. Externally the new cathedral dominated the earlier chapel; internally Benson and Mason’s cathedral windows proclaimed a loud and robust message about the pre-eminent position of the established Church of England.

The vision and the Church of England in the 1880s

In summary therefore, Benson’s and Mason’s vision emphasised that the stained glass windows were both an essential artistic element in their architectural and liturgical contexts, but also a teaching tool which expounded both Catholic beliefs and the History of the Church. The windows were to be an emphatic statement of the central beliefs and traditions of the Anglican Church in an age of increasing questioning, unsettlement and doubt. Thus the intentions behind their vision in the 1887 Master Scheme were didactic, architectural, liturgical and artistic. They serve not only to give rich colouring and brightness to a completed building, but as a perpetual means of instruction to God’s people.466

Benson’s concept of the Unity of faith was portrayed as something all were entitled to. Could we get a whole population but once to wish to cleave to the whole creed!467 The following summary shows how well Benson’s Master Scheme fulfilled his vision as a riposte to the Age of Doubt:

Creed Windows
I believe in one God the Father Almighty, W1 rose
Maker of Heaven and Earth,
And of all things visible and invisible:
And in the one Lord Jesus Christ,
Begotten of his Father before all worlds, N13
God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God, Begotten not made,
Being of one substance with the Father,
By whom all things were made:
Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven,
And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, e1
And was made man, S4
And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. e1
He suffered and was buried,
And the third day he rose again according to the scriptures, e1
And ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father. E1
And shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead:
Whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, S13
The Lord and giver of life, s10s12
Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son,
Who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified,
Who spake by the Prophets. N4, S4, s13s15
And I believe in one Catholick and Apostolick Church. n2n14, n21n33, s2s24
I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins, s13s15, Bs1Bs4
And I look for the Resurrection of the dead, E1
And the life of the world to come.
Amen.

Remembering the visionaries today

The creation of this unique Victorian vision in stained glass was entrusted to the studio of Clayton and Bell, whose skill and artistry is evident today in every window throughout the cathedral. The fulfilment of the vision was ultimately due to five inspired people, all of whom are duly commemorated in Truro Cathedral today.

Statue of John Loughborough Pearson above the south transept door, holding a plan of the Cathedral.

John Loughborough Pearson’s statue stands proudly above the south transept door, holding a plan of his cathedral design in his hand, and he is also portrayed in the foundation-stone predella in the Benson window. Sadly, there are only two memorials to his son Frank Loughborough Pearson, who took over as cathedral architect on the death of his father in 1897 and saw the cathedral building through to its conclusion in 1910 using his father’s plans.468 Besides the Boer War memorial, Frank’s reredos in St Mary’s aisle deserves to be given more prominence as it is his one artistic and architectural contribution to Truro cathedral in its own right.

Despite all his later commitments in London, Canterbury and Cambridge University, Canon Arthur James Mason worked tirelessly for decades with the Chapter to interpret Benson’s vision. This is eloquently expressed on his memorial plaque within the Benson memorial in Canterbury cathedral:

He, very closely allied by both loyalty and love to Edward Benson, archbishop,
who rests alongside,
for a long time served the church of Truro,
and for longer that of Canterbury,
beloved and missed in both places.469

Commemorative brasses to Canons Arthur James Mason and Arthur John Worlledge beneath s4.

We have also seen similar copious documentary evidence of the role Canon Chancellor Arthur Worlledge played in implementing Benson and Mason’s Master Scheme. Beneath the St James lancet s4 at the start of the Church History sequence are two small matching commemorative brasses. They portray youthful images of Canons Mason and Worlledge. It seems entirely appropriate that, on Mason’s death in 1928, the two people who more than any other had piloted Benson’s vision for the glazing and statuary of Truro Cathedral for over twenty-five formative years should be remembered together. Their dedication to interpreting and modifying Benson’s vision as the cathedral was completed was truly amazing, and has never before been acknowledged.

Statue of Edward White Benson in the west front of Truro Cathedral, flanked by Bishops Wilkinson and Gott, second and third Bishops of Truro.

There are many memorials to Edward White Benson in the cathedral, such as the brass in the Baptistry vestibule and his bust as Archbishop of Canterbury. He is placed centrally in the statuary of the west front and in the porch of the south transept. There is a little-known portrayal of Benson over the south door of the west front, where he is shown supervising two masons during the building’s construction. But it is at the Benson window n33 in the north nave that we started and therefore should end this work. Here he is portrayed overseeing the laying of the Cathedral’s foundation stone, and in the upper part of the window he is shown standing, flanked by the figures of Faith and Hope. It is entirely fitting that these two Christian virtues lie at the heart of his vision of Unity both for his new diocese and for his cathedral and its stained glass windows. Although his Master Scheme ultimately remains incomplete, his vision resulted in the largest and most ambitious Victorian stained glass window scheme in the country.

Statue of Edward White Benson over the south door of the west front, supervising two masons building the Cathedral.

References

  1. CCRO TCM/496—The Church Times 11th Nov. 1887.
  2. CCRO TCM/21/3 Printed Sermon preached by Benson at his enthronement—Truro May 1st 1877. Reprinted in EW Benson, Living Theology. Sampson Low, Marston & Company, London, 1893.
  3. The Bishop of Carlisle in JS Howson (ed) Essays on Cathedrals, London, 1872.
  4. OC : p.390.
  5. Benson insisted on the towers and the rose windows and, as we have seen, the tracery for the rose windows was designed to incorporate Benson’s Trinity theme.
  6. AQ : p. 133.
  7. AQ : p. 218.
  8. CCRO TCM/151. Archbishop Benson’s diary entry 6th May 1895 on Pearson’s restoration of Bristol cathedral.
  9. C. Brooks : The Gothic Revival, London 1999, pp. 289–340. Chapter 11 Sermons in Stone—Readings in High Victorian Gothic
  10. The church of St Etienne, Caen in particular.
  11. Window S4 The Adoration of the Magi.
  12. TC: p 50.
  13. J Betjeman Cornwall, London, 1964, p. 122. For these reasons, Betjeman regarded Annie Walke’s reredos in the Jesus chapel as a mistake.
  14. TC: p 50.
  15. Cited on HMB 1 : p. 23.
  16. The costs of all the major windows are recorded. The average cost for a nave lancet was £100 to £120, and the smaller windows from £40 to £80.
  17. Francis W. Skeat ‘The Vanished Glass of Exeter Cathedral’ Journal of the British Society of Master Glass Painters vol. Ⅺ : 2 : 1953: pp. 80–88
  18. Grateful thanks for permission to use the results of Carrie Atkinson’s research on the Victorian glazing of Exeter Cathedral.
  19. CCRO TCM/1049/1 Letter from Canon Mason 6thNovember 1890 (7. Trinity Square) to Chancellor Worlledge.
  20. EW Benson The Cathedral—its place in the life and work of the Church. London, 1878.
  21. (1) Margaret ED Eustice The windows of Truro Cathedral, Truro, 1995. (2) An earlier undated guidebook on the windows had been written by Archdeacon F Boreham. (3) Canon Holroyd Mills was responsible for the signage of each window in the 1990s.
  22. There is some evidence that for the first half of the 20th century the Willis organ was not fully appreciated—the reference to the organ in mid-century official cathedral guidebooks was just one sentence.
  23. The mid-20th century official Truro Cathedral guidebook, which in 1966 was in its 25th edition, devoted one page to the windows, and this was merely a summary of the main headings in the 1887 Master Scheme. Neither Ashley Rowe Cathedral Spires, Truro, 1947, or Fisher Barham Creation of a Cathedral, Falmouth, 1976, mention the windows at all. The same applied to the centenary booklet published in 1977 One Hundred Years of a Diocese. By contrast the 125th anniversary booklet The Treasures of the See, 2002, pp. 28–30: contained a major article by Michael G. Swift ‘Late Victorian stained glass in the Diocese of Truro.’
  24. Philip Payton Cornwall, a history. Fowey, 2004, pp 266–7. The most well-known example of this revival was in the paintings of the Newlyn School, which did not start until 1882.
  25. A Dunstan ‘The Church near the People’, The Royal Institution of Cornwall Journal, 2000, pp. 125–153.
  26. Unpublished PhD thesis Exeter University by Canon David Miller The Umbrella and the Duck; the Episcopate of Bishop Benson 1877–1883 and the beginnings of Truro Diocese and Cathedral, 2012.
  27. ABD: p. 64 quoting Revd FW Newman, Vicar of St George’s Truro.
  28. TC: p 50.
  29. CCRO TCM/21/3 Printed Sermon preached by Benson at his enthronement—Truro May 1st 1877.
  30. Frank Loughborough Pearson contributed to the completion of two other notable buildings designed by his father, namely 2. Temple Place, London for Lord Astor, and the first stages of the construction of Brisbane cathedral, Australia.
  31. Translated from the Latin by Oliver Padel.