Conservation strategy discussion for Winchester Cathedral stained glass fragments

Stained Glass Studio – Where the Magic Happens

Recently, Michael Strong, the Abbey Museum’s Senior Curator and I headed north to Belli Park to meet with stained glass conservators Gerry Cummins and Jill Stehn. Gerry and Jill have been involved with the Museum’s stained glass conservation program for over ten years now. These two extraordinarily talented artisans have been responsible for the conservation of nearly all of the Museum’s medieval, Victorian and Edwardian stained glass collection.

As you may be aware, in 2017 we completed the conservation of all the stained glass windows housed in the Abbey Church. These windows include medieval panels from Winchester Cathedral and also the mortuary chapel of the Shirley family manor house in Ettington. There is a splendid panel of God the Father, believed to be from the Charter House of St Barbara in Cologne and a very fine Winged Ox and a Winged Lion from Heckenrode Abbey in Belgium. If you would like to have a tour of these beautiful windows the Abbey Museum runs guided tours on Tuesday and Thursday at 11.00 am or for groups …

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Abbey Museum's stained glass window St Hilda

Symbols in Art – Clues and Problems

When we explore medieval religious art you could be astonished by the number of objects being held by the figures depicted either in paint or in stained glass windows. Looking at some of the stained glass windows in the Abbey Church there are a number of saints that follow this medieval tradition. They range from serpents to puppy dogs, from skulls to monstrances. Why are they there? What do they mean?

The use of symbols in figurative art began at a time when very few people could read or write, but also when the Church had a huge influence on the population. The introductions of symbols provided an easy form of identification for the onlooker. By incorporating symbols which were well known and associated with saintly men and women, the Church could use the works of art as teaching metaphors for a more spiritual life. These symbols often related to some aspect of the life of the individual depicted which they would have heard many times in sermons from the local bishop or priest. A palm frond told us that …

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Abbey Museum Musketeer stained glass

Musketeer Makeover

After completing the fundraising for the conservation of the medieval and Victorian Stained glass in the Abbey Church and a window of one of the Three Magi above the door to the Abbey Museum, focus has turned to fundraising for the conservation of smaller, but still significant, panels that are currently in the reserve collection.

The first of these is a small but beautifully made panel depicting a Musketeer. This panel dates to the 17th century and probably comes from southern Germany.  I am very happy to announce that funds have now been raised for this window’s conservation. Thank you to everyone who generously donated towards this project or attended one of our special fundraising Trivia Nights dedicated to the stained glass conservation program.

Of course, the most celebrated and romanticised musketeers in history were the famous quartet immortalised by French author Alexandre Dumas whose swashbuckling novel in 1844 was set in the dangerous times for the scheming Cardinal Richelieu and King Louis XIII.

Who were the Musketeers?

Technically, any soldiers armed with …

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Donor King Window in Abbey Museum collection

The “Donor King” has a Name

Visitors to the Abbey Museum may have noticed a stained glass window that was once above the main door has been removed. I can assure you that this is not permanent but just part of the ongoing conservation program of our stained glass windows. This panel depicts a crowned figure holding a covered cup in one hand and a sceptre in the other.  These attributes indicate that it is a king although the identity of the figure was unknown; the catalogue simply records it as “The Donor King” .  However, during conservation of the window new evidence has come to light which is very exciting.  Research has revealed that it was probably part of a much larger window depicting the three Magi (the Three Wise Men or Kings as they are also known) from the Biblical story of the Nativity of Christ.  The window has been badly damaged and conserved a number of times during its history, and sadly the quality of the later work does no justice to the exquisite quality of the original window. Not only is …

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Abbey Museum Medieval Manuscript

Medieval Manuscript Gallery Reopens

Medieval Manuscript Gallery

After more than 18 months, the Abbey Museum’s fabulous Medieval Manuscript Gallery has reopened!

You may recall that in late 2015, termites were discovered in the gallery – almost the worst possible scenario!  Fortunately, the little chompers had stuck to the timber and left the priceless manuscripts alone.  Our beloved manuscript gallery had to close and all the manuscripts and cases were removed before treatment could commence. It has been a long slow process but with funding assistance from the Federal Government through the Stronger Communities Programme and the Moreton Bay Regional Council we have been able to achieve our goal and reopen the gallery. And now we are so pleased to be able to announce the re-opening!

History never ceases to amaze!

During the closure of the Manuscript Gallery the Museum’s Senior Curator, Michael Strong, took the opportunity to photograph all the manuscripts. The timing was perfect as there has been a sudden increase in interest in the manuscripts from international researchers and we have now been able to send them quality colour photos. One thrilling …

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Pilgrim Badge Abbey Museum

Medieval Pilgrim Badge Donation Excitement

The Abbey Museum recently received a generous donation of a 14th century Pilgrim Badge of St Thomas Becket. A pilgrim badge, like the suit of armour also acquired this year, has been on the Museum’s wish list for a number of years as they represent an aspect of medieval life not previously represented in the collection.

Pilgrim Badge – Tourist Souvenir of the Middle Ages?

Pilgrimages were an important part of life in medieval England, and individuals were expected to make at least one major journey in their lifetime. Market stalls often lined the entrances to shrines, and here pilgrims could buy a variety of souvenirs such as badges and small vessels known as ampulae. This badge is in the form of St Thomas Becket and is one of a well-known series of badges that are miniature copies of the 14th century, life-sized, mitre-bust reliquary of St Thomas in Canterbury Cathedral. The badge would have been worn on the hat or outer clothing and would have been used as an amulet. The supposed miracle-working powers of the reliquaries that …

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Schist panel depicting 20 Buddhas, Afghanistan

Collection Donations : Gifts of Ancient Treasures

With the advent of on-line sale websites such as Ebay and Gum Tree, and difficult financial times in general, collection donations of antiquities to the Abbey Museum had all but dried up.

However, excitingly, 2016 seemed to buck the trend and over the last few months the Museum has received donations of three amazing collections.

The First of the Collection Donations

The first included a beautiful slate plaque from Afghanistan depicting twenty Buddhas, a number of alabaster statues and a beautiful carved onyx plate of kissing birds and a kufic script.

The Second of unexpected Collection Donations

Then can you imagine the excitement of being invited into a house and being taken down into a cellar where almost hidden under the dust on a shelf on the back wall was a collection of ancient Roman lamps (one with a decorated image to make you blush, definitely R rated). Beautiful Roman glass and three “stone cannon” balls from Tunisia. This was part of the private collection of a Dutch consul who during his career travelled to many parts of the world.

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Hidden Treasure Trove

In the back of a dark cupboard in the Abbey Museum storage area sit a few items of hidden treasure with signs saying DO NOT LIST. These items have been there for a very long time. Why you may ask?  Well it is because their provenance is unknown or attempts in the past to identify their origins had been unsuccessful. Enter the internet revolution with its ability to access to an enormous wealth of knowledge and the games has changed. The Abbey Museum Senior Curator, Michael Strong, asked if I would take on the challenge to try to find out something about  our hidden treasures. Being more than a little obsessive, I tend to like this type of challenge.

When I start researching an object that we know very little about I start by looking for pictorial comparisons. Sometimes very few comparison can be found, as with two lovely glazed ceramic tiles with fruit that i have been researching lately. However at other times luck (or skill) is on our side and exciting discoveries are made. We are pleased to …

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Stained glass windows conservation – a staff excursion.

Earlier this month, a convoy of cars with Abbey staff made its way to visit our most recent stained glass windows conservation project at the Master Craftsman’s workshop in Buderim. Stained glass artists, Gerry Cummins and Jill Stehn, have been our conservators of choice for over ten years. Their original artworks can be found in many Australian churches and buildings as well as examples of their conservation projects.

We were welcomed at the door with huge grins of delight. Greetings over, we made our way into their workshop. This is a remarkable large room filled with long light boxes set in rows and forming aisles between. On those boxes lay stained glass windows at various stages of development or repair.

Creating a Stained Glass window

Gerry took us through the wonders of creating a stained glass window. It is always an intense pleasure to watch someone who seriously knows what they are doing, making it all look so very easy. The creation of any artwork begins with an idea. The application of pencil to paper is the first step …

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Caddles light up a night of Trivia at the Abbey

Trivia at the Abbey

It was a dark and stormy night with lightning flashing, thunder grumbling and rain pelting down, but …it was the advertised night for the famous event Trivia at the Abbey and not even the wrath of mother nature could stop the show.

Trivia Question: who stole the Light??

Come preparation time we discovered there was no power anywhere around the Abbey – Museum, Church, Hall or Community. Ever resourceful, our Museum CEO suggested using the candles and candelabra from the annual medieval banquets – hooray, lights for each table. Five teams of intrepid trivia buffs had to search even harder to find answers to questions covering a wide range of topics; this was made more difficult by the loudness of the rain pelting on the roof and the softness of the questioner’s voice.

It was encouraging to have some new faces join the fun; hopefully they were not put off by the medieval style and will return for our next 21st century style event. Despite all the obstacles everyone enjoyed the night and we made another addition to the fund …

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