Most surviving stained glass features tracery figures. Human beings as well as angels, populate the windows; women appear mainly as Virgins, and other saints, whilst men are prophets, patriarchs, kings and clerics – and both appear as patrons.
The most common image of a woman in Norfolk glass is the Virgin Mary, who appears in scenes including the Annunciation, the Assumption and the Coronation of the Virgin, as well as multiple Nativities. There are a few images of Mary Magdalen (Burnham Market, photo) and many more of the myriad virgin saints. The most popular in Norfolk were St Margaret of Antioch, usually portrayed slaying a dragon, St Catherine the Great (with her wheel) and St Barbara (with her tower). Others include St Juliana and St Agatha. There are good examples at Cley, Stratton Strawless, Martham and Salle
The photos in the carousel below are all of donors and women saints:
Most remaining Norfolk glass is from the fifteenth century. This is probably because much of the glass from the thirteenth and fourteenth century was destroyed when churches were enlarged and given bigger windows in the fifteenth century (and also during the iconoclasm of Edward vi’s reign). The earliest Norfolk glass is in Saxlingham Nethergate church, which has thirteenth century roundels of St Edmund’s martyrdom.
There is good fourteenth century glass in Mileham west window, a couple of fourteenth century prophets in Bale.
There is a particular style in a number of windows of apostles, patriarchs and prophets. Full length portraits are backed by a three-sided screen, its height about three quarters of the height of the figures. Sometimes the quarry was decorated with the rose en soleil, the Yorkist badge.
The apostles in the windows of the Norwich Guildhall are particularly good
and the finest of the patriarchs with perhaps the best stained glass work in Norfolk are found in the tracery lights in the chancel at Salle church, where the panels are big enough to occupy the main lights of a smaller church. St Peter Hungate in Norwich has an excellent collection of glass, including some of the apostles. Stratton Strawless has a good quality window with the evangelists.
But the purpose of this post is not to discuss the work in great detail but to allow you, the viewer to look at the images and draw your own conclusions about the glass which was produced in Norwich in the fifteenth century.
I have always thought that Norfolk’s medieval stained glass is an underrated legacy of the middle ages. It has a distinctive style and high quality craftsmanship as well as deep rich colours and some superb draftsmanship.
This was brought home when I first visited Martham, St Mary church where there is a superb collection of fifteenth century Norfolk glass, probably made in one of the workshops in Norwich. It has been restored to a greater or lesser extent and reset in the east windows of the north and south aisles. I hope the photo gallery below gives testament to this.
But what links the glass here to the glass in Mulbarton, St Mary Magdalen? It’s Adam and Eve. Eve spinning and fully clothed is portrayed in Martham and Adam delving and fully clothed is in Mulbarton , along with them, both naked with fig leaves on their expulsion from the Garden of Eden.
The story goes that a vicar moved from Martham to Mulbarton (about 20 miles) at the beginning of the nineteenth century bringing with him the two Adam and Eve panels from Martham and setting them in the East window at Mulbarton.
In his notes on Mulbarton, David King (the authority on Norfolk’s medieval glass) detects the work of William Mudesford, a Dutch immigrant who worked for the main glazing workshop in the city from panels depicting the Passion in St Peter Mancroft (Norwich)
Apart from this connection, the glass at Martham is (in my opinion) of outstanding quality – many angels including St Michael the archangel weighing souls and a number of saints, including East Anglian favourites, St Edmund (holding the arrow of his martyrdom) and St Margaret of Antioch (spearing the dragon). One of my favourites is Mary, Jesus and John the Baptist in his camel hair. And in the scourging of Christ I wonder if we see the faces of the men of mid fifteenth century Norwich and Norfolk?
One problem with looking at medieval stained glass in situ is that you often can’t get very close to it. When you see whole windows (as in St Peter Mancroft and East Harling, Norfolk’s best known examples) it is hard to see individual panels and easy to be overwhelmed by the effect of the whole, beautiful as that may be. You really need a long lens or a pair of binoculars and the best way to see the glass (apart from being up on a ladder or scaffold or seeing it when it is being repaired in a workshop) is probably through photographs. Even then a protective grill can take away from its beauty. In most of these photos of Martham I have got rid of the exterior protective grill by using Photoshop – a rather tedious process.
There are other issues with looking at medieval stained glass. Much was lost during the iconoclasm of the Reformation both in Edward vi’s reign and the period of the Civil War (1642-1660). A lot of glass simply deteriorated over time and was lost that way. It’s rare to see windows as they were, when they were created which means that interpretation of the glass is often problematic and speculative. As David King says most of the glass we see today in many churches is a “patchwork of miscellaneous fragments.” But the skill and artistry of those that made them shines through.
Further Norfolk stained glass sources:
Stained Glass Tours around Norfolk Churches. David King. Norfolk Society 1974
I have been taking photos of Norfolk’s medieval angels over the past three years and thought it was time to share them online. There are other categories to come (wood and carved stone and painted – on wood or walls). Sometimes they are portrayed as celestial musicians; there are a few annunciations and even a devil (after all, a fallen angel) as in the case of St John the Divine.
A huge amount of medieval stained glass was lost in the protestant iconoclasm (particularly in the reign of Edward vi and later during the English civil war). Often the glass has been collected together and repositioned in the church centuries later. I have isolated most of the angels although the Mancroft angels are a part of scenes from the gospels. Most of them were created in Norfolk although one or two (like Denton, I think) came from elsewhere. Some are dirty and need repair work, others are beautiful and expressive.
Norwich was a major stained glass making centre from at least the thirteenth century and often the angels were designed to fit into the pointed arches of traceried windows. Some think that the feathered angels derived from medieval mystery plays. Guilds of performers travelled the country with pageant carts enacting various biblical dramas. The angels were portrayed in suits, covered with feathers. Stained glass making took off in Norfolk and especially Norwich in the fifteenth century with newly rich wool merchants commissioning much of the work. You can sometimes see depictions of the donors in the windows (though not included in this selection of angels).
A good website for English and French medieval stained glass is The Rose Window which gives brief explanations and photos. There is an English county index with many Norfolk churches listed, including many of my photos: http://www.therosewindow.com/