Wallsend and the Tower of Glass
In an article in the July 2008 issue of Ecclesiology Today (‘Appreciating Victorian and Arts and Crafts
stained glass: a battle half won’), Matthew Saunders laments the lack of informed critical appreciation
in England of the many outstanding windows made during the second half of
the 19th and the early 20th centuries.
Among examples of stained glass that have ‘literally taken his breath away’, Saunders singles out
a major work, The Crucifixion (1922), by the Irish artist Wilhelmina Geddes at St Luke’s, Wallsend.
“To see this Geddes is to recognise, like scales falling from the eyes, that nothing quite matches the highest
quality stained glass for intensity of artistic experience.
I stared at and absorbed it for a good ten minutes. Only a personal visit can suffice,
photographs cannot convey the way it commands the whole interior.”
As early as 1922, when her profoundly moving, powerfully painted and sonorously coloured
Crucifixion was erected in Wallsend, a future director of the National Gallery of Ireland expressed
the view that she was producing ‘the most sincerely, passionately religious stained glass of our time’,
while another critic praised her ‘strong expressive drawing’ and her extraordinary ‘power of simplifying without loss of meaning’.
Others noted the ‘religion of power and fighting, not the religion of peace and restfulness’
in her glass, the ‘great emotion’ in her ‘fine, bold drawing’ and the ‘virile, almost alarming
strength’ in her superbly painted figures.
The achievement of Wilhelmina Geddes needs to be re-evaluated. When she died in 1955,
she was justly described by The Times as ‘the finest stained glass artist of our time’, in whose work
of ‘outstanding artistry and craftsmanship… is a revival of the medieval genius’.
Our thanks to Nicola Gordon Bowe whose complete article can be found in ‘Links’
There are more windows by ‘Tower of Glass’ (in Gaelic An Túr Gloine) artists in Wallsend:
St Peter’s, Wallsend upon Tyne , North side central window.
The Good Shepherd, Mary of Bethany and David, 1921, St Peter’s, Wallsend upon Tyne
Shows the An Túr Gloine trademark (a miniature glass tower) with the artist’s signature.
Little known outside Ireland, even though there are three exceptionally fine three-light windows of his
in the chancel chapel, St Peter’s Church, Wallsend upon Tyne:
St Patrick, St Peter and St Luke (1913)
Our Lord with the Nativity and the Shepherds (1919)
Our Lord Walking on the Water (1921)