We are honoured to have four dazzling examples of some of the finest stained-glass work of Pre-Raphaelite artists Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris in our cathedral. The windows are some of the most exceptional stained-glass in the world and among the best examples of Birmingham artistry in the city.
Birmingham is the birthplace of Burne-Jones and he was baptised in St Philip’s in January 1834. The windows were installed over a twelve year period between 1885 and 1897, when St Philips was still a parish church.
The Ascension (1885), was the first window to be installed, depicting Jesus parting with his followers and ascending into heaven forty days after Easter. The Ascension window was initially intended to be the only window in the Cathedral. However, Burne-Jones was so struck with its beauty that he was inspired to design two more.
The Nativity and The Crucifixion (1887), were the next two windows to be installed were paid for by wealthy Birmingham resident Emma Chadwick Villers-Wilkes. Depicting the birth and death of Jesus, she specifically requested that there should be no oxen in the Nativity scene (as she considered them to be too brutish) and that there should not be any blood in the Crucifixion scene. These windows are positioned directly opposite each other in the cathedral, highlighting the anguish of the events.
The Last Judgement (1897), is widely recognised as the finest example of Burne-Jones’ work, depicting the return of Christ and his judgement on humanity. The window was a memorial to the Bishop Bowlby of Coventry who was Rector of St Philip’s from 1875 to 1902.
During The Second World War the windows were removed, courtesy of Birmingham Civic Society, and placed in a slate mine in Wales for safekeeping. It is now the duty of this generation to ensure they are preserved and recognised for the future.
Initial funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund enabled a detailed investigation of the condition of the windows to take place. Unfortunately, this work found that the windows were significantly damaged in a number of places and portions of glazing were missing or cracked. The next phase of the Divine Beauty project will see the restoration of the windows, and we have secured a further £641,200 in National Lottery Heritage funding to go towards this vital conservation, due to begin in early 2023.
Work will take place to remove a substantial build up of debris and to repair areas of cracking, failed leading and paint loss. Visitors will be able to see this work as it happens from an accessible platform. The unsightly protective grilles on the exterior of the four windows will also be replaced with a more sympathetic and bespoke alternative.