Saturday, 1 November 2008
Saints in All Saints, North Street, York
To celebrate the feast of All Saints, here is the east window of All Saints, North Street in the city of York. This church is a place that is very dear to my heart, I worshipped here between 1998 and 2005 and it was here that my vocation was fostered. The church has one of the most remarkable ensembles of medieval stained glass in England. Eleven windows contain medieval glass of the fourteenth and fifteenth century. The east window (above) directly behind the high altar, has glazing dating from the 1420s. The glass was given by Nicholas Blackburn junior, a city merchant to commemorate himself and his parents Nicholas Blackburn senior and Margaret. Nicholas Senior was an extremely well-to-do merchant who had served for a time as Lord Mayor of York. The donor images of the two Nicholases and their respective wives (both Margaret) are placed at the bottom of the window on either side of an image of the Holy Trinity.
It is the imagery in the larger panels above that attracts the most attention. In either side we have figures of St John the Baptist in his camel hair coat pointing to the Lamb of God and St Christopher carrying the Christ Child. There are some glorious details in these figures. Christopher wades through a river decorated with fish that are back-painted to give a three-dimensional effect.
In the centre is a panel showing St Ann, teaching Our Lady to read from a psalter. Our Lady follows the text of psalm 143 with a stylus.
So why this combination of iconography? Well it appears that three figures of John the Baptist, St Ann and St Christopher, were included because they reflected Nicholas Blackburn Senior's particular pious and civic interests. In his will he founded a chantry in the chapel of St Ann on Ousebridge just a stones throw from All Saints and he gave to it his best vestment and best chalice. Blackburn was a member of the guild of St Christopher, one of the principal city guilds, who were responsible for the construction of the city guild hall in the 1440s. As cloth traders the Blackburn's would have been members of the Guild of St John the Baptist, which in time became the Merchant Taylors guild.