The first impression gained upon entering Norwich Cathedral is one of light and airiness. It was not always thus. The building begun by Bishop Herbert de Losinga in 1096 was intended to be filled with rich stained glass and by the time the building was completed by Bishop Eborard some fifty years later this was undoubtedly the case.
That it was dark and mysterious inside can be seen by comparing Norwich with continental buildings of the same period and immediately after where the original glass survives. The prevailing aesthetic was rich and dark; perhaps too dark for the later monks for in the latter part of the 15th century the gallery running around the whole of the building at first floor level was raised and large windows inserted in every bay. These windows, probably never glazed with figurative glass, flood the building with light and account for the prevailing brightness which characterises the Cathedral today.
At the Reformation and again during the Civil War, the Cathedral suffered severely at the hands of those who hated any kind of religious imagery. Most of the stained glass was destroyed save for a few fragments preserved in what is now the Deanery.
The major restoration and refurbishment of the building undertaken from 1830 onwards by the architects Anthony Salvin and Arthur Blomefield presented an opportunity to adorn the building with new stained glass. The Great Windows at the east and west ends were the first-fruits of this campaign. The Dean and Chapter of the time encouraged many leading county and city families to contribute to the work and give memorial windows. Much of the glass in the building dates from this time and most of the well-known Victorian stained-glass firms are represented.
The other great stimulus to the commissioning of new glass was the terrible carnage of two World Wars. There are many commemorative windows in the Cathedral.
In the 1930s the whole Cloister was refurbished and the work was paid for by the families whose arms are shown in the glazed traceries of the openings in each bay.
Some of the windows you can see today incorporate fragments or small panels of medieval glass, most of which has been acquired from elsewhere.
To find out more
If you are interested in finding out more about stained glass in Norwich Cathedral, we stock John Macdonald’s book Windows of Norwich Cathedral (£5.00) in our gift shop in the Nave and online.
Workshops on making stained glass are being offered at Hungate Medieval Art