Saturday 22 December 2012

A Robin Rises From The Ashes

In 1400 the largest of all parish churches in England was St Michael's at Coventry. The church was visible for miles around on account of its 303 feet tall steeple. The glass for the enormous windows was paid for by merchants dealing in blue cloth and millinery and one of the glass portraits limned with brown-black oxide with silver stain washes for yellow hair sported a blue hat secured with a gold hat pin.

These images were attacked by the iconoclasts of the 1640s, though the pieces were later reassembled and replaced in the clerestory windows.

When war broke out in September 1939, this precious ancient glass was taken down from what had become the cathedral church of St Michael and put in storage for the duration. When on holiday in Mittenwald some years ago, I breakfasted with one of those Stuka bomber pilots who had blanket-bombed Coventry. He had been a kid of 19 at the time and admitted to being very afraid. The bombing of Coventry is well-documented and we know that little of the town remained, and in the charred masonary shards of the Cathedral no window bars remained for any glazing whatsoever.

The shell of the old St Michael's survives today, next to the famous new replacement cathedral completed in 1962. However, in a concrete storeroom underneath, forgotten, was the medieval glass, the leading holding the glass together fell apart, releasing over 5,000 fragments. Now this glass has been rediscovered and cleaned and these ancient faces and the robin can be seen for the first time in over 70 years at the Sir John Soane's Museum in London until 26 January 2013.

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