We have four dazzling stained-glass windows in our cathedral, designed by Pre-Raphaelite artists Edward Burne-Jones and William Morris. The windows are some of the most acclaimed stained-glass in the world. They are also considered to be some of the finest art in Birmingham.
Edward Burne-Jones was born in Birmingham, and baptised in St Philip’s in January 1834. His designs are inspired by Medieval artworks, using simplified forms and shapes, and enhanced by the use of bold colours.
They were installed over a twelve year period between 1885 and 1897, while St Philip’s was still a parish church.
The Ascension was the first window to be installed in 1885. The window depicts 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 were the next two windows to be installed in 1887. They were paid for by wealthy Birmingham resident Emma Chadwick Villers-Wilkes. She specifically requested that there should be no oxen in the Nativity scene (as she considered them to be too brutish). She also asked 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 1894.
The windows were removed for safekeeping in 1939 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 uncovered significant damaged in a number of places, including portions of glazing that 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 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 installation of new protective grilles will also be completed on all four windows.
About Edward Burne-Jones
In the early 1830s Birmingham was a town of great change into which the young Burne-Jones was born.
Before he was a week old his mother died and his father continued to do his best for him. Early on they lived on nearby Bennetts Hill and young Edward went to King Edward’s School, New Street. He believed he lacked a good artistic education. However a deep interest in literature and a natural artistic ability enabled him to achieve well and he went on to pursue studies at Exeter College, Oxford.
At Oxford, Burne-Jones met life-long friend and creative kindred spirit William Morris. Together the
young men decided to devote their lives to art and their lasting influence on British art history cannot be
underestimated. Burne-Jones designed and produced stained-glass, tapestries, watercolours, furniture, theatre sets, and jewellery. He exhibited at the Grosvenor Gallery and became an associate of the Royal Academy in 1885.
Burne-Jones went to live and work in London after Oxford and late made his home in Rottingdean. He rekindled his relationship with his home town with commissions for the new Art Gallery and the windows
at St Philip’s. He became President for the Royal Birmingham Society of Artists and advised the School
of Art on Margaret Street.
Churchyard conversation - the commissioning of Birmingham Cathedral's stained-glass windows
Divine Beauty - Restoring the world's finest collection of Burne-Jones windows