The two panels of medieval glass were returned the cathedral yesterday (Nov 1) to mark All Saints’ Day, and are now part of an exhibition which explores the life and purported miracles of one of northern England’s most significant saints.
They were part of the St Cuthbert Window, which is one of the largest surviving narrative windows in the world, but were removed in March as part of a £5m restoration project that is expected to take five years to complete.
On the panels which are now on display, St Cuthbert is shown wearing the robes of a bishop and carrying the head of St Oswald, which was placed in his coffin when Viking raiders forced the monks to flee Lindisfarne in the 9th Century. Experts at York Glaziers Trust have been tasked with applying protective glazing to 152 panels which were removed from the window, to protect the glass from the elements, while masons work to repair the decaying stonework which held them in place.
Professor Sarah Brown, director of the trust, said: “It’s fantastic to be able to return St Cuthbert to the Minster on All Saints’ Day, the annual date when Christians remember all the saints who have inspired the church over generations, and to be able to showcase the work that has gone into conserving these panels as part of the new exhibition.”
She added: “We are going to be conserving the panels and as the stonework repair is completed, we will be reinstalling them all, looking much brighter, cleaner and more legible.
“Importantly, we will also restore them to the window with the benefit of an environmental protective glazing, which means they will stay safe and stable and protected for decades, if not centuries to come.
“The conservation of the glass is relatively straightforward, but it’s extremely labour intensive and requires great skill in the hands of the conservators. It involves the use of microscopes and it’s a job that requires delacy, patience and a great deal of experience and judgment.”
The St Cuthbert Window was installed in 1440 and is located in the Minster’s East End. It was restored in the 1880s and lead was reapplied to hold pieces of glass together in the 1930s, before the panels were taken down during the Second World War for protection.
Two other windows in the cathedral’s East End, which include the St William Window (built in 1415) and the Great East Window (completed in 1408), have undergone restoration projects over the last two decades.
Conservators working with stained glass windows from York Minster have praised the skill those who produced them 600 years ago.
Professor Sarah Brown, Director of York Glaziers Trust, said they used a 12th century glazing technique to produce small pieces of coloured glass to enrich the panels.
She said this demonstrates “the level of skill and expertise of the glaziers” who “preserved or revived this difficult technique”.