January 28th, 2020

The Great East Window Of Gloucester Cathedral

The Reformation rolled over England in waves- under Henry VIII, under his son Edward VI and finally, a hundred years later, at the time of the Civil War and subsequent Interregnum. Each wave involved a great deal of smashing and burning of religious images. It's a wonder anything survived- and yet much did. People protected their treasures where they could. Paintings were whitewashed, smaller objects hidden or buried; fonts became garden ornaments; in Norwich the Despenser Retable was repurposed as a dining table. There's a story I can no longer source about a Roundhead officer who stood guard all night over the church of his ancestors in order to prevent his own troops from breaking it up. And sometimes local resistance and intimidation may have been enough to deter the iconoclasts. It would account for the survival of much stained glass. Breaking a big window is a lengthy job- and how would you like to be at the top of a thirty foot ladder, bashing away with your hammer, in a shower of splinters, while a bunch of surly locals milled and muttered below? Perhaps there were "accidents".

One of the most splendid survivals is the great east window of Gloucester Cathedral. It dates from the 1350s- and shows the hierarchy of heaven- with secular nobility at the bottom, ecclesiastics in the tiers above and our Lord and Our Lady at the apex.