Saturday, 13 April 2013

Strachan Windows in Kilbrandon Church

During my Easter holidays south of Oban, I stayed at the Loch Melfort Hotel and toured around the area.  Great hotel with good views, excellent food and staff, by the way.  In addition to the views shown on the hotel website, this was my evening view every day.

Sunset looking down Loch Melfort toward Jura on the horizon
I indulged myself visiting friends, the cup and ring stones and henges of Kilmartin Glen generally taking in the spring sunshine and scenery.

On my final day after a bit of pampering in the hotel treatment room, a few glasses of wine and a birthday cake, I was told about the windows of Kilbrandon Church.  So of course, the next day I had to go to see them.

To get there you have to cross the "Bridge across the Atlantic" to get to Seil Island.

Officially Seil Island is in the Atlantic Ocean, but separated at its closest part by this stretch of water.  The bridge was rumoured to have been built by General Wade (as many Highland roads were) after the '45.  As you will see from the website, it was built toward the end of the 18th century with one of the Stevenson family being the architect.  In any case it is a suitably dramatic bridge toward the Kilbrandon Church and its windows.

This was the view from the entrance to the Church on the day I visited.

The church is simple inside with natural stone walls, timber roof, raked seating and a red carpet leading to and from the pulpit.  It gives a comfortable feeling to the visitor, and I suspect to the worshiper too.

Of course it was the windows of Douglas Strachan that I came to see.  As the website for the church will tell you, the windows were installed in 1938 as a memorial to the Marchioness of Bredalbane.  Some windows have been restored several times, and all of them last restored in 1999 - 2000 by Phoenix Glass.

Most of the windows seem to have water as a recurring theme.  However, the north window is one of the two that don't.

North Window

The general view of this window shows (especially on the left) the structure to hold the stained glass within the opening and behind the external glazing.  It is a clever and strong design.  But it also shows the difficulty of making the divisions in the external glazing "read" sympathetically with the divisions internally.  More thought needs to be given by the conservators on how to improve the way the external glazing interferes with the whole window.  Clearly, simply repeating the division intervals of the original window does not work very well.

This window carries a number of disparate themes.  At the top Christ as the shepherd is depicted.  The strong stylised features of the males is characteristic of Strachan's work. The text of verses 7 - 11 of Psalm 148 flows around the window giving a context for the images.

I included a portion of the central image to show how the images in the window flow from one into the other.  In this central part of the window the four seasons are represented both by colour and what the figures hold.  I wonder if the serpent at the centre represents temptations within each season.

At the bottom of the window the risen Christ is being invited in at Emmaus - "Abide with us for the day is far spent."

At the foot of the window are two entwined figures, said to show a figure bearing the body of Christ.

At the east of the church are two windows surrounding the main east window.  The north east window is like the other two windows concerned with the sea - not so surprising when you remember this church is on an island where both agriculture and fishing are important, and of course the main transport to the mainland had been by boat in the past.

This window has the theme "Do not be afraid."  At the top an angel is lifting a person from the stormy sea.  Here you can see the lozenge shapes with leaf forms that dominate the backgrounds of all the windows.  In some cases they are decorated and become part of the imagery.

The central part of the window relates to Christ walking on the sea and calming the water and the fishermen.

The east window is the main window and is also the strongest of the five windows.  The breadth of the window allows a single theme to be used.

In this case, Christ has awakened and is in the process of calming the storm that arose in crossing the Lake of Galilee.  There are strong diagonals and almost no vertical or horizontal arrangement to reduce the tension within the image.  At centre left stands Christ, his left side almost vertical, with his arm raised in a curve that acts against the strong diagonals of the boat and its rigging.  The almost ghostly figure of Christ contrasts with the straining of two of the men and the beseeching of the third.  A champion of a window.

The window to the right continues the water theme with images from the flood of Noah's time, teaching from a boat and with a seabird of some kind at the bottom.

This window is brighter and gentler than the previous two. The colour pallet is lighter and subject matter calmer.

 The top of the window has the great flood as its theme and the covenant made between man and God. It leads on to the scene of Christ teaching the parables, using the scroll with the words "He that has ears to hear, let him hear" to divide the themes.

The people gather around listening to the teaching, making a crescent shape of figures around Christ at the right.  The window is finished at the bottom by stylised sea birds diving.

The final, south, window has in some ways the grandest themes of all of these windows.  

At the top of the window is Christ in his glory in the kingdom of heaven, possibly with references from the Book of Revelations - seven churches, seven seals, seven candle sticks, seven doves.  Also included are Alpha and Omega, and two pelicans.

Slightly below two angels hold a crown of glory and one of thorns - references to the death and resurrection.

Between the angels there is a creation scene with the sun earth and moon, the division of water and land, creation of animals and birds, and at the lower centre the figures of Adam and Eve.

A nativity scene fills the lower part of the window. This includes all the traditional elements, but arranged to give some perspective and a feeling of movement.

At the foot of the window a figure lies, possibly weeping.  It echos the entwined figure at the bottom of the opposite, north, window.

These are windows of quality that have artistic merit beyond their adjunct to the worship of the congregation.  In addition, the congregation know the artistic treasure in their trust.

If you have the chance, these are windows worth visiting.