“I lived inside the pictures and from the inside of them looked out upon a world less real than they.”
The late afternoon sun reflected gently off the pillars of St. Philip’s Cathedral, Birmingham as we headed back to our hotel after a full day of walking in Black Country – the English West Midlands just north and west of Birmingham and south and east of Wolverhampton. Against a blue sky with scattered white clouds, the Cathedral emanated both strength and serenity, in contrast to the busy streets of Birmingham revving up for Friday night celebrations.
The doors were open and we walked in, unaware that we would be seeing the artistic endeavours of the Pre-Raphaelites. Last year, I read that in 1861, William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti went into partnership and transformed the way in which churches and houses were decorated. But I did not fully understand or imagine the extent of their creative genius.
The stained glass windows were breathtaking. Designed by Edward Burne-Jones in the years 1885 – 1891, and created by the firm of William Morris and Co., the windows depict the Nativity, Crucifixion, Ascension, and Last Judgment. Edward Burne-Jones envisioned the humanity of Christ in these windows. Even more touching, this was the very church in which he was baptized.
Edward Burne-Jones was born in 1833, in nearby Bennett’s Hill, in the midst of the Industrial Revolution. His creative talents developed under the tutelage of his father who was a carver, framer and gilder. He was a gifted painter but he is known for his contribution to the rejuvenation of the stained glass tradition in England.
In the silent reverence of the sanctuary, I recalled the words of William Morris, the life-long friend of Edward Burne-Jones…
“…I do not want art for a few; any more than education for a few; or freedom for a few… ”