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St Gregory's Church Windows

Glass, plain and coloured, has been made and used for thousands of years, the Egyptians and the Romans both producing small objects made from coloured glass. In Britain the process can be traced back to the 7th century, with some early examples found in churches and monasteries. Stained glass became very popular during the middle ages, and by the 12th century, the practice had become much more sophisticated. During the Reformation, however, many stained glass windows were smashed and replaced with plain glass. With no new stained glass windows being made and none being repaired, many traditional methods were forgotten, and were not rediscovered until Victorian times.

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Although we have no surviving windows from the Middle Ages, we do have some glass from those times which has been re-used. As you enter the church look up to your left. At the top of the windows panes of medieval glass have been incorporated into the patchwork of the new windows made in Victorian times. And here is the main West Window. You can see that various repetition pattern pieces have been used to create the mosaic.

Many thanks to Zita Tait, Stained Glass Artist, for her comments on the windows in our church, and for her advice on the technical details associated with the windows and their construction. Any errors, however, are entirely the fault of the web author!

Although windows have been around for millennia, their use has evolved over time. Originally their purpose was simply to let the daylight into buildings  while keeping the building enclosed against the weather.  In religious buildings it was also about the quality of light let into a building.  For people entering a church or cathedral in medieval times it would have been about the symbolism of 'God is Light'. Onward from the medieval ages, as the windows became larger and higher quality, stained glass windows started being used to create storytelling religious images and to highlight the wealth of those who owned or supported the building.

This window is dedicated to the Reverend Watson Moor, who was the first official 'Vicar' of the Parish in Victorian times. He had donated the land to build the village school, and may have paid for the building of the (now ex) Vicarage in Huntham Lane.

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These windows, in memory of Herbert Hembrow, depicting Saint Peter (with the Keys of the Kingdom of Heaven), and Saint Paul (a guy who always had his book and sword), are excellent examples of true 'Stained Glass', with only about half coloured glass being used. The detailed painting on the faces is especially fine. Stoke is a daughter church of North Curry, dedicated to St Peter & St Paul.

Silver Stain can produce colours ranging from pale yellow to a deep amber, depending on the glass composition, stain composition, the number of applications, the temperature of the kiln, and the colour of the glass to which it has been applied. In the 14th century, it was a real breakthrough, because it could be used to depict yellow hair, halos and crowns within the same section of glass as the face. The example on the left is from 'Jesus and the Woman at the Well', and the other is a detail from the large East Window. Although this window's colours can seem almost garish in some lights, the use of silver stain and part removal produces a striking starburst effect.

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Silver Stain could also be used to give variations of green to blue glass in the rendering of fields, hedges and landscapes. Its discovery is a mystery, but there is a story of a glass worker who lost a silver button from his tunic. The button fell into the molten glass and produced a yellow streak. Believe it if you will.

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Perhaps the most impressive window is in the North wall and depicts the two kings, Alfred & Ethelwald, and the two saints, Gregory (Patron Saint) & Augustine (who Pope Gregory sent to convert the Saxons). The red cloaks in the pictures are examples of a process known as 'flashing.

   The primary method of including colour in stained glass is to use glass, originally colourless, that has been given colouring by mixing with metal oxides in its melted state (in a crucible or "pot"), producing glass sheets that are coloured all the way through; these are known as "pot metal" glass. A second method, is flashed glass, a thin coating of coloured glass fused to colourless glass (or coloured glass, to produce a different colour). Flashing was especially used for reds, as the compounds (including gold and selenium) used were expensive and also tended to be too deep in colour to use at full thickness. 

If the glass is flashed, the colour can be lightened by being partly or completely etched away (originally by painstaking scratching but now through exposure to acid or via sandblasting). This results in paler or colourless spots where the coloured glass has been removed. In this small panel of the Barrett coat of arms almost all the red has been etched away. The four quarters have then been painted to provide the desired effect. The alternative to flashing is to use sheets of paler glass which can then be shaded to represent items of clothing or other objects. 

Often called enamels or vitreous enamels, stain glass paints are a mixture of metallic oxide pigments, flux and ground glass. They are used for surface decoration, and are fired on permanently in a kiln.

Their colour and opacity depends on the type of metal oxide used.

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The final window in our collection was to the memory of William House, who died at Churley in 1883, aged 72, and his wife Sarah who had died at Stathe Court in 1874, aged 62. Abraham and his wife Sarah are depicted in the window. In Jewish history Sarah was revered as much as Abraham. She had all the great qualities that Abraham had. She was reputed to be wise and kind, and she was also a prophetess. Also, God told Abraham to do what his wife told him. Was that in their children's minds when they paid for and chose the subject for the window? Did William always do what his wife Sarah told him?

This window, depicting Jesus asking the Samaritan woman for a drink from the water she has drawn from the well, has a contemporary, naturalistic feel to it. The sky is left as clear diamond panes, and the pale greens and blues make a good representation of rural scenery. It is the only window showing people as they might be in conversation. The reds here would have been made using the flashed glass technique, but the woman's cloak is probably a pale blue solid glass, with dark shading added to produce the desired effect

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Creating a Stained Glass Window

 

The first part of the process is to create a window design - a full-size sketch, called a cartoon. This drawing creates a guide for the overall composition of the many pieces of glass that will make up the stained glass window, including the shapes of individual pieces of glass, the colours of glass that are going to be used, and the details to be painted onto the glass pieces.

    Individual pieces of glass are then cut and shaped from larger pieces of coloured glass to fit the shapes outlined in the design. This is normally done using special tools, such as dividing irons and pliers called grozing irons. Medieval craftsmen used a hot iron to make the glass crack. In more recent times it is cut using a little steel wheel.

    The individual pieces of glass are painted with vitrifiable paint, to achieve the exact colours and precise details outlined in the cartoon. The painted pieces are then fired in the kiln, which allows the powdered glass particles in the paint to melt, causing the paint to fuse with the glass permanently.

    The next steps are glazing and leading. The drawing is spread out on a table and nailed down along two edges with narrow strips of wood called laths. Cutting and shaping thin pieces of lead to the curves of the glass pieces begins. Long strips of grooved lead are placed along the inside of the laths. The piece of glass belonging in one of the angles is then fitted into the grooves and a strip of narrow lead is fitted around the exposed edge. The next required stained glass window segment is filled. These steps are repeated until each piece of glass has been successfully inserted and sealed with the lead outline to hold it in place.

    Once all of the stained glass window segments and lead are in place, every joint on the window is soldered, on both sides, to ensure that the window will stay together. The final (and rather tedious) stage after soldering all the joints is to make the window waterproof using blackened putty around each piece of glass.

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Postscript: Stained glass windows often include lettering. These are two examples. On the William House window the text is painted on the glass. On the inscription at the base of the Barrett window the panel is painted in black. The letters are then made by scratching off the letters.