Stained Glass in the Shrine Church
by FrPeter Cobb

When the Shrine was first planned, Father Hope Pattern envisaged its having six small windows with stained glass designed by Ninian Comper. Probably only one was completed when the Shrine was blessed on 15 October 1931, that is the window at the liturgical west end near the well, depicting our Lady with the Christ child, crowned with seven stars and standing on a crescent moon. It is signed with his logo of wild strawberries and the year in Roman numerals. The inscription asks for prayers for Joseph and Elizabeth Rose, the initials J.D-S and E.R.D-S presumably being those of the donors [Doyle-Smithe, probably given by Alice, an early Shrine supporter, whose parents they may have been].

All the others were to be of figures ‘intimately connected with Walsingham’, Richeldis herself, Ralph the first Prior, Edward I, Katharine of Aragon and Nicholas Mileham. In fact only one other of the series was made, the one showing Richeldis and her vision of our Lady, with the Holy House on her knees. This was installed the following year, 1932, and is now also at the west end. Drawings were made for the remaining four lights and as Father Hope Patten pointed out with heavy hints ‘by a special and generous arrangement on the part of the Artist, they can be given at the comparatively small sum of £35 each’. No more were given in fact, although there is a reference in Our Lady's Mirror in the Winter number of 1955, to the installation of two Comper windows, but this seems to have been wishful thinking.

Another panel of Comper glass was commissioned to complete the furnishing of the Chapel of the Finding in the Temple, dedicated to S Thomas Becket and S Philip Neri. It shows the archbishop in full vestments with the sword of his martyrdom in his right hand and his archiepiscopal cross in his left. It is in memory of ‘Arthur Frank Bowker [a Lay Guardian] of Wrotham, Kent, Artillery man, Engineer and Founder of this Chapel’. It has Comper’s logo and the date 1953.

Father Anthony Symondson, the authority on Comper, says, these three windows ‘are sensitive examples of Comper's mature work, successful in scale, draughtsmanship and in the juxtaposition of well modulated colour set against white glass’.

Since this opinion was given, the Shrine has recently acquired a much larger Comper window dated 1956. It is an almon-shaped light depicting Christ in Majesty. The figure is beardless and youthful, which is typical of Comper. The window was designed for the Chapel of the Servants of Christ at the House of Prayer in Burnham and given to the Shrine by the surviving Sisters when the convent was closed. It was installed as a memorial to Father Derek Allen in 1991.

If we revert to chronological order, the next window, which is very easy to miss, is the one in the Chapel of Resurrection on the south side of the altar. It shows the risen Christ appearing to his mother, who is seated with a book across her knees on which can be read the text ‘Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust’ (Isaiah 26:19). It is part of the original furnishing of the chapel, given anonymously by two donors in 1938, and was designed and made by A K Nicholson.

On the other side of the high altar, on the stairs up to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel, is a richly coloured window of the Annunciation, with the heraldic arms of our Lady of Walsingham in the bottom corner. It has no inscription and the Mirror of Spring 1955, which records the gift, simply says that it was made by ‘Cox of Chester’. This must be [was] Trena M Cox who died in 1977. Most of her work is in the North of England.

The windows in the three chapels of the Sorrowful Mysteries on the north side of the shrine are filled, not with stained glass which would have obscured the light, but with clear glass with sand blasted designs. They were installed in 1973. They show the Scourging, given anonymously, the Crowning with Thorns, a memorial to Father Derrick Lingwood, and the Carrying of the Cross, the gift of SSC, the Society of the Holy Cross. They were [designed by Gordon Beningfield and] made by Goddard and Gibbs.

Finally, on the other side of the Shrine, are two panels of stained glass set into the large windows. One is the single figure of S Augustine which presumably once formed part of a larger design. It could be the work of C E Kempe who died in 1907. It was given by Mrs Brown, the sister of Mother Margaret Mary SSH, and came from Northallerton in Yorkshire where her husband was vicar. The date it was given to the Shrine was 1964. It was in the original Chapel of S Augustine, which was used as an oratory by the college of S Augustine whilst it existed, and moved to its present position when the extension was built in 1972. The other is a beautiful light of very different style showing Our Lady of Sorrows. It was given by Father Colin Gill at the end of his term as Master in 1982. It was thought to be late medieval Flemish glass but, in the opinion of Paul Quail, the modern stained glass artist who lives at Gunthorpe, it is only a ‘very good copy’.

All the glass in the Shrine is of very high quality and deserves close study. It is not only beautiful in itself but can be an inspiration for meditation.

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