New stained glass windows help to make a statement

“We desperately need to replace our window,” said a pupil at St Mary's Academy in Walkley, writing to fundraisers on behalf of the nearby 150 year old St Mary’s Church.

Wednesday, 24th July 2019, 8:49 am
Updated Wednesday, 21st August 2019, 4:36 pm
St Mary's Church, Walkley: Rev'd Melanie Fitzergald and Kath Boyd looking at the new stained glass windows celebrating the 150th anniversary of the church

“Spiders will come inside, and the church will soon become damp,” the pupil continued. “Glass could fall out and hurt someone, and that would be extremely painful.”

The letters sent by the pupils of St Mary’s church school worked: the £39,000 needed to create a new 21st century stained glass window and artwork for the people of Walkley was raised by small individual donations, concerts in the church, bric a brac sales and from the Sheffield Church Burgesses.

“The old window was so dilapidated it would actually flap about in a strong wind,” said St Mary’s vicar, the reverend Melanie FltzGerald.

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St Mary's Church, Walkley: New stained glass windows showing images of stories involving women from the Gospels

“So we started fundraising three years ago for something inspirational that would be a wonderful way to mark our 150th anniversary.”

Melanie contacted Mark Angus, an acclaimed English stained glass artist now based in Bavaria, who agreed to make St Mary’s a window that he said would probably be his last major piece of work of such a size.

“It took three people six days to put the windows in,” said reader at the church Katharine Boyd.

“And the weather was vile. It was windy and pouring with rain, and at the end, he sent me seventy feet up the ladder to clean it!”

Artist Mark Angus and parishioners fitting the new window

Since the window was installed a few weeks ago, the church has seen a growing number of art loving visitors: the window glows, says Melanie FitzGerald, and she added that she and other visitors find more in the artwork every time they see it.

“The fact that something new is going into an old traditional church has really caught people’s imaginations.”

The old plain leaded window gave a stark view of the angular church hall roof behind it, said Melanie, which was quite an ugly scene for a vicar to consider while preaching.

“The idea of the west window should be that people see it and are inspired when they go out into the world.”

Detail from the new gallery windows showing stories involving women from the Gospels

The specially treated modern glass means the new west window stays luminous as the light changes over the day, she added.

Church warden and historian Vicky Romégoux said the window was partly inspired by the Ruskin In Sheffield project, which has been working in Walkley since 2015.

“We hope this window will encourage people to think about our craft and artistic heritage here,” she said.

“This area really is still a hot bed of art, and while there is a lot of work going on to restore the old buildings in Walkley, this artwork is brand new.”

St Mary's Church, Walkley: Rev'd Melanie Fitzergald and Kath Boyd looking at the new stained glass windows celebrating the 150th anniversary of the church

There’s now also a series of small ‘cartoon’ windows by Mark Angus near the church entrance celebrating ‘women’s encounters with Jesus,’ as Melanie put it.

She notes that women other than St Mary rarely feature in the stained glass windows of old, and she hopes people will make their own judgements about these small windows featuring the often overlooked occasions when women featured in the Gospel. She said: “I hope one thing these windows say is that women are appreciated and equal in the church.”

Melanie was among the first of England’s women priests, and has been St Mary’s vicar for 16 years, while also helping raise around £200,000 for windows, roof repairs, restored bells and better heating.

The new windows will be officially dedicated by the Bishop of Sheffield in a service on Sunday September 8th, attended also by the artist Mark Angus, with a series of public open days on the 14th, 15th and 28th September, and 13th and 26th October.

Church warden Carol Hawke meets locals of all faiths and none in the church marvelling at the new glowing blue window, featuring Bavarian angels and stylized Gospel scenes.

“They stand here and look at one window that’s 150 years old, and one that’s eight weeks old,” she said.

Pupils from St Mary's Academy, Walkley, seeing the new window for the first time

The difference, said Melanie, is that the old window was paid for largely by one famous local benefactor, William Turner.

“But we’ve done this new one together,” she said.

“I hope it makes the statement that we’re here to stay.”

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