The Redemption Windows
in Leicester Cathedral
On 24 April this year, two new stained glass windows were dedicated in Leicester Cathedral. I had a chance to see them, face-to-face, in the beginning of June. A much-anticipated visit and I was not disappointed!
The windows were created by Thomas Denny, a renowned stained glass artist, who incidentally is related to Richard III through Richard’s uncle, Richard Neville, earl of Salisbury. Originally a landscape painter, Denny started working in glass in 1984. His work can be seen in many churches and cathedrals, mainly in the UK, but also one in Regensburg in Germany.
Actually, the day after admiring the windows in Leicester, we visited Durham Cathedral, which also has a window by Denny. The Transfiguration Window was dedicated on 25 September 2010. When visiting the Cathedral, we spotted it immediately as the style is unmistakeable.
Among the artist’s earlier work are a window and two panels in the parish church of St Michael & All Angels in Thurmaston, just north of Leicester. These were installed in 1989.
Stained glass by Thomas Denny has a very distinctive style. This effect is achieved by a combination of various methods. The first step is choosing the colours and planning the lead lines. Often different colours are laid one over another, and the top one can be etched away, either by mechanical means or with acid. He frequently uses two layers of glass to multiply the effects achieved. There is a very informative YouTube clip on the making of the windows for Leicester Cathedral, which is worth having a look at.
For something related to Richard III, stained glass is a highly appropriate medium, as many of the craft skills used today have remained the same since Richard’s time. As Denny explained, “All of the materials and most of the processes to be employed are as found in windows from the time of Richard III, or from the nineteenth century.” [i]
In 2013, Leicester Cathedral decided to replace the plain glass windows in St Katherine’s Chapel with stained glass, which should “reflect aspects of the life, death and subsequent treatment of Richard III”.[ii]
In his submission, Tom Denny identified some universal human themes and life experiences in the story of Richard and combined these with biblical sources. As the setting is a church, not a museum, concentrating on the universal Christian theme of redemption, Leicester Cathedral awarded the commission to him.
Rather than telling the story of a king, especially one who is viewed so differently, from really evil to saint-like, the windows show universal human experiences and the hope of redemption offered by Christ. As the Cathedral states in the booklet about the windows they are to “depict key themes [of the life of Richard III] and verses of the Bible, enabling us to reflect upon the stories of our own lives and universal themes”. While the media often referred to them as the “Richard III Windows”, the term “Redemption Windows” conveys the universal themes much more closely.
The key themes of the windows include universal issues like struggle, humiliation, losing and finding, redemption and salvation, which are associated with verses from the Bible.
The plans were unveiled in February 2014 and the windows were finally dedicated in April 2016, which marked the final act of the reinterment of Richard III.
At the dedication service, the Reverend Pete Hobson said that “It’s not just telling Richard III’s story. It’s helping the person who sees them reflect on the questions of life and death that are raised by the life and death of Richard III.”
The new windows are located in St Katherine’s Chapel, which is just to the north of the ambulatory, which was created in 2015 as the final resting place of Richard III. The windows are about 2.5m high plus another 1m for the tracery above. They cost £75,000.
The location of the windows, facing a row of red-brick buildings just across a rather narrow street, was first seen as problematic. However, this challenge turned out to be an asset in the end, as the buildings reflect the sunlight giving a pinkish glow to the colours of the windows.
When first looking at the windows you see a magnificent display of colours and light, predominantly gold and red. The longer you look the more details are revealed.
Each of the two windows consists of three main vertical panels, or lights, with smaller sections of tracery (an openwork pattern of masonry) above, with an eyelet to each side. The outer panels of the windows depict scenes of human struggle, which is turned to finding hope in the middle panels.
The West Window.
When facing the two windows, the west window is the one on the left.
At the bottom of the panel on the left, the aftermath of a battle is depicted by women tending to the dead and dying. The women might be on the site of the battle of Bosworth, but this scenario is unfortunately still too familiar and cannot be limited to just one specific battle.
Moving up the panel the scene becomes more clearly connected to Richard. In the middle is the landscape of Bosworth Field with the churches of Sutton Cheney and Stoke Golding.
At the top we see a dead naked man slung over a horse. This is set in what Leicester might have looked like in 1485, with the Guildhall in the middle and the spires of St Martin’s (now the cathedral) and the Greyfriars Monastery, where Richard was originally buried, behind it. The churches stand for a sense of sanctuary and hope, and eventually safety for Richard.
On the other side of the west window, the right-hand panel explores the themes of being lost and found, hidden, dead and buried, but being known to God. At the top, two people are walking away, perhaps from the cruelty they have seen. They are passing two rosebushes, which could symbolise the houses of York and Lancaster. The roots go down into the ground, which consists of fragments of the various layers of Leicester’s long history.
The middle panel shows the story of the story of the Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), showing that there is hope for an encounter with Christ. Even if the human story seems to end with death, loss and grief, through Christ there is hope. You will notice that in this picture, Jesus has a 15th-century haircut.
The theme of hope is continued in the centre of the tracery above. Here Christ, now with traditional long hair again, and the men are having a meal at an inn. When he breaks the bread, the two disciples recognise him. While Christ is shown in bright light, the disciples are still a bit in the dark at the moment depicted in the window.
While the large panels cover large themes, the smaller outside panels of the tracery tell events in Richard III’s family life. On the left, two lovers riding past Middleham Castle, and on the right, three children running past Fotheringhay.
The East Window
In the left-hand panel, we see a solitary figure, which is about to embark on a journey into a rather frightening looking wilderness. The figure could stand for Richard III, but also for every human being.
In the right-hand panel, blue shades dominate, symbolising loss and suffering. At the bottom, we see Richard and Anne mourning the loss of their son Edward, who died in April 1484. Again this could be any parents grieving after losing a child.
In the top part, a solitary figure is walking towards a forest. This could be Richard, who after also losing his wife on 16 March 1485, has to walk on his own into a frightening future, symbolised by the trees. However, this also stands for a universal human experience.
Like in the west window, here the centre panel is showing the hope of comfort, healing, and redemption offered by Christ. It shows Christ comforting a damaged and broken man, who might be Richard, or any human being mourning the loss of a loved one.
The four panels in the tracery of the East Window show more scenes of relevance to Richard III. From left to right, we see a rider with a wild boar, Richard’s emblem, in the second an oak tree and castle standing for the kingdom of England. Then follows a battle scene and finally a rider crossing a bridge, which could be Richard crossing Bow Bridge on his way to Bosworth.
The two eyelets show towers, on the left Tewkesbury and on the right Kirby Muxloe. The original plan of the right eyelet just included the manor of William Lord Hastings. However, inspired by events unfolding shortly before the windows were installed, Denny added a little extra to this window– a soccer ball.[iii] In the 2015/16 season of the English Premier League, Leicester City, the Foxes, were surprising everyone with their success. In previous seasons, they considered it a success not to be relegated. However, this season they found themselves with a chance of actually winning the title, which in May they eventually did. In early April, Denny was putting the finishing touches to the windows and decided to add the ball at the last minute. He said: “They [the Foxes] were riding high then and I felt I should do something to record the fantastic achievement of the club.” So there is a soccer ball in the bottom corner of the one eyelet, forever commemorating Leicester City’s success in 2016. As Kirby Muxloe is only approx. 7 km from Leicester, this was the most appropriate part of the windows. You have to look very closely to spot the ball, though. The Dean of Leicester Cathedral, the very Rev David Monteith, said: “I love the fact that you have to look very carefully to see the football.”[iii]
This applies to the windows as a whole, they represent so many details and thoughts and ideas that an observer needs to take his/her time to fully appreciate them. This is time well spent.
Sources and Further Reading:
‘About Tom Denny’, Thomas Denny. URL: http://thomasdenny.co.uk/about/ [last accessed 15 Sept. 2016]
Cazalet, M., ‘Walking Man: The Art of Thomas Denny’, Image, Issue 86. URL: https://imagejournal.org/article/walking-man-art-thomas-denny/ [last accessed 15 Sept. 2016]
Denny, T., New Stained-Glass windows for St Katharines Chapel at Leicester Cathedral (Oct. 2013). URL: http://leicestercathedral.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/The-new-Cathedral-windows.pdf [last accessed 27 Sept. 2016]
Leicester Cathedral, Redemption: the new light beams – The Redemption Windows. 2016. Booklet available at Leicester Cathedral
Diocese of Leicester, ‘St. Katharine’s Windows: The Life and Death of King Richard III by Thomas Denny’, YouTube (24 April 2016). URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Su4O9SXDZM [last accessed, 16 Sept. 2016]
Wroe, A., ‘Tom Denny’s Richard III window’, Ricardian Bulletin (June 2015), pp.55-58
[i] Quoted in: ‘Stained Glass window design unveiled: Updated’, Diocese of Leicester (13 Feb 2014). URL: http://www.leicester.anglican.org/news/details/stained-glass-window-design-unveiled [last accessed 18 Sept. 2016]
[ii] Warzynski, P., ‘Honour as church artists are awarded a royal assignment’, Leicester Mercury (29 June 2013). URL: http://www.thisisleicestershire.co.uk/Honour-church-artists-awarded-royal-assignment/story-19428365-detail/story.html#axzz2Xg1R5gNZ [last accessed 15 Sept. 2016]
[iii] Troughton, A., ‘Leicester City immortalised in stained glass windows at cathedral’, Leicester Mercury (28 April 2016). URL: http://www.leicestermercury.co.uk/Leicester-City-immortalised-stained-glass-windows/story-29193309-detail/story.html [last accessed 28 Sept. 2016]. The following quotes are from this article.