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calendar   Thursday - September 22, 2011

All’s Well That Ends Wells

Saving Jesse

Conservation/Renovation of Medieval Jesse Window at Wells Cathedral in UK begins



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The Jesse Window at Wells Cathedral is one of the most splendid examples of 14th century stained glass in Europe. It dates from about 1340 and, considering its age, is still remarkably intact. Fortunately, the window has survived the vicissitudes of time and British history (narrowly escaping destruction during the English Civil War) and so what we see today is basically how medieval glaziers designed and created it and how our ancestors viewed it before us.


Less than two hours west of Peiper’s house, over in southwest England, a bit past the charmingly named town of Shepton Mallet, south east of Cheddar, south west of Bristol, north east of Glastonbury, on the south edge of the Mendip Hills - in other words, about where Camelot was - is the small city of Wells. It has been incorporated as a city since 1205, even though the current population is about 11,000. This ancient place was given it’s name in a blunt, no-nonsense way because there are two major springs there that give clear water. And in thanks for those founts, the place has been sacred ground since before time. Wells Cathedral sits on the site of an earlier Saxon church, which replaced a Roman shrine, which replaced an earlier ancient shrine of the Britons dedicated to the Goddess. Holy grounds, Highlander, since forever. It has been a Christian church since the year 705 at the latest; the font survives from Saxon times.


As its name shows, the ”quiet Cathedral city of poetic imagination,” so charmingly situated in a hollow under the Mendip Hills, is a place of springs, wells and fountains. Tradition tells that “it was precisely because of those waters” that, in AD 705, King Ine, at the suggestion of St. Aldhelm, Bishop of Sherborne, built a minster church to the honour of St. Andrew. The famous springs, after which the town is named, had probably been venerated from at least the Iron Age. The dedication suggests they were a sacred site associated with Anu, the Celtic Mother-Goddess later adopted by the Romans.

The cathedral was built across nearly the whole of the Middle Ages, from 1176-1490. It was the very first Gothic church in England, using the then-revolutionary pointed arch. While the outside is an archetypal Gothic splendor in white stone, it is rather simple, almost restrained when compared to excesses of many of the Andalusian cathedrals of the same era, even though the outside of Wells was originally decorated with more than 500 gilded statues of saints and other notable figures, of which 300 are still in place.


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Inside this grand edifice are some of the most elegant and peaceful examples of medieval vaulting that can be found; magnificent fornications* that managed to escape the desecrations of the English Civil War. The whole complex is so fully and so skillfully detailed that it would take a week to view properly, and probably years to fully appreciate, from the statues to the famous Scissors Arch, to the still working whimsical 1390 pre-Copernican clock in which the sun orbits the earth, and two pair of mechanical knights joust each other every 15 minutes while a mechanical quarterjack rings the bells with his hands and feet. But if you can’t visit as 300,000 people a year do, Google. Once again there are thousands of photgraphs and hundreds of pages available online.


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big pic link: Jesse window and vaulting at Wells

The last picture above is the choir in the quire. This has to be one of the oldest organized singing groups on earth; they’ve been at it for 1102 years now, many hundred years longer than this cathedral has even existed. Religion at Wells is old.

But I’m doing my best to be concise here, which is mighty difficult given the wonders of this place. There is so much more here that I am not even mentioning, but I do want to get (finally!! Drew, you’re a windbag, I swear!!) to the heart of the post: the restoration of the Jesse Window.

Works begins on Jesse Window at Wells Cathedral

Work is set to begin on a £500,000 project to restore an historic 14th Century window at Wells Cathedral. The Jesse Window is a stained glass window depicting the genealogy of Jesus dating back to Abraham.

Conservation work is set to begin on 29 September and will involve releading selected areas of glass and cleaning the paint layers. In 2010 custom-made barriers of glazing panes were attached to the stonework of the cathedral to protect the window.

The window is situated at the east end of the cathedral and dates to about 1340. The cathedral’s dean, the Very Reverend John Clarke, said: “Recent inspections have shown that some of the lead is bowing. “Lead glass panels are bulging and loose. More significantly the medieval glass is suffering the effects of condensation and mould growth. “This is in turn attacking the painted layers on the glass causing the paint to peel and the glass to corrode.”

The window was made using yellow, red and green glass as well as silver stain, a compound of silver applied to the glass which can create hues of pale yellow to deep orange.

The Jesse Window is shown, a bit out of focus, in the picture with the vaulting above. Here’s another partial shot that shows the Skycell interior airship taking ultra-high resolution digital photographs of it, which is yet another fascinating story about Wells. And I haven’t told the story about how the chimneys once fell down and killed the Bishop and his wife.


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So it’s a bit of good news, part of the enormous and never ending work that keeps these old cathedrals alive and vibrant.  An art show based on the Jesse Window is scheduled for mid October -

An Exhibition of Paintings by Richard Pomeroy, to coincide with the restoration of Wells Cathedral’s famous 14th-century stained glass window. 9 - 16 October 2011. The Chapter House, Wells Cathedral. The Tree of Jesse was a development of biblical imagery in medieval story telling. In part it is a tracing of Jesus’ ancestry much as the Anglo Saxon Chronicles emphasised Alfred’s ancestry to justify his position as King of Wessex.

See More Below The Fold

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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 09/22/2011 at 08:58 AM   
Filed Under: • ArchitectureReligion •  
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