The work of Sir Ninian Comper (1864-1960) in the Shrine -
Windows :: Holy House Altar :: Vestments


When the Holy House was built in 1931 Fr Patten asked the famous architect Ninian Comper to design a set of six stained glass windows. Only three were ever made and only one was of Fr Patten's subjects listed in Our Lady's Mirror [in the paragraph below]. His text leaves us confused as to which were the first two and which arrived first. Fr Patten wrote it all, probably at speed. From the following extract one could assume that the first window already installed was that of Richeldis, although we know that it was of Our Lady Crowned.

from Our Lady's Mirror, Autumn 1931: The first of the series of six windows by Mr Ninian Comper is in situ. They are to form an historic record in that each depicts some person intimately connected with Walsingham - Richeldis; Ralph the first Prior; Edward I; Katherine of Aragon; Nicholas Myleham, burnt at the stake for resisting the destruction of the Shrine here. [These are only five names, but it seems that the first was always intended to be one of Our Lady; this was only to be expected and Fr Patten probably thought it was so self-evident that it did not need saying.]

This next extract tells us that a second window is about to be made, and it is to be of Richeldis.

from Our Lady's Mirror, Spring 1932: A pilgrim has paid for another of the Sanctuary windows and has chosen the first of the series, Richeldis. Unfortunately Mr Comper is very busy just now and cannot promise to send it for some little time.

There are no more mentions in Our Lady's Mirror until that of the St Thomas window in 1952, an addition to Fr Tooth's chantry chapel of SS Thomas and Philip Neri, in memory of Arthur Bowker, one of the first Guardians.

from Our Lady's Mirror, Summer 1952: By the will of Major Bowker a fine memorial brass has been let into the floor of S. Thomas’s chapel in memory of Father Wilmott-Phillips, the late Vicar of Plaxtol. This chapel built and furnished by Bowker is a chantry for Father Tooth, Wilmott-Phillips and himself; a window depicting S. Thomas (of Canterbury) is in course of being made by Sir Ninian Comper, and we hope it will be in place during the “fall” as our cousins from overseas would say.
from Our Lady's Mirror, Summer 1953: The window, made by Sir Ninian Comper, in memory of Major Bowker, has at last arrived and is now in place. This last addition finishes the work provided for by the Major, who has thus given all the furniture and fittings for this chapel of SS. Thomas and Philip Neri.

Our Lady's Mirror, Winter 1955 [late 1954] has a photograph of the Richeldis window, and Summer 1955 has one of the window of Our Lady Crowned.


Our Lady Crowned - at the west [holy well] end of the north aisle
Richeldis -
on the west wall above the leaflet table
St Thomas -
in the South Cloister [Confessionals end]: this window was put into its chapel before the church had a South Cloister, so at the enlarging in 1972 the window was set in the cloister glass.

also set in the South Cloister glass, at the liturgical west end. This is the Christ in Glory window, given by Mother Raphael Mary from the Chapel of the House of Prayer at Burnham in memory of Fr Derek Allen (died 1991), who was a Guardian of the Shrine.

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Fr Cobb's paper on stained glass in the Shrine church


In 1954 Comper, by now knighted and nearly ninety years of age, was commissioned to design a permanent reredos for the Holy House, to replace the 'temporary' hangings put there when it was built in 1931. The work was to be in thanksgiving for the nine hundredth anniversary of the original foundation. Fr Patten died before the work was finished, and it is likely that Sir Ninian never saw it in situ: he died in 1960. Much of the work was done by Comper's last partner, his great-nephew John Bucknall. Progress was described as follows:

from Our Lady's Mirror, Autumn 1955
While the anniversary of the apparition of Our Lady and the subsequent foundation of the Shrine occurs once every hundred years, the next centenary should be solemnized in 1961 – the ninth in the history of Walsingham. For this occasion we are planning already and we hope to be able to erect by 1961 a new and permanent reredos in the Holy House, as an act of thanksgiving for all the favours and answers to prayer vouchsafed in response to Our Lady’s intercession through the centuries. Sir Ninian Comper has prepared drawings for this and estimates.
from Our Lady's Mirror, Summer 1957
Over a period of time notices have appeared in the MIRROR asking for donations towards a permanent reredos for the altar of the Holy House. This is, first, a practical necessity as the temporary hangings which were put up twenty-six years ago are just falling to pieces and it would cost a mint of money to replace them adequately these days; also, hangings are not the best decorations for a place like the Shrine where so many votive candles and lamps are constantly burning. Secondly, the nine hundredth anniversary of the foundation of the Holy House coming as it does in 1961, it seemed to the Guardians an obvious thing to put up a permanent record of our gratitude for all the blessings of the revival here and the many graces and favours obtained through Our Lady’s prayers, and so Sir Ninian Comper has been asked to prepare drawings for the scheme and has commenced work upon it. We are sure all those who love Our Lady and her House at Walsingham will wish to have a finger in this gift to her, so now is the time to send any contribution you can, however small – or large. A sum of £300 is needed to complete the work, excluding the new altar crucifix and candlesticks designed for this setting.
from Our Lady's Mirror, Winter 1957-8
There are less than thirty-six months before the nine hundredth centenary year of the original foundation of the Holy House (1061), to commemorate which, among other things, we are still collecting for the new reredos which Sir Ninian Comper has designed to take the place of the fast-disintegrating hangings which were put up twenty-seven years ago as a temporary measure. Will you send your donations NOW please and so ensure it being completed and paid for? Work has already begun.
from the Friends of Walsingham Occasional Paper IV, December 1957
The Nine Hundredth Centenary will be observed in 1961, and this special occasion will be made memorable by the erection in the Holy House of a new reredos. This has long been in our minds, for the present hangings have reached such a state that no amount of stitching and patching will save the day, so at last something has been done. Sir Ninian Comper, who needs no introduction, has produced a very beautiful design, and the bulk of the money has either been given or promised.
from the Friends of Walsingham Occasional Paper VIII, October 1959
Perhaps the greatest alteration in recent years has been the new altar and reredos in the Holy House, which was in place by Whitsun [1959] although it is not yet complete. The old hangings which were put up in 1931 as a temporary arrangement had given long and worthy service, and those who have known the Shrine a long time are bound to feel sad at the change. However the new design is by the most distinguished living Church architect, Sir Ninian Comper, and the fact that it had all been planned by Fr Patten and has as far as possible been carried out according to his expressed wishes has given it a special merit to those who were devoted to him and appreciate his particular flair for contriving impressive and devotional atmosphere. As artistic objects, the reredos, frontal and tester are magnificent and a worthy adornment and setting for Our Lady's venerated image. The Crucifix and candlesticks have also been given and inscribed as a memorial to Fr Patten, although he had himself seen and approved their design.

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When the Holy House was opened in 1931 Comper designed a red chasuble with decoration of the signs of English saints: it was made by the Sisters of Bethany at their school of embroidery in Clerkenwell.

The Shrine owns a white damask set, with flowers, designed by him in the 1930s and made for Fr Twisaday by the Sisters of Bethany. It was given to the Shrine by Fr McAteer. It also owns a pink set designed in 1905.

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