The Stained Glass of Great Witley Church
The Windows





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The Annunciation.

As you enter Witley church from the west door, look first to the window on your right; this is number one in the series, "The Annunciation", and shows the Virgin seated at a table in her boudoir, reading a book. She wears a bright ruby dress and a blue robe is draped around her; in the background a splendid green canopy overhangs her bed. Commencing at the top of the window a great cloud from Heaven appears, which carries the Angel of the Annunciation right down to the marble floor. He has in his right hand and resting on his arm, a spray of lilies, the emblem of the Virgin. With his left hand upraised and pointing to Heaven he delivers his message, to which she listens with a demure expression upon her face. Many years ago damp conditions had caused the enamel paint to perish and parts of the design at the top were lost. Since the recent restoration however, winged cherubs now float about in the clouds, and a liberal use of silver stain here fills this part of the window with the gold of glory. Except for the strips of leadwork across some of the broken panes this window looks very much as it did when it was first made in 1719.

The Visitation.

Next in the series is window number two opposite the Annunciation, and known as "The Visitation". Here Mary still in the same dress pays a visit to her cousin Elizabeth who was shortly to become the mother of John the Baptist, and whose husband Zechariah the priest, stands in the doorway his hands upraised in greeting as Joseph and Mary arrive. In the foreground is a donkey upon which they have made the journey; saddle and hats are placed upon the ground, while a servant tends the ass. Mary prepares to embrace her cousin while high above at the top of the window, winged cherubs, (the very hall-mark of baroque architecture and painting) ride about on billowing clouds. A damsel reclines upon one of these carrying a posy of flowers. With her lovely face and quite modern looking hair style, she seems to have stepped straight out of the pages of one of today's glossy magazines; yet she was painted over two hundred and sixty years ago.

The Adoration of the Shepherds.

Over the opposite side, next to the Annunciation is window number three, which depicts the Nativity scene and is also sometimes referred to as "The Adoration of the Shepherds". Sheep and a shepherd's crook are seen in the foreground; Mary and Joseph appear at the stable door, and the infant is being laid before them on a bale of straw. Through the open doorway can be seen the manger in which the child was placed to sleep: in the sky above, an angel appears bearing a banner upon which are written the words "Gloria in Excelsis Deo". Every pane of glass in the upper third of this window is aglow with a bright golden stain. Like most of the windows everything does not strictly follow the story of the gospel but is on the grand scale to please the Duke, even the stable is made to look like a baronial hall.

The Adoration of the Magi.

Window number four is opposite the Adoration and in detail, composition and harmonious colour is certainly the finest of the whole series. The subject, "The Adoration of the Magi", is one which lends itself to some lavish treatment in the colour and garments of the three kings, and here the Price family produced a great masterpiece when they made this window. The Virgin Mary, still dressed in the same clothes is backed up by a very mystified looking Joseph as she presents the infant to the first of the three kings. The star in the east can be seen at the top of the window and from it descends a ray of light pointing to the Holy Child. Notice that the first king has cast aside his crown and sceptre so that he may appear in humility and homage before the infant Christ. As he raises up his offering of gold the people look on and an old man peers from behind a pillar to see what the occasion is all about The rich patterned robe worn by the first king is coloured with a heavy silver stain giving it the deep golden shades, which bring into sharp contrast the white garment beneath that splendid cloak. Waiting in turn to present their gifts of frankincense and myrrh are the two other kings. They have yet to remove their crowns and one of them is seen to be a coloured man. Notice also the perspective of the architecture, which gives an impression of distance to the scene-one of the chief characteristics of "Trompe l'oeil" painting. Again the cherubs are tumbling about in the clouds and on the roof-tops. This window completes the four in the series which deal with the infancy of Christ.


The Baptism of Christ.

The story in pictures of the life of Christ moves on and in window number five, which adjoins the Magi on its right hand side, we come to "The baptism of Christ". In this John the Baptist, with a sheep skin upon his shoulder, and a ruby cloak wrapped around him carries a staff with a banner upon which are written the words, "Agnus Dei" the lamb of God. With his right hand he pours water from a gourd upon the head of Christ, who stands in the centre of the stream, while two angels stand in attendance upon the other bank.


The Miraculous Draught of Fishes.

Opposite the Baptism and near to the pulpit is window number six, "The Miraculous Draught of Fishes". Lot 159 in the Canons catalogue describes it as "Our Saviour walking on the sea". It could have been wrongly labelled, or perhaps changed when the cartoons were made, for here Christ is seen to have his feet planted upon dry land. The disciples in the boat can be seen straining their muscles to pull in the heavily loaded nets, which clearly shows that the window represents "The Miraculous Draught", and that the catalogue was in error with description. It is only with this method of enamel painting that the heaving mass of fishermen could have been so adequately portrayed. In traditional stained glass the thick lead outlines tend to keep out scenic effects, and to limit the ability to show perspective and distance. For this reason everything has to be kept on a flat plane. That is one of the reasons why the windows at Witley are so picturesque and unique, and appeal to the many visitors who come to admire the church interior, and the nearby ruined Witley Court.


 The Ascension of Christ.

There is no representation of the crucifixion in this series, so the next in sequence, number seven has to be "The Ascension of Christ". This is placed above the Altar, but when in position at the Canons chapel it would have adjoined the Miraculous Draught on the left hand side. There was such a window at Witley where this could have been fitted but it was bricked up when the Rysbrack memorial was erected, so it was found the ideal position in the recess above the Altar. In it the soldiers who have been sleeping on the ground, keeping watch over Christ's tomb, are suddenly in considerable panic and disarray, with expressions of terror on their faces and looks of astonishment as they see the two angels holding back the stone slab covering the entrance to the tomb. The risen Lord carries a banner and shows the wounds in his hands and feet where he was nailed upon the cross. He ascends into the sky at the top of the window. The group of soldiers make a colourful picture, especially when seen in the morning sunshine through the open west doors. It seems the natural position for this particular window at the eastern end of Witley church but it would not have been so at Canons for that space was taken up with the large Jordans organ.


The Healing of the Lame.

The window in the north transept completes the eight in the body of the church, and is in the style and manner of Raphael's famous tapestry cartoon of the same subject; Peter and John healing the lame man. There were seven of Raphael's cartoons in King Charles collection and these were placed in a gallery at Hampton Court, built for that purpose by Sir Christopher Wren, and the details from this window were probably copied from there. The oil sketch for this window was described in the Canons catalogue as the "Healing of the Lamb", but this was an obvious misprint with the last letter which should have read "Lame". In this window, number eight in the series, St. Peter is recognised by the tremendous key which he carries under his left arm. He has just taken the arm of the crippled man and is about to lift him to his feet, whilst another lame man, who crawls on blocks of wood, strapped to his hands, waits his turn to be cured. The scene follows the story from the Acts of the Apostles, and takes place at the entrance to the temple which is called the Gate Beautiful. The crowd of people grouped about Peter and John are balanced by an equal number of angels and cherubs in the sky. It differs from Raphael's cartoon, for all the architectural details in that drawing appear to have been derived from the Vatican. Looking into the far distance, beyond the temple architecture, a row of stone balustrades can be seen, surmounted by an urn, very similar to the ones upon the Witley Court buildings. Although a copy of Raphael's picture, the attitudes of some of the figures are typical Ricci in style.


The two smaller windows in the gallery make up the total to ten and that was the number which the 2nd Lord Foley brought here from the Canons chapel. One of these is of "Christ dining with the disciples at Emmaus", and the other portrays the "Worship of the Golden Calf". Some writers have expressed doubts about these two, even suggesting them to be the work of an inferior hand, but they were in the chapel catalogue, and the painting and craftsmanship is on a level with the others in the nave.


The Disciples at Emmaus.

Christ sits at a table in the disciples' house, eating and drinking with them. This was no humble abode, but rather on the grand scale of Canons itself, with servants bringing in the food and wine. There are elegant iron rails and balcony upon which a servant stands, looking down at the party, and Christ sits opposite the two disciples at his right, whilst another waits ready to serve a large plate of fish. The table has cabriole legs and is covered with a lace edged cloth. A wine cooler is upon the floor and another servant selects a bottle of wine from it. All very pleasant for the Duke to gaze upon although not strictly following the story as told by St Luke in his gospel. What is a striking thing about this window is its remarkable connection with Witley church, although it is pure coincidence. In the distant view above the balcony can be seen a field, a road, and a hedge with trees. All of these features would still be seen outside if the window was removed. The road runs in the same direction and even the painted hills in the distance seem to fit in with the Witley landscape. The composition and colouring of these two balcony windows make them almost the equal of the Magi window in the church.


The Worship of the Golden Calf

bears no relationship with the others, being the only one dealing with the Old Testament, and it would no doubt turn the Duke's thoughts to gold as he sat listening to his preacher and his great musician Handel. The golden calf stands on a massive pedestal around which are hung garlands of flowers. The Israel tents and encampment are in the background, and in the far distance on the mountain, supposedly Mount Sinai, Moses can be seen praying and communing with God. In his absence the people have stripped themselves of their gold and ornaments in order to cast the idol, and are dancing and worshipping around it The golden idol has a wreath of flowers around its neck, and the garlands of flowers around the pedestal are very finely painted. At the base of the pedestal stands a kind of brazier, possibly put in the picture as a symbolic representation of the fact that the idol was cast by the people. The colours in both of these windows are balanced and evenly matched, the silver stain having a unifying influence upon them as it does with the whole of the series.

All of the windows having been recently restored, it is hoped that they will provide further interest and pleasure to the many visitors to the church for the next hundred years.