HOLY TRINITY CHURCH, WINDOW FOUR

 

1. Modern lattice framing original window. Click to learn more about conservation and original format.

2. Donor representation: people of status and/or wealth.

The nobility and clergy were early portrayed as having given buildings and works of art. Here a cleric donor is recognized by his tonsure (shaved area of the head). In the 15th century, parish churches saw merchants begin to claim positions of prominence by having themselves represented as donors or even having their mottoes written as decorative banding, as in the interior of St. Mary's in Bury St. Edmunds or on the exterior of Long Melford. Frequently the donors were seen as diminutive figures at the foot of a saintly patron. There were alternatively shown, as in English illuminated manuscripts, keeling before altars or desks with open prayer books. Donors were very often accompanied by their names, initials, mottoes, or other personalized inscription.. Very few contracts between donor and glass painter survive.From those remaining one can surmise that the subject matter was usually defined by the patron (such as the depiction of a patron saint, here St.Osworth) a choice presumably made after consultation with the parish priest. For discussion of donors and patrons, see Richard Marks, Stained Glass in England during the Middle Ages (Toronto, 1993), 3-27.

 

3. The Virgin of Pity

The Virgin of Pity or pieta is a subject not found in the Biblical text. The Gospel describes Joseph of Aramathea demanding Christ's body and arranging for burial, and adds laconically that "the women. . . .saw the sepulcher, and how his body was laid." (Luke 23:55). With the growth of lay devotion in the latter middle ages, the faithful demanded a more personalized means of evoking Christ's family, in particular his relationship to his mother. Mary, suffering as she witnessed her son beaten, mocked, and finally put to death, became the Mother of Sorrows, the female complement to Christ as the Man of Sorrows. The image of the Virgin holding Christ's body became one of the most popular visual elements for the time. Its juxtaposition to the image of the Virgin holding her infant son on her lap, constructed an opening and closure to the Christian epic of human redemption through a God made flesh. Margery Kempe mentions images of the Virgin of Pity as well as frequently calling upon Mary to show sympathy for the Virgin's suffering.

 

4. Suffering Christ as devotional icon.

The popularity of the Virgin of Pity is grounded on the centrality of Christ's Passion in late medieval piety. Christ's body is shown with the effects of his suffering, emaciated and covered with the wounds from the flagellation and marks of the nails in his hands and feet and his open side. The devotional image of the Five Wounds, in decorative pattern as well as a badge, further abstracted the representation of the suffering body. The image of God the Father holding the body of Christ crucified (called the Throne of Grace), with the Dove of the Holy Spirit became one of the most common means of representing the Trinity in the 15th century. This image is found in Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, York, in the altar window given in 1470 by Rev. John Walker.

Margery Kempe and Julian of Norwich, representative of spiritual writers of the time, frequently referred to Christ's suffering. When enclosed in the church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem overnight, Kempe recalls that she was given a vision of Christ's actual death on the cross: "in the cite of hir sowle sche saw veryly and freschly how owyr Lord was crucifyed" (1564-75) after which she cried out with uncontrollable weeping.

 

5. Donor representation: female.

With the rise of the laity as patrons, donors were invariably shown in the form of the couple, both husband and wife. With the exception of the celibate clergy, then, women as well as men were part of the system of donor imagery.Often the images, like the monumental sepulchral brasses, represented the succession of wives of a deceased male. In St. Margaret's in Lynn, for example, the brass of Robert Braunche of 1364 shows both Letitia, his first,and Margaret, his second wife. Anne Harling, represented her three husbands in various ways in St. Peter and Paul Church East Harling. The extant windows of Long Melford show family members and associates of John Clopton, the founder of the reconstruction of the church. He depicted his grandfather, Sir Thomas Clopton (d. 1383), the first Clopton to occupy Kentwell Hall, Long Melford, having married Catherine Mylde, heiress of the Hall. Family alliances were of great importance in the shifting political atmosphere of the late middle ages, as attested by a correspondence of a Norfolk family,descending from William Paston + 1466 (James Gairdner, ed., Paston Letters (London 1872-75).

 

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