HERITAGE TREASURES

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HERITAGE TREASURES

This beautiful window in St John’s, Richmond, is situated in that part of the church, called the chancel, which was completed in 1859. The structure has a fascinating pedigree, having been copied from a highly detailed accurate scale model of a church designed by Pugin (1812–52) for his very close friend William Willson, first Bishop of Hobart Town. Willson brought out the model to Tasmania in 1844. Pugin is regarded as England’s greatest early-Victorian architect, designer and theorist, and we are fortunate in having a marvellous heritage of his designs, including metalwork, textiles, stained glass, carved wood and stone figures, headstones and two complete churches built from models to his designs, namely, St Paul’s, Oatlands, and St Patrick’s, Colebrook. He had the most comprehensive understanding of English medieval architecture of his era, and this is reflected in the beautiful lace-like stone, called tracery, in the head of the window. The design is entirely original but completely faithful to a style that flourished in England in the decade after 1330.

The window itself was made in 1859 by Joseph Bell, a Bristol stained glass artist, and is believed to be his only Australian work. It is signed near the bottom of the central light ‘J. Bell Pinxit Bristol 1859’. This authorship presents a puzzle, for all other glass in Tasmanian Catholic churches from 1847 until 1871 was made by John Hardman & Co., the Birmingham firm of which Pugin was chief designer until his death in 1852, and there is no known connection with Bell. Indeed, the window’s design and its intense colours are absolutely typical of Hardman’s work. Why Bell made it remains a mystery. The left-hand figure is of St John the Evangelist, patron of the church. It is not original, being a stock design replacement by the Melbourne firm of Brooks Robinson, installed after the window was broken in the 1920s. In the central light is Christ Saviour of the World, and on the right is the figure of St Charles Borromeo (1538–84), Cardinal Archbishop of Milan and patron of parish clergy. His red cardinal’s hat lies at his feet and he holds his metropolitan cross. Interestingly, this latter is a near-exact copy of the illustration for a metropolitan cross in Pugin’s highly influential Glossary of Ecclesiastical Ornament and Costume, first published in 1844. At the very top of the window are the Greek letters alpha and omega, a traditional Christian symbol for God, the beginning and the end.