After the Great Fire of London, when the church of St. Lawrence Jewry was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren and reopened for worship in 1677, the windows were filled with white glass set in lead and supported by wrought iron saddle bars which conformed to the shape of the arched openings into which they were built. During the latter half of the nineteenth century all the windows were filled with stained glass designed by different artists and to different patterns. The original wrought-iron work was taken out, and that which replaced it was adapted to fit the Bible stories which were being illustrated. These windows often let in very little light and by 1905 so may of the windows were filled with stained glass that artificial lighting was necessary in the church. Almost no description of the windows or who designed them survives and the only clear photograph of a window is of the old Sir Thomas More window. The only descriptions available for most of these windows are about who they were memorials for, not the window itself. All these 19th century windows were destroyed when the church was burnt on December 26, 1940 during the air raid on The City. After the destruction of the church a small chapel was constructed in the tower. The chapel contained the first two Webb windows in the church. These windows are still in the chapel today, one shows St Lawrence and the other his gridiron.
With the destruction of the 19th century glass the opportunity was taken to restore the pattern of the wrought-iron work to that which was extensively used by Wren and, within this pattern, to design the new windows. A large proportion of each window was filled with white glass, and the colour mainly restricted to the central panel, to enable sunlight and brightness in St. Lawrence to enhance the gold and colour of the decorations within. (The exception to this arrangement is in the East windows.)
With the exception of the two Roundels in the Sanctuary by Lawrence Lee and the Roundel in the Vestibule by Petri Anderson, all the windows are the work of the one craftsman, Christopher Webb, whose immaculate draughtsmanship, sense of colour and spiritual awareness has greatly added to the atmosphere of peace and serenity within the Church. This opportunity of carrying out a comprehensive scheme to design and replace the windows by a single artist was almost unique. The scheme comprised a range of dignified standing figures, each with its own significance and related to the human scale. The eariest sketch for the main windows is dated July 1954, from this date the windows took six years to complete and each window was completed as the funding became available.
The Windows in more detail:
The two windows on either side of the altar depict St Paul and St Catherine. In the past St Paul’s Cathedral and Balliol College, Oxford (whose patron is St Catherine), have had close links with the church, choosing the vicars at different stages in our history. There are four surviving sketches of the St Paul window from the planing stage however the window has several differences with Paul being depicted as older than in the original sketch and holding a scroll. In comparison there is only one sketch of the other east window. This sketch was labled as 'Balliol College window' and had the name St Cecilia. This was later changed to St Catherine as the sketch has the name St Cecilia crossed out and replaced with the St Catherine. The window is also significantly changed for this original sketch with almost everything changed apart from the layout which is the same as the St Paul window. In the windows there are also two small churches in the arms of the angels. The one on the left is damaged (the roof is missing) and the one on the right is restored. In addition the window on the left shows a depiction of the The City on fire with air raid searchlight behind the angel. This is a reminder of the fact that the church has been extensively damaged and restored several times. There is a final east window that is easly overlooked. This window shows Christ the King and is situated at the top of the east wall, directly over the main altar. This gives the impression of Christ the King looking over the congregation of the church.
On the South side there are five wonderful windows:
The window at the pulpit near the front depicts Thomas More (1478 – 1535). He was born in Milk Street, just a few yards from this church, and became the Chancellor of England in the reign of Henry VIII from 1529 to 1533. Around 1501 he delivered a series of lectures in this church about the relationship between Christianity and government. He lectured on Augustine's "City of God" or one might say the relationship between the Kingdom of Heaven and the Kingdom on Earth, or Church and State. He further explored this theme in his book Utopia (1516). In 1535 he was executed. Before the 19th century windows were destroyed in the war there was also a Thomas More window in the church. This window was in the western bay of the nourth aisle. It was also the only pre-war window for which a clear photograph survives. This original More window was similar to the Webb version. However it contained considerably more coloured glass with the borders around More being thiker and the lower part of the window showing three aspects of his life and work.
St Mary Magdalene, St Michael & St Lawrence ⇒
The centre three windows represent
saints connected with the parish. In 1677 the parish of St Mary Magdalene, Milk Street was combined with St Lawrence Jewry. Mary Magdalene was the first person to meet Jesus on the day of his resurrection. In 1892 the parish of St Michael Bassishaw was also amalgamated with St Lawrence Jewry after the church of St Michael Bassishaw fell into disrepair and collapsed. St Michael is one of the Archangels of heaven – a messenger of God. The third window is of our patron saint, St Lawrence. He was one of the seven deacons of the city of Rome, under Pope Sixtus II, in the second century and was martyred on a gridiron (which has become his symbol – you will see it on the wind vane on top of the church spire and on the window shown at the top of this page). No sketches of the St Mary window remain, however the cartoon has survived. The sketches for both the St Lawrence and St Michael window remain and are very similar to the windows with only a few details changed. In the case of the St Michael window the dragon in the window is smaller though more fearce when compared with the sketch, in the sketch the dragon has its head lowered in submission though in the window its head is raised in anger. In the St Lawrence window a purse was added, this is probably to signify his role as the first archivist and treasurer of the Church.
William Grocyn (1446 – 1519) was one of the foremost scholars of his day, celebrated by many including Erasmus and a tutor to Thomas More. He was Vicar here from 1496 – 1517. This window was the last to be made and has only one surviving sketch which is marked 'Revised' indicating there were earlier sketches made. The Grocyn window also balances the More window on the other end of the south wall. Together these two, slightly more simple, windows complement the three more elaborate Saint windows on the south wall.
The windows along the wall of the North (Commonwealth) Chapel represent the Commonwealth as it was in 1957. The central of these three commonwealth windows has St George slaying the dragon. This image is then surrounded by four shields showing the flags of England, Scotland, Norhern Ireland and Wales. For Wales Webb chose to use the image of a dove and hill which are symbols of St David, patron saint of Wales. On either side of this St George window are two more Commonwealth windows, the left one containing the crests of Australia, New Zeland, Canada and the Federation of Malya. The right window has the crests of the Union of South Africa, India, Pakistan, Ceylon and Ghana.
The window behind the altar shows the Lord Jesus Christ ascended in heaven, flaming in glory. After he died and rose from the dead, he ascended into heaven where he now rules as King. This is very different from the original plan for this window which was for it to show the then new Queen Elizabeth II. The sketch for this design has survived and is most similar in layout to the windows of St Paul and St Catherine. At some point after this first sketch it was decided that window should instead show Christ. This led to a small outline sketch of Christ rising in glory above an image of the crucifixion. The new idea was likely popular as this theme was used in all following sketches and the architect for the church, Cecil Brown, incorporated the sketch into plans for the east end of the Chapel. Two further sketches were made containing mostly stylistic changes. The fourth and last of the sketches contain three changes and was a photograph of the third design with the changes overlaid. Two of these changes were only changes to colour and position of lead lines. However the final change does bear some significance. In the original 2 sketches of this window, on either side of the crucifixion scene, there were two angels carrying the a crown of thorns and a spear with rod and sponge. This was changed to having the symbols of Christs crucifixion on shields instead of being carried by angels.
One of the most popular windows in the church is tucked away at the back in the vestibule. In the centre is Christopher Wren, architect of the 1677 church. With him are his Master Carver, Grinling Gibbons, and his Master Mason, Edward Strong. The small cameo at the bottom shows the 1950’s architect, Cecil Brown, planning the restoration with the Vicar. The reason Webb felt able to relate the people of his time to those who had historically worked on the church may have been because this window was not in the liturgical space of the church. This is also the only church stained glass window in London to show Sir Christopher Wren. To know more about this window, please click here.
For more information about the windows of St Lawrence Jewry there is the book, 'The Windows of St Lawrence Jewry' by David Parrott that is availible to purchase at the church.
To know more about Christopher Webb, there is a lecture on Friday 13th March 2020 at 6.15 for 6.45pm in the Art Workers Guild, 6 Queen Square, London WC1N 3AR. See leaflet for more detaisls and for tickets visit www.bsmgp.org.uk.