Gwe gerrig yw ei guras,
Stained glass was a rare luxury in the fifteenth century and was only used in churches, abbeys and a few great houses. Before the use of glass in windows, keeping out the draught and obtaining natural light was done by using shutters in glassless windows. Therefore, the use of glass in windows - and especially stained-glass - provided a new extravagance: warmth inside the hall as well as colourful decoration.
Glass was customarily imported into Britain from glass-making centres such as Normandy, Rhineland and Venice. Being such a fragile material, early medieval glass has only survived in fragments (for medieval stained-glass in Wales see Stained Glass in Wales). However, considering the shape and space within surviving walls of abbeys like Valle Crucis and Tintern abbey, it is possible to visualize the impact these large stained-glass windows would have had in the time of Guto’r Glyn.
Guto refers to glass at Strata Florida abbey: Gwnaeth gyfrestri gwydr ffenestri (‘He made rows of glass windows’, poem 8.57), and at Valle Crucis abbey:
Gwe gerrig yw ei guras,
Gwydr a’r plwm yw godre’r plas.
His breastplate is a web of stones,
of glass and lead are the sides of the palace.
According to one tradition, the glass that was once at Valle Crucis abbey was moved to one of the nearby houses during the dissolution of the monasteries.
Stained-glass windows in houses were very similar to church windows in terms of shape, with panels forming an arch at the top. Within the individual panels there were small pieces of glass attached together with strips of lead to create simple geometric patterns or more complex designs. It is unclear when glass became common in private houses. Enid Roberts believes that the description of Sycharth, the home of Owain Glyndŵr, by Iolo Goch implies that glass was used in the windows at the end of the fourteenth century. This would have been very expensive and a particular mark of high status.
Guto’r Glyn describes the home of Dafydd Cyffin ab Iolyn in Llangedwyn as Y llwyn gwydr yn Llangedwyn (‘The gleaming grove in Llangedwyn’, poem 94.1) which could indicate that the house had glass windows. The impressive size of the large window in Cochwillan suggests that it, too, may have had some stained glass. And the glass at Coldbrook is described more than once by Guto:
Elment ym fal maen Tomas
Ydiw’r plwm a’r gwydr a’r plas
An element to me like the stone of Thomas
are the lead and the glass and the house
The imagery used on stained glass windows varied considerably. In houses, heraldic images were popular, such as the coat of arms of the family or a variation on a figure that was associated with the owner’s lineage. In religious buildings, saints and Biblical images were extremely common. Occasionally, important individuals, such as the donor of the window, were portrayed. A window of particular interest is the one at Llangadwaladr Church, Anglesey, which dates, in part, to c.1490. Meurig ap Llywelyn, one of Guto’s patrons, was the donor and he and his family have been incorporated in the design.
Bibliography: P. Smith, Houses of the Welsh Countryside (London, 1975 and 1988), 39-40.
: R. Marks, Stained Glass in England during the Middle Ages (Abingdon, 1993), 30-31.
: E. Roberts, 'Tŷ pren glân mewn top bryn glas', Transactions of the Denbighshire Historical Society, 22, (1973), 12-47.
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