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Coventry’s medieval stained glass

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The conservation of Britain's largest collection of loose medieval glass

Coventry Cathedral is home to Britain’s largest collection of loose medieval glass dating from the 15th century. This rare collection is thought to be the work of the city’s renowned medieval glass artist John Thornton. It reveals the faces of Coventry’s medieval forebears and gives a stunning insight into the incredible skill used in the making of stained glass. Unseen by the public for over 70 years, the collection gives a glimpse of society 600 years ago – medieval architecture, animals and flowers; the initials of wealthy locals and guilds that funded the church; winged angels sit side by side with scenes from daily life; and the faces of Coventry’s citizens still shine out.

When war broke out in 1939, the medieval glass – which by this point had made its way up to the clerestory – was removed from St Michael’s and placed in storage. At the start of WMFB’s project, the collection was kept beneath the modern cathedral but was in need of more secure and stable conditions. Each piece was also covered in centuries of dirt.

An angel. One piece of Coventry's medieval stained glass

The first step was to carefully conserve the important collection. WMFB partnered with the University of Lincoln’s conservation department and the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum to conserve the glass in public view between August and October 2012. The highly skilled cleaning and repair process was showcased in the museum throughout the summer as an exciting live ‘conservation in action’ activity. The public were invited to view the previously unseen glass, meet the conservators and watch them work.

A bird. One piece of Coventry's medieval stained glass collection

The conserved glass is now held in storage at the cathedral in environmentally stable and secure conditions. WMFB commissioned medieval stained glass specialist and leading authority on John Thornton Dr Heather Gilderdale Scott to produce a catalogue of the collection, which was completed in March 2014. Heather’s accompanying iconographic analysis of the glass was published in 2015 alongside historian George Demidowicz’s research in a new WMF book, Old Coventry Cathedral.