Saint Cuthbert Novena – 10 March – Introduction

Saint Cuthbert Novena with Images from the York Minster Saint Cuthbert Window

10 March – Introduction – The Window, Its 15th-Century Donor, and Today

[ Next Post in the Novena ]

Image: Bishop Thomas Langley, donor of the York Minster Saint Cuthbert Window.  (©Taken by The York Glaziers Trust, reproduced by kind permission of the Chapter of York.)

(See below for more information on this and related panels from the St. Cuthbert Window.)

In preparation for the Feast of St. Cuthbert, 20 March, we ask the saint’s prayers for the Church, for the world, for visible unity among the diversity of Christian churches and ecclesial communities—especially among Catholics and Anglicans—and for the flourishing of the Anglican patrimony.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

(Prayer throughout the novena, for the Anglican patrimony)

O HOLY Ghost the Lord, who on Pentecost gavest the Church the gift of tongues that Christ might be known, loved, and served by peoples of divers nations and customs: Watch over the Anglican heritage within thy Church, we pray thee, that, led by thy guidance and strengthened by thy grace, this worthy patrimony may find such favor in thy sight that the people formed therein may increase both in holiness and number, and so show forth thy glory; who livest and reignest with the Father and the Son, one God world without end. Amen.

Saint Cuthbert, pray for us.

Our Father …

Hail Mary …

Glory Be …

( Follow this link to read a life of St Cuthbert )

The York Minster Saint Cuthbert Window.

Located in the South Quire Transept of the cathedral, the St Cuthbert Window “is one of the largest surviving narrative windows in Europe … and is the only surviving whole stained glass window dedicated to the life of” St Cuthbert.  The window was created and blessed in its original form around 1440.  Its primary benefactor was Bishop Thomas Langley, bishop of Durham and former Dean of York.  As the Latin inscription in the Thomas Langley panel of the window besought then and seeks now, “[Pray for the soul of] Thomas Longley, bishop of Durham, who [caused] this window [to be made]”.  (See below for further information on the window’s panels that depict Langley and others who would have had some role in Langley’s career and/or in creating the window.)

I am not sure how many of the panels in the window today reflect the subjects and themes of the original design and how much of what we see reflects later changes.  For example, nineteenth-century restoration efforts included all of the tracery panels at the top of the window that depict saints and Christ.  How many of these saints would have been present in the original fifteenth-century design?  It is an interesting question in light of the political situation in 1440.  Henry VI had been on the throne since 1422, when he was only nine months old.  By 1440, he showed no signs of being a strong, capable monarch.  Langley and his brother benefactors—for I assume all of his contemporaries who have a place in the window had directly or indirectly supported Langley’s career and/or the project of the window—were involved in court politics and thus foresaw political and social difficulties ahead, if they did not foresee anything as devastating as the civil wars that were to become known as the Wars of the Roses.  Unifying the country would therefore have been important.  If one of the pre-eminent saints from the south of England, St. Thomas Becket, does not appear in the window, St. Augustine of Canterbury does as well as St. Edward the Confessor, thus conveying the sense of one people united in the same Gospel.

On the subject of St. Thomas Becket, it has been suggested—if a bit cynically—that the St. Cuthbert Window at York Minster was the result of a long-standing policy of fostering the cult of St. Cuthbert to rival the popularity of the cult of St. Thomas Becket at Canterbury in the south of England.  Nonetheless, the various accounts of the life of St. Cuthbert as well as, among other works, St Bede’s _A History of the English Church and People_ had already pointed, centuries earlier, in the direction of an English spirituality, which has transcended time and geography.  I would like to think this perspective was somewhere in the minds of the benefactors and designers of the window regardless how troubling their immediate political situation and regardless of a desire to increase the appeal of a northern saint.  If the hope of concord and unity are not realized in the moment, the hope nonetheless remains.  This, I think, is what T. S. Eliot suggests in reference to another period of strife in English history in his “Little Gidding”:

“These men, and those who opposed them / And those whom they opposed / Accept the constitution of silence / And are folded in a single party.”

Wordlessly, the images in the window spoke a “constitution of silence” in the fifteenth century that can still speak to us today.   

Over the centuries, the window has suffered damage.  In 1887, Rev. Canon J. T. Fowler and J. W. Knowles, stained-glass designer and painter, extensively repaired the window, which included its narrative re-ordering.  (Brown, Stained Glass at York Minster, 85.)  But the basic arrangement of three sections remains: the donor and benefactors in the lowest section, scenes from St. Cuthbert’s life in the large middle section, and Christ and his saints (particularly relevant to northern England) at the top of the window. (Though again, I am not certain whether the pre-nineteenth-century tracery in the high section included images of Christ and his saints or, if so, it was the same cloud of witnesses we now see.)

Now, in the twenty-first century, further restoration and protection of the window are needed because its masonry has eroded and decayed to a point that calls for urgent attention.  A twenty-year project is underway to provide state-of-the-art external glazing to protect all 128 of the minster’s stained-glass windows.  As part of this project, “all 154 panels of stained glass must be removed from the St Cuthbert Window, allowing painstaking cleaning and repair work to be undertaken by conservators at York Glaziers Trust.”

Those willing and able to support restoration work on the St. Cuthbert Window in particular and/or the overall project of protecting all the windows needing care and attention have several options.  Among them is adopting figures in the window.  Follow this link for one such adoption tier.  Here is a link to other possibilities for contributing to this project.

Brother John-Bede Pauley, O.S.B.

Featured Panel Related to the Window’s Donor

Panel 1-2e – Thomas Langley (© Taken by The York Glaziers Trust, reproduced by kind permission of the Chapter of York.  Descriptions of the Saint Cuthbert Window panels are taken from the York Glaziers Trust Stained-Glass Navigator.) – Langley (c.1363-1437) was Bishop of Durham 1406-1437. He is shown kneeling before a prayer-desk (prie-dieu), facing the large figure of St Cuthbert, with his hands raised in prayer. Langley began his career as a clerk for John of Gaunt, the father of Henry IV, and served as a royal counsellor and diplomat for the Lancastrian kings Henry IV, V and VI. The Latin inscription beneath Thomas Langley clearly identifies him as the donor of the window: “[Pray for the soul of] Thomas Longley, bishop of Durham, who [caused] this window [to be made]”. Langley also contributed to the glazing of York Minster’s clerestory and library, as well as donating numerous other windows at Durham Cathedral Priory, which housed Cuthbert’s shrine.

Other Panels Related to Bishop Thomas Langley

Panel 1-2a – Henry Bowet – Bowet (c.1340-1423) (Archbishop of York 1406-1423) is shown kneeling before a prayer-desk (prie-dieu), facing the large figure of St Cuthbert, with his hands raised in prayer. Bowet first worked alongside Bishop Thomas Langley, the donor of the window, when both men served King Henry IV as counsellors and diplomats. As Archbishop of York, Bowet also worked closely with Langley in his role as Bishop of Durham.

Panel 1-2b – Henry Beaufort – Beaufort (c.1375–1447) (Bishop of Winchester 1404-47 and Cardinal of St Eusebius 1426-47) is shown kneeling before a prayer-desk (prie-dieu), facing the large figure of St Cuthbert, with his hands raised in prayer. Beaufort was the son of John of Gaunt and was the half-brother of King Henry IV. Beaufort wielded great power though his ecclesiastical roles and service as a royal counsellor, first for Henry IV, and later for his nephew Henry V and great-nephew Henry VI. His governmental work brought him into close contact with the donor of the window, Thomas Langley, Bishop of Durham.

Panel 1-2c – Humphrey – Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester (1390-1447), is shown kneeling before a prayer-desk (prie-dieu), facing east, with his hands raised in prayer. Gloucester was the son of Henry IV and brother of Henry V. Gloucester served in the military and government of Henry V, and as Lord Protector during Henry VI’s minority. In this royal service he worked alongside the donor of the window, Thomas Langley, but also came into conflict with his uncle, Henry Beaufort, who is shown to the left of Gloucester in the window.

Panel 1-2d – John Kemp – Kemp (c.1380–1454) (Archbishop of York 1426-52 and Cardinal of St Balbina 1439-54) is shown kneeling before a prayer-desk (prie-dieu), with his hands raised in prayer. Kemp first worked alongside Bishop Thomas Langley, the donor of the window, when both men served King Henry V as counsellors and diplomats. After becoming Archbishop of York, Kemp also worked closely with Langley in his role as Bishop of Durham and on Henry VI’s minority council. Langley gifted a silver cup to Kemp in his will.

Panel 3-4a – Henry V – Henry V (1386-1422) was King of England 1413-22. The donor of the window, Bishop Thomas Langley, served as a royal counsellor and diplomat to Henry V. The king is shown kneeling before a prayer-desk (prie-dieu), facing the large figure of St Cuthbert, with his hands raised in prayer.

Panel 3-4b Henry VI – Henry VI (1421-1471) was King of England 1422-61 and 1470-1. He succeeded to throne as an infant, following the death of his father Henry V. The donor of the window, Bishop Thomas Langley, who had served as a royal counsellor and diplomat to Henry VI’s father and grandfather, played a key role in the government of England during Henry VI’s childhood. The king is shown kneeling before a prayer-desk (prie-dieu), facing the large figure of St Cuthbert, with his hands raised in prayer.

Panel 3-4d – John of Gaunt – John of Gaunt (1340-99), Duke of Lancaster and Aquitaine and King of Castile, was the father of Henry IV. The donor of the window, Bishop Thomas Langley, began his career as a clerk in Gaunt’s household, later becoming a royal counsellor to Gaunt’s son, Henry IV. Gaunt is shown kneeling before a prayer-desk (prie-dieu), facing the large figure of St Cuthbert, with his hands raised in prayer.

Panel 3-4e – Henry IV – Henry IV (1367–1413) was King of England 1399-1413. The donor of the window, Bishop Thomas Langley, served as a royal counsellor and diplomat to Henry IV, and later to his son and grandson. The king is shown kneeling before a prayer-desk (prie-dieu), facing the large figure of St Cuthbert, with his hands raised in prayer.

Sources

Adam, David. Fire of the North: An Illustrated Life of St Cuthbert. London: SPCK, 1993.

Bede. A History of the English Church and People. Translated by Leo Sherley-Price. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1968.

Bede.  The Life and Miracles of Saint Cuthbert, Bishop of Lindisfarne

Brown, Sarah, and Nick Teed. Stained Glass at York Minster. London: Scala Arts & Heritage Publishers Ltd, 2017.

Colgrave, Bertram, editor/translator.  Two Lives of Saint Cuthbert: Texts.  New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.

Milner-White, E., editor.  After the Third Collect: Prayers and Thanksgivings for Use in Public Worship, fourth edition. A. R. MOWBRAY, MOREHOUSE-GORHAM, 1952.

Spencer, Nick. Parochial Vision: The Future of the English Parish. Carlisle: Paternoster Press, 2004.

York Glaziers Trust.  York Minster Stained Glass Navigator.

York Minster.  The Life and Miracles of a Northern Saint.

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