Corpus Vitrearum Medii Aevi

Medieval Stained Glass in Great Britain

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Norfolk: Wiggenhall, Parish Church of St Mary Magdalen

O.S. TG 599114

The church of St Mary Magdalen is a large, mainly brick building lying not far from the River Ouse, about six miles upstream from King’s Lynn, built c.1420 – c.1430, except for the tower, which is earlier, possibly thirteenth century. The nave has five bays, and there are north and south aisles with double crenellated transoms and blocked west windows, and a clerestory with triple-light windows placed regularly over each bay of the arcade. The weeping chancel has a blocked window on the north side and three windows on the south. There is a two-storeyed south porch. Pevsner and Wilson date the main build to c.1430 and cite a bequest of 1432 to rebuilding. Cotton and Tricker have suggested a 1420 date, comparing the work to that at Walpole St Peter, where the chancel windows were glazed in 1423 and 1425. 1

In the east window of the chancel was a figure of St Mary Magdalen, to whom the church is dedicated, and the arms of France and England quarterly, Warren and Albany. 2 The Earl Warren was the founder of the Cluniac Castleacre Priory, which held the advowson of the church here. The north window, now blocked, had in addition to the arms of Ingaldesthorpe, those possibly of Castleacre or its prior, and the name of Thomas Gatys, prior between 1428 and 1452. 3 In a south chancel window were the arms of Ingaldesthorpe, Beaufort and Howard. 4 The Ingaldesthorpe family had a long connection with the order of Cluny going back to the time of King Richard, when with the permission of Cluny the manor of the Prior of Lewes in Tilney was granted to the Ingaldesthorpes. 5 An unidentified shield, Sable a fess nebuly argent between six billets or, was to be seen in nVI in the north aisle in the eighteenth century. 6 In the south clerestory, SIV still had heraldic glass in the sixteenth century: Berney impaling Gissing quartering Heveningham; Sable a griffin sergeant within a border argent; Moulton; Kervile; Lovell; Per pale azure and or a fleur-de-lys counterchanged. 7 The first, impaled, shield may suggest a date for this glass compatible with that of the building. John Berney married Isabel (or Elisabeth), daughter and heir of Sir John Heveningham, who was returned in 1433 as a member of the gentry and died in 1440. Some glazing accounts survive for the eighteenth century in an old account book in the church. 8

The first extensive published account of the glass was by Charles Keyser in 1907. He described the glass as being in a deplorable condition and in urgent need of attention, and his photographs of the glass confirm this. 9 In 1924–25, the glass received a thorough restoration by Samuel Caldwell Junior of Canterbury, which involved some resetting of the glass and the painting of several new pieces, including heads. Keyser had tried to get the glass restored as soon as his article was published, as is shown by some correspondence kept by the church in a book that also records that Caldwell was paid £273 15s. 6d. 10 Keyser’s pre-restoration illustrations of the glass in his article are invaluable for the assessment of the extent of Caldwell’s work. Woodforde included the glass in his 1950 book on Norwich fifteenth-century glass painting, describing it rather ambiguously as ‘local work’, pointing to a link with glass at Blythburgh in Suffolk. 11 Recently, Nichols has listed the figures and commented on the sequence in her invaluable book on medieval imagery in Norfolk. 12

There are a few insignificant remains, mainly micro-architecture, in NIV, NV and NVI, some of which appear to be in situ. Part of a main-light figure survives in the upper half of light b in nV, but the bulk of the extant glass is to be found in the tracery lights of the six north aisle windows, including the east window (nII–VII), where there are the substantial remains of a remarkable series of mainly ecclesiastical saints, part of a series of the Nine Orders of Angels, and a few figures of female saints moved from other windows. Although many of the figures of popes, bishops, abbots and hermits are labelled with their names on scrolls, there are problems of identification because of missing and obscured inscriptions and a mismatch noted by Nichols between the names given and the attributes of some of the figures. 13 Some extant but dirty or worn names are still problematic, and will probably remain so until the glass can be examined under workshop conditions, but a few doubtful cases have been resolved. 14 The figures are identified as far as possible in the catalogue here.

As the present writer has demonstrated elsewhere, the iconographic source of the series of Nine Orders and saints was the litanies of the Sarum Breviary, starting with the Nine Orders in nII, the east window of the aisle, which was over the altar dedicated to the Holy Trinity. 15 The adoption of the litany would have been appropriate to this part of the parish church devoted to the laity, as litanies were a part of the liturgy in which it took an active part. The scheme would also have been appropriate for a donor or donors with Cluniac interests at heart. The essence of the Cluniac order was its strong accent on the liturgy, and Cluniac life has been characterized as ‘perpetual prayer’. 16 The idea of a perpetual litany for the laity would have been in tune both with the Cluniac ideal, but also with the increase in the fifteenth century of what has been called lay monasticism, with many pious men and women becoming lay associates of monastic communities and adopting private devotional practices very similar to those exercised in monasteries.

There is little direct evidence for the donors of these windows. There was a Guild of the Holy Trinity in the church, which may have contributed, and the unidentified shield of arms seen in nVI in the north aisle may also relate to a donor. There were two non-litany saints in the series: St Hugh and St Edmund Rich, and they may provide more solid clues. The patron of the church was the Cluniac priory of Castleacre, itself dependent on Lewes Priory, which may suggest that St Hugh of Cluny, the great reforming abbot of Cluny, was represented, rather than St Hugh of Lincoln, although the Lincoln saint is more common. The main lay figure associated with the rebuilding of the church in the fifteenth century seems to have been Sir Edmund Ingaldesthorpe. His arms together with those of Howard are still to be seen carved over the south door and were formerly in north and south chancel side windows. 17 The figure of St Edmund in the glass could well be explained by its status as the name saint of Sir Edmund, who was born in about 1409 and died in 1456, covering the period when the glass was made. 18 That the monastic patron was active in the nave as well as the chancel may be indicated by the presence of a carved wooden figure wearing a mitre and carrying a crosier on the corbel above SV in the clerestory.

Although the patron of the north aisle glazing laid down an overall programme for the tracery lights, and probably for the main lights, the windows show considerable stylistic variation and were made by different painters probably working in different workshops. Windows nVII and nVI are in two very different styles, the former finely painted with rich use of coloured glass and stately figures, the latter with figures entirely painted on white glass in a wiry and expressive style. The remaining windows all use a common design for the setting of the figures, but more than one hand is discernible in the heads, and less competence is shown with matching the names and ranks of the saints portrayed.

Keyser dated the glass to the time of Edward IV, which Woodforde followed, but the more recent dating of the architecture to the 1420s or 1430s is a better guide. 19 The head-types of window nVII in particular have the same sweetness of expression as much glass of the 1420s and 1430s in the International Gothic mode. Window nVI is very different, but the fashion for figures painted on white glass is most common in Norfolk in the period c.1400 – c.1440. 20 Comparisons for the remaining windows are harder to find, but some of the heads are still in the soft style of c.1400 – c.1430. A combination of style and the mooted patronage of Sir Edmund Ingaldesthorpe suggests that the overall date range is c.1420 – c.1440. The figures of female saints in nII and nIII are of similar date, but come from elsewhere in the church. The clerestory fragments are also probably of this period.


Pevsner and Wilson 1999, p. 778; Cotton and Tricker n.d.; King 2008a, p. 86. Return to context
BL, MS Landsdowne 260, f.236v; BL, MS Harley 901, f.58v; NRO, Frere MS; Blomefield and Parkin 1805–10, IX, p. 170. Return to context
BL, MS Harley 901, f.58v; BL, MS Lansdowne 260, f.236v.; BL, Add. MS 8844, f.19r; NRO, Frere MS; Blomefield and Parkin 1805–10, IX, p. 170. The name of the prior is given in Blomefield and Parkin (1805–10, VIII, p. 375) as Thomas Bates, and in BL, Add. MS 8844, f.19r as Thomas Gatu or Tatu. VCH Norfolk, II, p. 358 has John Sharshulle in 1428, then Thomas Gatys without date, and then Nicholas Benet, 1445. Part of his surname may have been inserted into sII B5. Return to context
The Beaufort shield, Quarterly France and England within a border gobonny of ermine and azure, was for Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Essex, who had been granted the lands in west Norfolk forfeited by Thomas, Lord Bardolf. From 1405 until his death in 1426, he had played an increasingly active role in East Anglian political life; see Castor 2000, pp. 68–81. The Howard shield was for Sir John Howard, who died in 1437 and was a landowner in several neighbouring villages, including Wiggenhall St German’s; see Blomefield and Parkin 1805–10, IX, pp. 87, 145, 150 and 191–92. Return to context
Blomefield and Parkin 1805–10, IX, p. 78. Return to context
BL, Add. MS 8844, f.19r; NRO, Frere MS; Blomefield and Parkin 1805–10, IX, p. 170. Return to context
BL, MS Lansdowne 260, f.236v; BL, MS Harley 901, f.58v; NRO, Frere MS; BL, Add. MS 8844, f.18v. Return to context
It records the following payments. 22 December 1716: one Coston was paid for glazing the church windows 3s. 9½d.; 25 September 1717: Henry Coston was paid £14 9s. 6d.; 4 October 1717: Mr Bateman and Henry Coston were paid £7 12s.; 28 December 1723: paid for mending the windows 1s. 2d.; 28 December 1723: paid for mending the church windows 3s. 5d.; 9 September 1725: paid for glazing the church windows 4s. 6d. Return to context
Keyser 1907. Return to context
Thanks are due to the churchwarden, Mr P. J. Gagen, for making this and the account book available. For the work of Samuel Caldwell Junior, see the website of the Cathedral Studios at Canterbury ( Return to context
Woodforde 1950, pp. 137, 165–66, 181; he had already made the Blythburgh link in Woodforde 1933, pp. 4–18. Return to context
Nichols 2002. Return to context
Nicholas 2002, p. 318. Return to context
The removal of the glass for conservation is being contemplated at the time of writing (May 2007). Return to context
King 2008a, p. 194. Return to context
de Valous 1970, I, pp. 327–72. Return to context
For the south door, see Keyser 1907, pl. xiii and pp. 317–18. For the chancel heraldry, see BL, MS Harley 901, f.58v; BL, MS Lansdowne 260, f.236v; NRO, Frere MS; Blomefield and Parkin 1805–10, X, p. 170. Return to context
For the will of Sir Edmund, see PRO, prob/11/4. Return to context
Keyser 1907, p. 317; Woodforde 1933, p. 10. See above for the architecture. Return to context
King 2006, p. cvi. Return to context
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