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Tom Denny Windows, Gloucester | by Aidan McRae Thomson
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Tom Denny Windows, Gloucester

The south ambulatory chapel at Gloucester is remarkable for it's modern glass, the work of prolific artist Tom Denny and installed in 1993; the designs use the Psalms as their themes.


The commissioning of these windows was initially controversial as it involved removing glass by Clayton & Bell (a similar debate raged almost simulteaniously over the west window of Sherborne Abbey), however the paintwork of the Victorian windows was in poor condition and the designs themselves somewhat mediocre, thus few regret their replacement with something far more dynamic!


Gloucester Cathedral is one of England's finest churches, a masterpiece of medieval architecture consisting of a uniquely beautiful fusion of Norman Romanesque and Perpendicular Gothic from the mid 14th century onwards. Until the Reformation this was merely Gloucester's Abbey of St Peter, under Henry VIII it became one of six former monastic churches to be promoted to cathedral status, thus saving the great church from the ravages of the Dissolution.


The most obviously Norman part is the nave, immediately apparent on entering the building with it's round arches and thick columns (the exterior is the result of Gothic remodelling). Much of the remainder of the building is substantially the Norman structure also, but almost entirely modified in the later Middle Ages inside and out, the result of the great revenue brought to the abbey by pilgrims to the tomb of the murdered King Edward II in the choir. It was this transformation of the Norman church that is credited with launching the late gothic Perpendicular style in England.


The gothic choir is a unique and spectacular work, the walls so heavily panelled as to suggest a huge stone cage (disguising the Norman arches behind) crowned by a glorious net-like vault adorned with numerous bosses (those over the Altar with superb figures of Christ and angels) whilst the east wall is entirely glazing in delicate stone tracery, and still preserving most of it's original 14th century stained glass. The soaring central tower, also richly panelled with delicate pinnacles, is another testament to the abbey's increasing wealth at this time.


The latest medieval additions to the church are equally glorious, the Lady Chapel is entered through the enormous east window and is itself a largely glazed structure, though the original glass has been reduced to a few fragments in the east window, the remainder now contains beautiful Arts & Crafts stained glass by Christopher and Veronica Whall.


The early 16th century cloisters to the north of the nave are some of the most beautiful anywhere, being completely covered by exquisite fan vaulting, with a seperate lavatorium (washing room) attached to the north walk as a miniature version of the main passages.


There is much more of interest, from 14th century choir stalls with misericords to the comprehensive collection of tombs and monuments of various dates, including the elaborate tomb of Edward II and that of Robert Duke of Normandy, eldest son of William the Conqueror. The stained glass also represents all ages, from the 14th century to the striking contemporary windows by Tom Denny.


Further areas of the cathedral can be accessed at certain times, such as the Norman crypt under the choir and the triforium gallery above.


My visit coincided with the major 'Crucible' exhibition of contemporary sculpture (September-October 2010), examples of which I will upload in due course.

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Taken on September 25, 2010