According to Christopher Winn in his book ‘I never knew that about England’s Country Churches’, St Nicholas in Moreton Dorset is the only church in the whole world to have all its windows in engraved glass. I have no reason to doubt this fact but whether it is true or not, this building is a true gem. It also happens to be the burial place of St Lawrence of Arabia, so has quite a claim to fame.
Parts of the church and the original stained glass windows were all destroyed by a German bomber in 1940. It took ten years to rebuild the church and the windows were originally replaced with green glass. The parishioners of this tiny village didn’t warm to this new look and the architect overseeing the work suggested consulting Laurence Whistler, a renowned glass engraver as well as a poet and writer. As a result he was commissioned to redesign the windows.
The first five engraved windows to be installed were in the curved apse and this work was carried out in 1958. These were designed by Whistler but produced by a commercial firm. All the remaining windows were personally engraved by Whistler and fitted over a period of 30 years between 1955 and 1985. The commissioned work must have cost the church and its donors an absolute fortune but the results are truly spectacular. Many of the windows are engraved on both sides which gives a 3D effect.
The south facing window shown below, is a thing of great beauty whether viewed internally or externally.
The most controversial engraving is that of a man hanging from a tree with coins spilling from his hand. It depicts Judas, the betrayer of Christ and is only visible from the outside. This section of the window is obscured from the inside by a wall monument. This engraving was not well received by the parishioners initially and was only installed in 2014, some fourteen years after Whisler’s death in 2000. This particular window was donated to the church by Whistler himself so he must have felt rather betrayed that it was not accepted by the church at the time of its presentation. I can quite understand why its macabre depiction of Judas would have caused a very mixed reaction.
The church is filled with light and each and every window is full of the most remarkable detail, unlike anything else you will see elsewhere, let alone in a small country church in the lovely county of Dorset.
One window is dedicated to Noel Findlay and the words in the right hand pane ‘and his gift of happiness’ have so many meanings in this rather wonderful place of worship.
To fully appreciate the superb glass engravings do click on any image to open a larger version.