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Review: Gallery of Saints

by Stella W. Stiles

This article is an appreciation of the two volume online book for which credit and praise is due.

The Cloister Windows project team have presented a complex, detailed description and analysis of the Cathedral Cloister windows within a beautifully illustrated work.

Having read this work online recently, when I walk there I have noted so much more than I was previously aware of.  The record of fascinating dedications and donors is easy to note.

The words in this article are an attempt by me to note some aspects which impressed me personally.  The introduction to both volumes reminds and informs the reader of Dean Bennett’s 1920s work in the Cathedral, and the intrinsic features in the Cloisters themselves as well as the windows.  The study reveals the amazing depth of design illustrated in the four walks of the Cloisters which read East, North, West and South.  A closer view of the stunning art work is revealed in the windows, which is not so easily seen by an observer looking up from the Cloister walks.

Formerly it was my understanding that Dean Bennett’s inspired project was chiefly to remember many affected by World War One.  However I have learnt that only 17% of dedicatees were directly involved and affected by the 1914 -18 conflict but there are references to the Navy, also the Cheshire Army Air Corps.  Window West 4 in the Calendar of Saints records the Birth of the Virgin Mary where the donors are anonymous but there is a moving dedication to:

“Thanksgiving for… two beloved sons who gave their lives in the Great War.”

Also Window W8 has a dedication to:

“Mollie Golder”, who was a VAD Nurse 1915-17 and died age 21 of a short illness.

On the North side there is a dedication remembrance of Chester Cathedral Choristers who died in two World Wars, four in the Great War and five in the World War II.  Also on the North side and right by the Refectory steps it is recorded that the estate money of Frank Rigby was donated to pay for the restoration of the Refectory by Giles Gilbert Scott as well as supporting the work of Chester Royal Infirmary.

My attention was also drawn to the dedication below the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, February 2nd on the East side (E.6.4) to Joyce Tollitt 1912 -1921 who died age nine.  As the book text stated that her given name was Winifred, my second name, I began to speculate as to what illness or tragedy may have cut short her life, was it the pandemic of a century ago, the Spanish Flu or one of the usual diseases of the time such as diphtheria or T.B.?

Within this tribute article I now choose to pay attention to details recorded about three windows in the South Cloister which also impressed me personally.  One of the poets I studied for A-level English from the period of the Metaphysical Poets was George Herbert who died in 1633.  His renown in the Church is for his hymn writing.  His image features in South Cloister seven where the four children of the Vicar of St. John the Baptist Church 1875-1915 dedicated it to their father.

Beautiful images have also been created by the artist Trena Cox in S1.1. Ranulf Higden (1280-1364) is shown here. He is ascribed to be the writer of the Chester Mystery Plays and his famous book the Polychronicon.  Also shown in that window is Abbot Simon Whitchurch (1265-1289) and the book reveals that he was responsible for piping fresh water to the Benedictine Abbey of St. Werburgh.

To conclude this personal review I highlight an illuminating article by Stephen Broadbent in 1994 about his Water of Life Sculpture in the Garth.  This Sculptor spoke to the Friends of Chester Cathedral some years ago as others may recall.  He wrote how Dean Smalley, a scholar of St. John encouraged his endeavour to design this work of Art.

September 2020.