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Conserved medieval panels of stained glass featuring the figure of St Cuthbert will be returned to York Minster on All Saints Day (Monday 1 November) as part of an exhibition exploring the life and miracles of one of northern England’s most significant saints.
The figure, which runs over two panels of nearly 600 year old stained glass, was removed from the Minster in March as part of a five-year, £5m project to conserve the St Cuthbert Window – one of the largest surviving narrative windows in the world – and the stonework of its surrounding Transept.
Experts at York Glaziers Trust have been carrying out painstaking cleaning and repair work to the 152 panels removed from the window, with a selection gradually being put on display as part of the cathedral’s Light, Glass & Stone: Conserving the St Cuthbert Window exhibition, which opened in June.
During the work, conservators found the use of a technique dating from the 12th century which demonstrates the level of glazing expertise and skill in the city when the window was created around 1440, and the care and prestige given to the figure of St Cuthbert.
Professor Sarah Brown, Director of York Glaziers Trust, said: “It’s fantastic to be able to return St Cuthbert to the Minster on All Saints Day, the annual date when Christians remember all the Saints who have inspired the church over generations, and to be able to showcase the work that has gone into conserving these panels as part of the new exhibition.
“The panels normally sit in the bottom third of the St Cuthbert Window, which is remarkable in that this whole section of glazing is devoted entirely to historical figures, all clustered around this depiction of the saint.
“One of the most exciting things we’ve discovered is the inclusion in St Cuthbert’s vestments of some ‘jewels’ – small pieces of coloured glass used to enrich his robes.
“The jewels were produced using a glazing technique first described in the very earliest source book for stained glass technique from the 12th century, as a way to enrich white glass with colours without the need to use lead.
“There are a small number of known examples of the glazing technique, which involves painting around the ‘jewels’ avoiding any paint running between the two glass surfaces before firing it in a kiln, in Regensburg Cathedral and elsewhere in York.
“The discovery in this 15th century window is evidence of the level of skill and expertise of the glaziers in the city at the time, who preserved or revived this difficult technique, and the care and status afforded to the figure of St Cuthbert as one of Northern England’s most significant saints.”
St Cuthbert was an Anglo-Saxon monk and bishop of Lindisfarne who lived between c.634 and 687 and was renowned for his good works and miracles. In the stained glass panels St Cuthbert is shown wearing the robes of a bishop and carrying the head of St Oswald, which was placed in his coffin when Viking raids in the 9th century forced the monks to flee Lindisfarne, taking with them the saints’ remains.
The work to conserve the St Cuthbert Window, which dates from around 1440 and is located in the Minster’s East End, and the stonework of the South East Transept started in 2021 and will take around five years to complete.
The project includes installing state-of-the-art protective glazing to the window, to replace external quarry glazing installed in the 1930s and provide a barrier between the medieval glass and the elements.
The work is part of a 20-year partnership project between York Minster and York Glaziers Trust to ensure all 128 of the Minster’s mostly medieval windows have protective glazing to shield the delicate glass from decay and buy time for much needed conservation work.
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