Christianity in 10 objects
A collection of broken glass might seem like an odd choice of object to display in a gallery, but it gives us clues about King Henry III’s medieval Abbey. When getting ready to open The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries, we found 30,000 small fragments of glass under the floorboards, dating from between 1250 and 1500. Fragments of painted faces, written inscriptions and coats of arms hint at what the Abbey’s medieval windows would have looked like, just like having pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and guessing the final design. Can you see any pieces which might fit together?
Take a look at the different fragments. Do you think they seem less colourful than other stained-glass windows you’ve seen? That’s because white glass was very expensive, and coloured glass was twice the price of white glass. Also, in a medieval church, there wasn’t any electric lighting so the colourless panes of glass would have let more natural light into the Abbey. Whilst stained-glass windows are examples of Christian art, this reminds us that they had a practical purpose too.
Stained-glass windows in Westminster Abbey, and other Christian churches, combine artistic and engineering skill. On a practical level, they let in, or in some cases limit, light into a place of worship to change the atmosphere. Many of these pieces were made at a time when most people could not read. These stunning pieces of art show stories from the Bible, making them useful for teaching Christianity as well as being beautiful to look at. These images were used and reused in different windows over the years, but wherever they are shown their importance as storytelling pieces of Christian art is as strong today as ever.
Visit the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Galleries to see fragments of stained glass, and many more objects, in real life. High above the Abbey floor, come face to face with the Abbey’s greatest treasures covering over 1,000 years of faith and history. Along with worship, examine objects that teach us about the building of Westminster Abbey, its role in national memory and its relationship with royalty.
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At different times of the day, or in different seasons, the light falling in the Abbey will light up something that you have walked past a million times and never seen before.