The Annunciation window at St Mary Magdalene, Brampton, Cambridgeshire

Mark Charter

s6. The Annunciation window.

To the Glory of God and to the memory of Mary Countess of Sandwich this window is dedicated by her son Edward 8th Earl of Sandwich

Figure 1. s6. The Annunciation window.

The Annunciation window was inserted in .4,5 It is in memory of Mary Montagu, née Paget, Countess of Sandwich, who died on .2 She predeceased her husband, the seventh Earl of Sandwich, who died on 3 when their eldest son Edward Montagu, the donor of the window, inherited the title and became the eighth Earl.

The window was designed by John William Brown1,6 and made by the Plymouth firm of Fouracre and Watson who were specially selected for the work by the Earl of Sandwich, who has expressed himself highly pleased with the design and execution of the window.5 The majority of Fouracres’ work is to be found in Devon and Cornwall, and this is the only known window of theirs in East Anglia. It is not known why the Earl of Sandwich chose Fouracre, but it may have been related to his Masonic connections,7 and possibly an acquaintance with the Earl of Mount Edgcumbe, himself a prominent westcountry Freemason. These two connections, freemasonry and the Earl of Mount Edgcumbe, undoubtedly helped Fouracre to obtain many commissions in Cornwall.8

The principal subject of the window, the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, is probably a reflection of the dedicatee’s first name. St Catherine of Alexandria, shown on the left, is often depicted as attending on the Virgin and Child, and this may be a reference to the appointment by Queen Victoria of the Countess as a Lady of the Bedchamber, or personal attendant. St Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians, shown on the right, may refer to the Countess’ enjoyment or performance of music. Six of the eight angels in the tracery are shown playing musical instruments, further contributing to the musical theme of the window.

The designs for five of the angels in the tracery (the angels in the left-hand light, playing a harp and a trumpet, one of the angels in the third light, playing another harp, and the angels in the right-hand light, playing a viol and a lute) were re-used in in the iron Mission Church of St Agatha in the hamlet of Draynes in Cornwall (subsequently moved to the south aisle of the nearby church of St Cleer), but the quality of the work at Draynes is noticeably inferior. This probably reflects the limited funds available to glaze a prefabricated structure in a Cornish hamlet, compared with this prestigious commission at Brampton.

Figure 2. Tracery above the left-hand light, showing angels playing musical instruments. The left-hand angel is playing a harp and the right-hand angel is playing a trumpet.

Figure 3. Tracery above the second light, showing two angels. The left-hand angel is playing an organ (with the shortest pipes at the left-hand end!) and the right-hand angel is clasping its hands in prayer.

Figure 4. Tracery above the third light, showing two angels. The left-hand angel is clasping its hands in prayer and the right-hand angel is playing a harp.

Figure 5. Tracery above the right-hand light, showing two angels. The left-hand angel is playing a viol or violin and the right-hand angel is playing a plucked, four-stringed instrument.

Saint Catherine Mar[tyr]

Figure 6. s6 2a. This light shows St Catherine of Alexandria. Her left hand rests on a wheel, the instrument of her martrydom, and in her right hand she holds a marty’s palm frond.

Left-hand light Right-hand light

Figure 7. s6 2b and s6 2c. The Annunciation. The angel Gabriel, on the left, tells the Blessed Virgin Mary that she will conceive and bear the child Jesus (Luke 1:26–38). Gabriel holds a lily, the symbol of virginity, and at Mary’s feet are roses, also symbols of purity and perfection.

Saint Cecilia Mar[tyr]

Figure 8. s6 2d. St Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians, carries a model of an organ, supported on a knotted strip of fabric. Her left hand is on the keyboard and her right hand is working the bellows to provide the air for the instrument (which has the shorter, higher-pitched pipes at the left-hand end of the keyboard, presumably to help the pictorial composition of the scene).

Figure 9. s6 1a. This predella shows the Mystical Marriage of St Catherine of Alexandria, a legend that first appeared in the medieval Golden Legend. The Blessed Virgin Mary, on the right in her usual colour of blue, holds the Infant Jesus who is putting a ring on St Catherine’s finger, by which St Catherine consecrates herself and her virginity to Him. The scene shown in a predella usually illustrates an aspect of the subject of the main light above it, so this interpretation seems more likely than the one previously suggested.1

Figure 10. s6 1b. The second predella, showing the three Magi accompanied by a page boy. The central figure, with white hair and flowing beard, is Caspar. The figure on the left has a grey beard, so may be the middle-aged Melchior, in which case Balthazar, a young man, is on the right. The journey of the Magi to worship the infant Jesus is, like the Nativity in the next predella, an event that followed on from the Annunciation shown in the main lights above it.

Figure 11. s6 1c. The third predella, showing the Nativity. The Blessed Virgin Mary holds the infant Jesus. On the left is Joseph, holding a staff. In the background on the right are angels playing harps. A man, perhaps a shepherd, kneels at Mary’s feet while at the left in the background is a horned ox and, on the far right, a sheep. The Nativity is, like the journey of the Magi in the previous predella, an event that followed on from the Annunciation shown in the main lights above it.

Figure 12. s6 1d. The right-hand predella shows St Cecilia seated at a keyboard, probably of an organ, singing while angels listen. This is a common representation of her, because at her wedding she sang in her heart to God. The guitar hanging up unused illustrates her rejection of the earthly instruments of Bacchus in favour of heavenly music. Once again, this interpretation of the scene in the predella illustrates an aspect of the subject of the main light above it, and therefore seems more likely than the one previously suggested.1

References

  1. R Noble, St Mary Magdalene Church, Brampton, The Stained Glass Windows. Second Edition, 2014.
  2. Wolverhampton Chronicle and Staffordshire Advertiser p 7.
  3. Morning Post p 5.
  4. John Bull p 13.
  5. Western Morning News p 5, and a similar article two weeks later in The Hunts County Guardian p 6. The piece in the Western Morning News also mentions the supply of a window for the parish church of Dewsbury in Yorkshire, and was probably intended by Fouracre to demonstrate the prestigious nature of their clientele and the spread of their commissions well beyond the southwest of England.
  6. Waters W, Carew-Cox A, Damozels and Deities; Pre-Raphaelite Stained Glass . Seraphim Press, ..
  7. Obituary of eighth Earl of Sandwich (donor of window) in The Huntingdonshire Post p 3. Funeral in The Huntingdonshire Post p 3. Representatives of the Loyal Lord Hinchingbrooke Lodge (M.U.) present.
  8. Swift MG, Stained glass windows in Cornwall by the Plymouth firm of Fouracre.