Panel of the Month – March 2017

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nvii---st-catherine

St. Catherine

Panel 3b from window nVII of St. Martin-cum-Gregory in York – c.1330

The panel depicts St. Catherine standing in a painted, architectural niche with an elaborate canopy – a common medieval design used to harmonise the colourful painted pictures with the surrounding stone walls. The glass itself is vibrant with colour running through the glass itself and not painted on, (pot-metal glass) with strong grisaille paintwork (black/brown paint) typical of its period. The borders of this panel contain a repeated merchant mark and the letter ‘R’. This mark belonged to Richard Toller who was a notable merchant in Micklegate, York and founded a chantry in St. Martin-cum-Gregory in c.1330. This helps us to assume a precise date for the glass.

Almost all of the glass dates from c.1330 aside from a few pieces which have been inserted to replace broken glass. The name of the saint was added in 1899 according to parish records so is also a later addition. Looking at the piece of glass with the saints name on we can see the difference in colour and painting style. Before the addition of a name people would have been able to identify the saint as Catherine by the wheel and the palm leaf she holds. These identifying items are known as attributes and each saint or biblical character has their own unique attributes. In St. Catherine’s case the palm leaf indicates that she was a martyr – killed for her faith – and the wheel was a prominent part of her story. After refusing to renounce her Christianity to the Roman Emperor of the time he declared she would be put to death on a spiked wheel, but at her touch it shattered. This way of identifying characters was commonplace in medieval England and was also used in sculpture, painting and other church decoration.

Above the architectural canopy are a series of diamond quarries containing oak leaves and acorns in a pattern. This design is typical of glass painting in York in this period and can be found at a variety of churches across the city and even the county of Yorkshire. This design and other style techniques lead scholars and antiquarians to identify a ‘York School of Glass Painters’. Individual designers, glaziers and painters are impossible to pin-point however at this early stage in history.

The glass itself is suffering from some deterioration and corrosion. There are multiple cracks which have been mended with lead and dark areas of corrosion where the light struggles to penetrate the glass.

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As can be seen from this image of the entire window, St. Catherine – on the right – has her pair in St. John the Baptist on the left. The light in the middle of the window however contains a scene created in 1792 by William Peckitt (expect this unique and interesting panel to feature as a later Panel of the Month with a more detailed interpretation).

Like many other buildings – especially churches  – the building, architecture and contents have changed over time, adapting for continued use over hundreds of years. Whatever happened to the central medieval panel may never be known but it certainly was not there in 1609 when James Torre indicates that “The three light window north of the altar still contains the original stained glass of the figures of St. John with the emblem of the Lamb of God and St. Catherine with the wheel…The centre light has gone and a modern figure occupying its place”. James Torre’s ‘modern figure’ in 1609 was later replaced for the one we see today.

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The exterior of St. Martin-cum-Gregory reinforces the fact that the church has undergone many changes over time, with a brick tower and two differing styles of window.

A lot still remains a mystery!

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