Stained-Glass Windows At Birmingham Cathedral Returned To Their Former Glory In Time For Christmas

19 October 2023

Birmingham Cathedral’s four remarkable stained-glass windows will soon be unveiled after their extensive conservation.

The Burne-Jones and William Morris windows at the cathedral are considered some of the finest stained-glass windows in the world and the most spectacular pieces of art in the city. 

Their conservation has involved over 500 days’ worth of cleaning and repair work. During this time, more than 20 panels were removed from the windows to undergo specialist restoration before being re-installed in the cathedral. This has been completed, thanks to support from National Lottery Players via funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Expert conservators from Holy Well Glass have completed their work to clean and repair the windows partially in situ and partially in their workshop in Wells. The old protective grilles have also been replaced on the outside of the building, to improve both protection and the view of the windows from the outside. These works will ensure that these precious pieces of the city’s history are preserved for future generations to enjoy. The east-end windows will be completed in time for the return of Christmas in Cathedral Square on  Wednesday 15 November.

The windows show four well-known scenes from the life of Christ. At the east end of the cathedral, visitors can gaze up at three of the windows depicting the birth of Jesus in The Nativity, Christ’s return to heaven in The Ascension, and reflect on the scene of his death in The Crucifixion. Under the tower at the west end of the cathedral, a fourth window shows the world’s final days in The Last Judgement

The Divine Beauty Project, which has included not only the conservation work itself, but also a programme of engagement activities, has been generously supported by National Lottery Players, via a grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund. This support has enabled Birmingham Cathedral to run scaffolding tours free of charge over five months of conservation work, in addition to school workshops, the commission of some graffiti street art inspired by the windows on the worksite hoardings, and drop-in sessions with the conservation team for the public to get within touching distance of some of the panels being cleaned and repaired.  

On Saturday 9 September, over 320 visitors joined in with a day of free stained-glass-themed activities as part of a Stained-glass Saturday family drop-in event at the cathedral.

Anna Pitt, CEO at Birmingham Cathedral said: “Over 3000 people have experienced the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of getting onto our scaffolding and seeing our windows up close during their conservation. 

“Around a third of visitors on our tours had never been into the cathedral before, which really shows how the windows can capture the imagination of so many new people. The invitation is there for all to come and see the windows in their full glory over the coming months. 

“We are grateful to all our supporters, including The National Lottery Heritage Fund, for helping to fund both the conservation of these historic treasures, and to bring the experience and stories behind them to life for so many people.”

Jack Clare, Director at Holy Well Glass, said: “It has been a privilege to oversee the works to preserve these four remarkable windows, it really has been a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get up-close to Burne-Jones’ master works.

“I’d like to pay special mention to our gifted team of conservators, who have expended great effort and taken immense care in their work throughout the project. 

The project has clearly gripped the imagination of visitors, and we have greatly enjoyed interacting with them throughout the extensive programme of public engagement events. 

“We hope once the windows are unveiled many of them will return to experience them in their full glory.”

Robyn Llewellyn, Director, England, Midlands & East at The National Lottery Heritage Fund said: “I’m delighted that The National Lottery Heritage Fund is supporting Birmingham Cathedral in cleaning and repairing this important heritage, preserving its legacy for future generations. I cannot wait to see the stunning windows unveiled later this year, made possible thanks to National Lottery players.”

Events celebrating the windows and their conservation will be ongoing until summer next year. This will include the return of the sell-out Luxmuralis light and sound experience Divine Beauty at Night on 4, 5 and 6 January 2024.  The cathedral will also continue to offer schools workshops and there will be a special celebration for the end of the project to share some of the fascinating insights gained during the works.

If you would like to donate to the Divine Beauty Project, you can still do so via the Birmingham Cathedral website. Birmingham Cathedral would like to thank everyone who has supported this project over recent years.