Monday, April 10, 2017


In the first edition of C. G. Howes: A scholar’s guide to the Stained Glass of England, Wales, Scotland and the Isles – a much inferior work in many ways Dominic Trelayn thought, to Painton Cowen’s later volume on the topic – there was, however, at least one interesting snippet that, might, repay study. 

We know this from an entry in Dominic’s diary for the day before.  The cancellation of a lecture, and the unlooked for retention of a fee that while meagre enough for the work, looked more munificent in the light of a gift from a sheepish College, meant that both the time and funds, were – as they so rarely are – available in propinquity, and the College’s own location chimed happily with the matter for the church in question was no more than a few miles away, across a pleasant, meadowed landscape.

From guest lecturer then, to dilettante at large was a matter of asking the refectory to pack up a lunch –ostensively for his return to London – and after a night’s sleep in the bursar’s spare bed, it would Dominic felt be easy enough to stride out with the lark through the hedgerowed ways towards the not too distant spire, that stood dark against a copse of trees to the west of the College proper. He would, he thought, have ample time to inspect the window before returning to collect his luggage, and catch his train.

That he set out, and that as he walked, he fished from his pocket Howes’ book and holding it in that bird claw way – one handed – that so amused undergraduates for a reason he had never been able to follow, and refreshed his memory, we know from the testimony of just such a group of undergraduates, not early risers, but very late to bed, who observed him leaving the College grounds.

The passage that absorbed his attention we can deduce from his diary, and the circumstances.

“In the east window are some interesting examples of imported glass, depicting the nativity, as the Rector avers. The panels however must have been taken from different sources for they differ in age and construction, and as a result of this process, perhaps one of restitution or repair, the nativity offers not three wise men or kings, but four. The first from left to right is a C13 commonplace, although its partner separated by gun-metal may have been taken from a C12 Tree of Jesse window rather than a nativity proper, the third King is much later being C16 Flemish, but the fourth, is substantially older than the others and exceptionally fine, save for the colour which is a uniformly unpleasant yellowish stain of a particularly granular nature.”

We do not know which of the two peculiarities attributed to the window had most worked upon Dominic’s curiosity.

The 12th Century is early for the image known as the Jesse tree, which shows the human descent of Jesus through the line of David, and the supposedly earliest surviving stained glass, in England at least, dated at 1170, depicts just such a tree, so it is likely that he would have been interested to confirm Howes’ impressions as to the provenance of the second figure.  I must re-iterate that though the the fourth figure was held by Howe to be ‘substantially older’ the oldest stained glass in England known to the ecclesiastical authorities is the afore mentioned Jesse’s Tree fragment in York Minster. That there could be nestling in the window of a minor country church an older piece: a substantially older piece, seemed unlikely. Dominic must have had it in mind to examine, and perhaps photograph the window in respect of the fourth figure.  According to the undergraduates he had with him a camera, or at least a camera case, slung on a leather strap over his left shoulder.

According to his diary, Dominic had spoken to the College's own Scriptural instructor, Father McKinney who though a Catholic and thus not himself a communicant of the church in question, was able to assure him that the church was never locked, and that indeed it had never been subject to attempted thefts of altar plate, or lead from the roof as urban churches sometimes are, and for that matter as St. Winifreds of the Father's own communion, in the next village, had on at least one occasion. Father McKinney had attended the church once, a reciprocal gesture of friendship to the incumbent, but he could not recall anything about the window - though he supposed it's oldest pane might be a fragment of glass brought back from the first crusade, perhaps looted in one of those peculiar acts of christian upon christian violence originating in the schism between the Western and Eastern Church of 1054.  When I interviewed father McKinney later, he recalled the conversation, but had little to add to it, although he had remembered a reference in a volume, which he had set aside to bring to Dominic's attention on his return. Apparently in the leaflet A Further Indictment Against the Franks, issued (though some have doubted the attribution) by Photios I of Constantinopal, "the leading light of the ninth century renaissance", the following passage occurs, "in addition to such sundery novelties as demanding that the Holy Spirit procedeth both from the Father and the Son, the Western church numbers the Magus, by threes so as to echo their trinity, but many gospels they have discarded speak of a fourth King, whose present was unfavourable to the Lord"

This snippet would have been of interest to Dominic had he been able to hear it and he would, no doubt, have imagined, a monograph on the subject under his name, and perhaps confirmation of a genuine discovery on the part of Clive Gregory Howes. A footnote in Painton Cowen’s next edition, and a lecture on the subject in the next round of scholastic achievements. Small enough rewards for what he evidently must have undergone.

Being a visitor, and one whose reason for being in the College was purely temporary, he wasn’t immediately missed. Nor, for it was small, in a side chapel, and not the focus of the tiny congregation’s worship was the change in the window immediately noticed.

It was two weeks before matters were discovered. Dominic’s landlady had rung our University when he hadn’t returned home after the long vacation. One of the other lecturers in the medieval studies, substrata of history (his University was still big on that despite the cuts) recalled that he had been complaining that he’d only landed three lecturing gigs in his spare time, that season. The last of the three, it transpired, had left an irate message with the Dean’s office about the unreliability of certain lecturers and how it might reflect on the University.

Dominic had been expected to contact them to make arrangements for his forthcoming visit, and had not done so, leaving them in some difficulty to provide for their students. Putting this together took a little while but it seemed something had happened to Dominic either at the site of his second lecture, or between there and his lodgings.

It was my job to find out what. I’m a beadle. I police, in a sense, the university campus, and I run odd jobs. For instance I sometimes look for missing academics. Generally, although not on this occasion, I have tended to find them in public houses, or other people’s beds. Academics are after all only human. I wear a suit, I have a bowler hat. Many people say I have a winning smile.

So eventually I found the church, and because I’d done my research into Dominic’s diary (still in his luggage in the bursar’s lodge of that little College), and into C. G. Howes volume – not Dominic’s obviously, but the College’s library was adequate enough to contain a copy – I wasn’t surprised, in one way, by what I found although I was in others.

There were, certainly, four figures in the stained glass window, but there was no such right hand figure as the book had described. While it was true that the three leftmost figures may well, I am no expert, have dated from the thirteenth, twelth, and sixteenth centuries, the last panel of glass was one of those modern types of stained glass which I profoundly hope the University never sees fit to adopt in any of its chapels.

It was a scarlet figure wrapped in green, and blue mosaic – perhaps intended to convey kingship, but if so it was a king of a modern kind, all hand-wringing and asking people ‘how did you get here today?’ and ‘and commenting that their jobs ‘must be interesting.’ Not, as you might say – a King in Narnia – and not a King in peculiar yellow glass, predating the twelfth century. It was a King with a small black case on a leather strap slung over its shoulder.

The other thing about it was the artistry of its tiny face, which scarlet suit not withstanding – for no one ever remembered him ever wearing anything but hard-wearing tweed – was that of a substantially accurate likeness of Dominic Trelayn.

There’s not very much left to be said. Dominic, who must have disappeared to somewhere, never returned. The Rector of the Church believed that the stained glass must have been changed in his absence, perhaps on the order of the Bishop – for he had made a number of requests for funding to address the chapel window – the fourth figure needing at least cleaning, and he had found it to prey upon certain of his parishioner’s minds. Indeed it had been hidden by a draw-string curtain for many years, since the time of his predecessor the Reverend Thomas Havering.

There is perhaps one unusual postscript though it is hard to see how it could possibly relate to Dominic’s departure for realms unknown.

The third of his lectures, at that very opinionated, and lower class body – I believe it to have originally been a polytechnic – ended in a student riot.  The replacement for Doctor Trelayn, a worthy but somewhat dull academic from the Other Place, no doubt the best that could be go on short notice, and for little money, was beginning his discussion of whatever piece of medieval history he had decided to lay before the undergraduates, when in his own words:  “A cloud of yellow dust, blew me off the bally stage”.

That  the dust cloud, became a figure, and that it delivered, what can only be called a lecture, is I believe maintained by many of the audience, but then they were only undergraduates, and they are presently, in the majority of cases, undergoing psychological treatments.  Still perhaps there was a sense of obligation, after all nobles obliges. We can, however, I feel, only be grateful that the substance of that lecture is lost to us.

1 comment:

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