The stained glass in the windows of a cathedral isn’t there to let in the light, it’s there to ensure nobody inside can see the outside world and the light coming in is controlled.
The most impressive cathedral for stained glass, for me, is Gloucester cathedral. The current cathedral was begun in 1089 and built as a Benedictine Abbey by a monk from Mont Saint-Michel, and it was part of a chain of monasteries running the length of the Welsh Marches: Hereford, Worcester, Shrewsbury and Chester.
Henry III was crowned in Gloucester and Edward II, after a brutal murder involving a hot poker, was buried there. Henry VIII dissolved the abbey and in 1541 it became the seat of the Bishop of Gloucester. The ornate cloisters are famed, and used like Durham for filming the Harry Potter films.
What started as a Norman church with plain columns became more adorned with a beautiful vaulted ceiling and during the Perpendicular phase of Gothic architecture, vast windows were installed. Perpendicular style means plenty of vertical lines and ideal for stained glass.
Stained glass is coloured with metallic salts and held together in the window with strips of lead. Gloucester’s East Window was once the largest in Europe and dates from the 1350s. At 22 meters high and 12 meters wide, it depicts the hierarchy of Medieval society with the shields of nobility, tiers of bishops and abbots, saints and apostles, and at its apex, Jesus and Mary are flanked by the twelve disciples.
The East Window is also famed for an early depiction of golf.
Medieval stained glass can illustrate biblical stories and you can imagine these windows being used by the clergy to explain to their illiterate congregation the parables and Old Testament tales.
Standing in this rather small cathedral, on a sunny day, you are bathed in coloured light. It must have been an amazing sight for a lowly peasant come to worship or visit a shrine. No wonder the church wanted to control the light.
Cathedral since 1541
Max Height 68.6m
External length 129.8m
Number of bells 12