Friends of St Marys Croscombe - Protecting Church Heritage

Croscombe Church stained glass – an introduction by Valerie Stevens

Andy Sully (Senior BBC Journalist and Croscombe resident) in interview with Valerie Stevens.

St Mary’s does not have a huge amount of stained glass, but what it does have is of some interest – and it has some artistic merit.

Like most English churches of its heritage, St Mary’s would have lost most of its coloured glass during the reformation and that which survived would have been unlikely to have remained intact during the puritan period.

Laws were passed limiting depiction of Christ, the Saints and kings – notably by Edward VI – and we can only imagine what our Church would have been like during the Medieval period.

Some of this early stained glass does survive in Croscombe however at the tracery (the top) of the large window in the South Aisle of the church (which you can see to your right as you enter the Church).

Look closely and in the typically small Medieval panes you can make out fragments of patterns, painted a rich yellow with black highlighting via the silver stain method.

Intricate designs

This process, typical of 15th century craftsmen, would see the glass painted with a then-clear solution of either silver nitrate or silver oxide. A trip to the furnace would then reveal the design as the chemicals reacted with the heat.

Still visible is part of an eagle – the symbol of St John the Apostle – and an Angel, probably a seraphim. What skill was required by those artisans 600 years ago to paint such intricate designs using translucent solution?

The rest of this fine window is much more recent and is the handywork of the famous stained glass artist Sir Ninian Comper.

The window, erected in 1925, was a memorial to Joseph Allott, who had been rector of Croscombe for an astonishing 41 years until his death in 1918.

The work was paid for by the Rev Allott’s family and features a striking (and very Anglo-Saxon looking) Christ carrying the banner of St George.

He is flanked by St John the Apostle on his left (again with the eagle emblem) and by St Paul, characteristically bald-headed and carrying a sword, to his right. St Paul is carrying his epistles.

To the right of Paul, Sir Ninian depicted St Elizabeth (Mary’s sister) with her young son, the future John the Baptist. On the far right, we see the young Mary being cared for by her mother St Anne. Anne is dressed in black robes, which is a rarely seen colour in stained glass, while Mary is in the blue robes which had become traditional in her depictions since Victorian times.

Striking centre point

A discrete strawberry plant – in this window hidden near the bottom right – was a trademark image of all Sir Ninian’s work.

Comper’s window is considered a little too prettified by some – and certainly the figures display no Semitic characteristics! However I think the quality of his drawing is second to none and this certainly shows fine craftsmanship. It is a shame that water has slightly damaged some of the wash on the robes.

Now let’s move to the largest of the windows in St Mary’s. The massive panes of which dominates the chancel.

It dates from the 1893 and was originally intended as a memorial to an eminent Victorian Croscombian called John Nalder. Mr Nalder, a solicitor and local worthy, lived in the village’s Long Street and owned gardens and orchards that were to become Combe Green.

On his death, his family intended to pay for the large window above the Altar. Well, I imagine some degree of village politics came into play, and for whatever reason, the Parochial Church Council turned down the Nalders’ request and the work was done at the parish’s expense.

It was made by Clayton & Bell, one of the most ubiquitous stained glass firms whose windows can be found in churches of this period all across the country. But its bright red, blue and deep yellow enamels certainly make it a striking centre point to the Church.

At the centre we see Christ Ascending, flanked by Angels sitting on what looks like either seashells, cushions or perhaps Cornish pasties (!) but are in fact a modern rendering of the way Medieval artists drew clouds.

The Virgin Mary appears again in her traditional blue robes and the Apostles are represented. Above everything is a very fine, Angelic orchestra. The lower panes depict scenes following the Crucifixion. Jesus’s wounds are clearly visible in the artwork.

Memorial window

The compromise struck with the Nalder family must have allowed them to pay for the two side windows of the chancel. The window to the left (from the congragation’s point of view) is a memorial to Mr Nalder’s infant daughter, Dorothy Maude, who died aged one in 1891. The window facing it, is a memorial to John Nalder himself.

Again the work was by Clayton & Bell and all three windows were probably put in place at the same time – under the supervision of the Rev Allott, whose own memorial window we have already discussed.

The other piece of stained glass in St Mary’s is at the West (tower) end of the church. It’s a fairly standard decorative piece, the like of which can be seen in many Victorian Churches. Its inscription shows that it was erected to the memory of one Samuel Hares, who died in 1850 aged 84. Hares remains a local name to the Croscombe area.

About Val
Valerie Stevens was born in Cardiff and worked initially as a biology teacher before a lifelong love of museums drew her to work in that sector, spending many years at Leicester Museum before moving to Somerset with her husband where she ran the county museum service’s education department until her retirement. Val lived in Croscombe for 22 years and has a keen interest in all aspects of stained glass.
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