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Thursday, 18 June 2015

Modern art in City churches

St Giles' Cripplegate is one of the few remaining medieval churches in the City of London and, after surviving devastating bombing during the Blitz, it sits at the heart of the modern Barbican development.

The East Window was designed by Gerald Smith of the Nicholson Studios, a London-based stained glass studio, which made the window in 1960. The firm's output covered the years of restoration following both World Wars. After the medievalism of the Gothic Revival and the intense spirituality of the Arts and Crafts movement, Nicholson and Smith's inventive, light, plain windows were much appreciated. The East Window follows the pattern of the medieval window, of which traces came to light as a result of war damage. The design incorporates many figures of historical significance to the church, as well as the instruments of the crucifixion at the top.

The West Window was designed by the Faircraft Studios and installed in 1968. In the centre is the coat-of-arms of the City of London, which is flanked on its left by the coat-of-arms of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and on its right by that of the Bishop of London. In the lower frame, from left to right, are the coats-of-arms of Robert Glover, Somerset Herald of Arms in the reign of Henry VIII, who was buried in the church; of John Milton; of the Earls of Bridgewater; Oliver Cromwell, and Sir Martin Frobisher. There were ten Earls of Bridgewater and three Earls of Kent buried in the church.

There are two modern stained glass windows on the north side of the church. In the baptistery is the Cripplegate Window, which celebrates the centenary of the Cripplegate Foundation which gives grants, advice and support to local organisations. The Foundation was formally established in 1891 but its origins lie in gifts made to St Giles' for the poor and the needy dating back centuries: John Sworder made the first recorded gift in his will, dated 2 April 1500, and the head at the top of the window represents Sworder, the first of the pious donors of the parish that we know by name. The window, erected by the stained glass studio Goddard & Gibbs and designed by Sheelagh McKinlay from Bow, East London, also shows other beneficiaries of the Foundation, and the buildings in the middle ground represent St Giles' and St Luke's churches and the Barbican development.

On the north wall of the church is a memorial window to Edward Alleyn, the parish's generous benefactor. The design is the work of John Lawson of stained glass studio Goddard & Gibbs and depicts Alleyn in the centre, as well as the Fortune Theatre (which he founded), almshouses (which he built in the parish and which were destroyed in the Second World War), and St Luke's Church, Old Street.

Under the organ gallery are four busts of famous parishioners, on loan to St Giles' from the Cripplegate Foundation. They were modelled by the sculptor George Frampton, whose most famous statue is that of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens. On the left as you enter the space under the gallery is the bust of Daniel Defoe, author of Robinson Crusoe, who was also a government agent, pamphleteer, and brick-maker amongst other roles. The next bust is of the author John Milton, perhaps the most famous resident to be buried at St Giles'. He is also commemorated with a bust and a statue in the south aisle, and his burial place is marked by a stone on the floor near the pulpit. On the other side of the glass doors are busts of Oliver Cromwell, who ruled England during the Protectorate in the 1650s, and the non-conformist John Bunyan, author of Pilgrim's Progress, who is buried in the dissenter's graveyard of Bunhill Fields, a short walk from St Giles'.


Benjamin Britten - Curlew River.

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