Here is a close-up of the stained-glass angels in the tracery of a south aisle window at St Peter & St Paul’s Weobley that caught my eye yesterday, and a more thought-through attempt to make sense of it. It’s based on an iPhone snap and the window itself was restored (with many pieces missing) in 1929 so it’s not a great basis to work on, but we can make some preliminary observations, that I think are quite interesting:
- The style and subject matter alike put us firmly in the fifteenth century, when both angel windows/roofs/bosses and meditation on the instruments of the passion were popular themes.
- Angels are everywhere in East Anglia, but so far I have seen far fewer of them in Herefordshire. This may be a reflection on the amount of church re-ordering that was going on in each place in the fifteenth century rather than any difference in devotion.
- The angels have six wings – a pair crossed above their heads and a pair crossed across their loins as well as the ones to each side – so they are seraphim (Isaiah 6.1)
- Their feathers are represented as often in fifteenth-century depictions in a way that makes them look as if they are wearing a feathery angel-suit. This is thought to reflect the way in which people would indeed dress up as angels in the plays and pageants of the time.
- Note also the neck-line of the garments which is reminiscent of that of a vestment. Angels and other figures are again often found in fifteenth-century roofs and windows dressed as if in a liturgical procession, representing the eucharist or other event (such as the Coronation of Mary) in heaven, and inviting those celebrating the liturgy in the church below to see themselves as part of the same in heaven.
- There was no one definitive “set” of the Instruments of the Passion, but those named above were often found – alongside dice, nails, the seamless robe and more. They were also called the Arma Christi, as if they were the emblems on Christ’s coat of arms, or his weapons for defeating the devil. Late mediaeval devotion could involve visualising and meditating on each of the instruments in turn. The Dominicans in particular prayed in this way. (San Marco in Florence is the place to go to see this where each cell has a different picture on its wall to inspire prayer.)
- We don’t of course know what was in the main part of the window below (assuming these figures were always where they are now) or what their context was in general. A crucifixion scene would fit, but my gut instinct is that this is unusual for a south aisle.
I guess the next step is contact the local church and some historically-minded Herefordians and see if (a) anything else is known about the window (are their records of its restoration?), and (b) has anyone worked on it and written it up yet? I’d also like to find out whether anyone is working on a general survey of Herefordshire Stained Glass – the CVMA doesn’t pick up more than a few pieces so far.
All suggestions gratefully received.