Cathedral’s Burne-Jones window removed for restoration

SALISURY Cathedral’s skilled team of glaziers and glass conservators have removed a 145-year-old Pre-Raphaelite stained glass window by Sir Edward Burne-Jones and designer and craftsman William Morris for a restoration programme expected to take about two years.

The window features two huge figurative designs – Angeli Ministrantes (Angels Ministering) and Angeli Laudantes (Angels Praising) by Burne-Jones – sitting within Morris’s elaborate acanthus leaf design which reflects the medieval grisaille or grey painted windows elsewhere in the Cathedral. The windows were not well received by the Cathedral’s clergy at the time and what should have been a series of windows by the Pre-Raphaelite duo stopped at one.

The process of dismantling this priceless work of art and moving it to the Cathedral glass workshops began with the team carefully chipping away the neat cement mortar holding the window in place and untying the copper ties holding it to the internal framework. Once released the team of three then lifted it out in 1.8 metres by 1.22 metres (6ft by 4ft) sections onto the exterior scaffold.

Head Glazier and conservator Sam Kelly said: “Despite their solid appearance, stained glass sections of this size can be fragile, and it is always a relief to get them into the workshop. They are also incredibly heavy (around 40 kilograms per section) so moving each section down off the scaffolding is physically difficult.

“Once we get it onto the lightboxes in the workshop, we will be able to see the extent of the deterioration and what conservation is required. Exposure to the elements, especially condensation internally caused by ancient heaters in the Cathedral (which have now been replaced) and water ingress have taken their toll. Painted details, especially on the faces and robes of the angels have faded over time, due to poor firing of the glass paint at the point of execution and the colours and patterns have been dulled by layers of accumulated dirt.”

As well as cleaning the stained glass and repairing the leadwork, Sam and his team will create painted and fired backing glasses to replace lost detail, these being plated with the original glass sections. Visitors looking up at the window, when it is eventually reinstalled, may be struck by how beautifully defined the work is, thanks to modern conservation techniques like this, and the skill of the stained glass team, but it will be a slow process with restoration taking around two years.

The Morris/Burne-Jones window was commissioned by Barbara Townsend, a former resident of Mompesson House in the Cathedral Close (now a National Trust property) in memory of her brother, Captain George Townsend, who died in 1875 having contracted a terminal illness while out in India. It was unveiled some four years after Townsend’s death. Listed in Morris and Co’s account book between March and August 1878, the original chalk cartoons for the window are described by Burne Jones as “four colossal and sublime figures of Angels”, for which he charged £20 per figure, a total of £80, or around £15,320 in today’s money.

The restoration of the window will cost an anticipated £120,000, but thanks to the generosity of The Dulverton Trust, along with other generous trusts and individuals, just over half the cost has been raised and the team has been able to make a start on the repair and conservation work.

Pictured: Glazier Kate Kersey prepares to remove the upper section of Angeli Ministrantes in the South Quire Aisle; Sam Kelly, head of glass conservator at Salisbury Cathedral, takes a look at Burne-Jones’s large stained glass figures; a close-up of the head of one of Burne Jones’ Angeli Ministrantes; photographs by Finnbarr Webster.