Medieval Stained Glass

The Medieval Stained Glass of Dewsbury Minster is mainly 14th Century. It is similar to glass of the same date in the windows of the Chapter House at York Minster and in the windows of six other York Churches.

The glass you can see from the half-landing of the stairs is only a scant residue of what must have been a fine display in the Middle Ages. Henry VIII’s iconoclastic zeal and time have seen the greater part of the glass either lost or smashed.

In 1767, when the Church was greatly enlarged, much of the glass was ignorantly placed in the new windows, so that much of it was hidden behind the Georgian gallery, which existed at the time or, as in the figures of St Thaddeus and St Thomas Becket, was completely lost among the hopeless jumble of fragments. You can see the line in the north aisle where the gallery was.

The 19th Century saw another restoration and enlargement and thankfully the beauty of the glass was appreciated. In 1887 ancient glass was collected and restored by Mr Knowles of York and under his superintendence was fixed in one of the windows of the North Transept, where it still is today. This transept is today known as the Narthex, or Meeting Place.

The Arms, Pictures and Roundels

1. The Warren Family Coat of Arms. The de Warrennes arrived in England just after the Conquest with WIlliam I. Some time circa 1080, the family owned the Manor and Advowson of Dewsbury. The family, however, died out in 1347 and this would suggest that the Warren Arms was put into the church sometime towards the end of the 14th Century.

2. The Scargill Arms. The Scargills of Barnard Castle owned lands around Dewsbury and Leeds.

3. The Latham Arms. There is no known connection between this family and Dewsbury, but their arms also appear in Selby Abbey.

4. The De Spenser Arms. They were granted the Manor and Advowson of Dewsbury by the Prior of Lewes in 1325. Hugh De Spenser was hanged in 1327 and the family finally lost connection with Dewsbury in 1348.

5. The St Martin Arms. This is the original name of the Earls of Warren.

The backgrounds to these coats of arms are scratched patterns known as diaper, a very common form of decoration during the Decorated Period.

6. The headless figure of St Thaddeus, which is probably part of a full set of twelve Apostles. He is more commonly known as St Jude.

7. The headless figure of St Thomas Becket, martyred in 1170. King Henry VIII proclaimed him no longer a saint but rather a rebel and a traitor, so all pictures and effigies of him were destroyed or defaced. Because of this, a picture of this saint in glass is rather rare. The drapery of this glass shows the alb, the dalmatic, the stole and part of a cope; golden shoes and part of a pastoral staff.

8.This is a roundel composed of a few fragments thought to be 15th Century. They are:

  • The emblems of three Evangelists (St Mark is missing), which are – St Matthew, a man; St Luke, an ox and St John, an eagle
  • A man with a tonsure playing an organ, his clothing being composed of feathers; perhaps we are to assume that he has become an angel
  • Battlements and the gate of a castle

There are three roundels at the bottom depicting three of the Seasons. It is assumed that Spring has disappeared rather than it having been left out. Opinion states that these Roundels were probably part of a Rose Window. Known as Zodiacs, they would show work carried out in the different months and seasons of the year. These are not only very rare, but are some of the finest in existence.

9. Autumn, showing a man threshing sheaves of corn. The corn is flying from the ears and behind the man is a jug of drink.

10. Summer. This shows corn being cut with a sickle and walking on the cleared ground.

11. Winter. This shows the killing of a pig, which is tied to a small tree. The pig appears to be screaming and trying to get away but the man’s arms are thrown back ready to swing the axe at the animal’s neck.

12. Either a dragon or a wyvern.

13. Actually two fragments:

  • A woman playing a six-stringed harp
  • A strange creature with a beard and body of a human, wearing a flat cap, but having the legs of a beast and a tail.
  • A monster with the wings of a bat, hind legs with clove feet and a woman’s head, wearing a 14th Century fashioned kerchief.

The Borders

Made up of red and green glass interspersed with symbolic fragments, the top of each light shows a water bouget. Descending, the pictures are a squirrel, vine leaves, which represent the Eucharist, a dolphin, (which also appears in the Duvergne Arms, granted to Margaret, King Edward I’s second wife), a covered Cup(said to be in honour of Eleanor Of Castile, Edward I’s first wife) and at the bottom a crown.

The Canopies

These run across the centre of the Window and are from the Decorated Period (14th Century). Above is a row of quatrefoils containing heads.

The Quarries

Forming the background of the window they show birds (wagtails, finches, lapwing, titmouse, kingfisher, stork, dove, crow and hawk), animals (snails, porqupina and a lion) and leaves (maple, ivy, oak and holly). The design and execution of these quarries is said to be superior to any found in York.

Other Stained Glass

Please explore the Minster and take in some of the other Stained Glass, from the magnificence of the Great East Window, made by Meyer of Munich and erected in 1884, to the modern window of the Paulinus Chapel, erected in 1995.

© Richard Middleton, June 2006