The Lady Chapel of Rochester Cathedral is graced by five pairs of early twentieth-century windows, one above the other, in a two-tier arrangement. The most easterly pair depict the Annunciation at the higher level, and the Nativity below: the Annunciation window can be seen on the left here. The whole set, ten windows in all, is widely attributed to Burlison & Grylls — although the authoritative Historic England listing text for this Grade I listed building says cautiously, "Lady Chapel. Glass. An interesting and large-scale sequence of Flemish-style windows, c.1910-18, possibly by Burlison & Grylls."

As the listing text goes on to explain, the impressive sequence shows "scenes from the Life of Christ with various saints." In this first upper window, the Angel Gabriel is bringing Mary the news of her coming role as the mother of Jesus. Mary gathers her blue robe in towards herself, as if to enfold and embrace the divine influence. Above each of the figures is a golden crown, and between them in the middle light of the window is the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove, sending the rays of its light slanting towards Mary. Beneath it is a partially unfurled text reading, "Hail Mary, thou that art highly favoured" (from Luke 1, 28). Below the text, in an elegant two-handled vase, are white lilies symbolic of Mary's purity, and white roses signifying her state of spiritual grace, set off by deep green and brownish foliage.

Nothing can show the ever-changing play of light through the window, but a closer view of the figures does show the details more clearly. The palette is predominantly blue, red and gold, with a background of gold and pale green. There is only a hint of architectural framework emanating from the central fleur-de-lys at the top. All in all, it is a very graceful composition.

The lower window of this pair depicts the Nativity, with Joseph and Mary, three worshipping angels and three awestruck shepherds. The thatched roof of the stable, two oxen, some eastern-looking buildings and a powerful star complete the familiar scene. At the foot of the scene runs the text, "Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which has come to pass" (the shepherds' words, Luke 2, 15). Again, the predominant colours are blue, red, green and gold. There is much more architectural detail here, wholly appropriate to this scene of prayer and worship. In general, Colin Price notes the "typical olive-greeny background" of the firm's windows, more apparent elsewhere; and their "finesse of line and shading," which comes out well in these Lady Chapel windows.

The dedication held up by a pair of angels in the lower part of the light is to Archdeacon John Tetley Rowe (1860-1915), and bears the date 1908. It must have been the gift of the Archdeacon. He was a well-known figure, who had been ordained in 1884, and had worked in the slums in Camberwell before his appointment here. He collected a book of sermons preached at the cathedral, which was published in 1899. He collapsed and died suddenly when hurrying for a train at Victoria, on his return from Parliament in 1915 (see Ecclesiastical Intelligence" and "Death of Archdeacon Rowe").

Text by Jacqueline Banerjee, and photographs by Colin Price. These are reproduced here by kind permission of the Dean and Chapter of Rochester Cathedral. Click on the images for larger pictures.

The other Lady Chapel windows

Related Material

Sources

"Cathedral Church of Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary of Rochester." Historic England. Web. 19 July 2016.

"Death of Archdeacon Rowe." Times. 30 April 1915: 7 Times Digital Archive. Web. 19 July 2016.

"Ecclesiastical Intelligence." Times. 8 November 1895: 5 Times Digital Archive. Web. 19 July 2016.

"Ordinations." Times. 24 December 1884: 8 Times Digital Archive. Web. 19 July 2016.

Rowe, John Tetley. ed. The Church's message to men: a series of sermons preached in the Borough of Chatham. London: Skeffington, 1899. Internet Archive. Contributed by Trinity College — University of Toronto. 19 July 2016.

Scotland, Nigel. Squires in the Slums: Settlements and Missions in Late Victorian London. London: I. B. Tauris, 2007 (this gives the Archdeacon's dates).


19 July 2016