The stained glass at St Fin Barre's Cathedral was all designed by William Burges himself, and follows a fully thought-out iconographic scheme, integrated with that of the Cathedral as a whole.

Burges made sketches for every single one of the seventy-four windows. The sketches were then cartooned (finely drawn) and painted by H. W. Lonsdale. The only exceptions were, according to Joseph Mordaunt Crook, the three central apse clerestory windows, cartooned by Fred Weekes, another of his team, and possibly the small transept roundels (Crook 172; however, the latter are not mentioned by Richard Wood, who simply says that Lonsdale cartooned all but three windows). The glazing itself was by Saunders and Co. Like Lonsdale, William Gualbert Saunders (1837-1923) was one of Burges's inner circle, and he and his stainer-glazier worked under his direct supervision (see Crook 172).

The iconographic scheme "runs in a cycle from the Creation in the Western rose window to to the vision of God's throne — beast-bound, as in the Apocalypse — in the most Easterly window of the ambulatory" (Crook 172), with episodes from the Old Testament starting in the north wall of the Nave and moving back and forth between north and south walls, towards the chancel in the east.  At the transepts, however, the coming of Jesus is announced by the prophets, and in the chancel itself, or rather in the ambulatory, the New Testament takes over. These changes are marked in the colours, too: for example, the pale robes of the figures in the nave give way to the coloured garments of the ambulatory's lancets. Background colours change, too. It is a beautifully thought-out, unified scheme.

Burges's technical approach to the designs has proved particularly effective. Wood explains that he adhered to the medieval practice of working in two dimensions, ensuring that the lead lines were "not intrusions, but a vital part of the composition," and that "plains of a single colour, made up of more than one piece of glass, but varied from piece to piece and indeed within a single piece, thus giving life to the scene" (Wood 10-11).

The cartoons were discovered only in the 1990s, and enough had been conserved by 2013 for an exhibition to be held at the Lewis Glucksman Gallery at University College, Cork. A selection of the windows, or details from the windows, is shown here. — Jacqueline Banerjee

Links to Related Material


Crook, J. Mordaunt. William Burges and the High Victorian Dream. Revised and Enlarged Edition. London: Francis Lincoln, 2013. [Review]

Searching for the New Jerusalem: The Iconography of St Fin Barre's Cathedral, with a Foreword by the Very Revd Nigel Dunne, Deane of Corke, and Michael Murphy, President, University College Cork, and "Searching for the New Jerusalem," an essay by Richard Wood. Cork: Lewis Glucksman Gallery and the University of Cork, 2013. [Review]

Created 13 November 2019

Last modified 4 December 2023