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The Stained Glass Windows Of Canterbury Cathedral Depicting Christs Forefathers And Mothers May Be Among The Worlds Oldest

According to recent research, stained glass windows at England’s famous Canterbury Cathedral could be centuries older than previously thought, with some panels dating back to the mid-12th century.
The multicolored windows, if authentic, would have witnessed the assassination of Archbishop Thomas Becket in the cathedral by King Henry II’s adherents in 1170.
The panels, which are mounted above one of the cathedral’s entrances and portray Christ’s ancestors, were originally assumed to have been created by workers in the 13th century.
If the revised date is correct, they will be among the world’s oldest extant stained glass works.
It would also restore a component of the structure’s history that had been assumed to be gone for a long time.
‘Apart from a few elements of stone carving,’ Leonie Seliger, the cathedral’s head of stained glass restoration, told BBC News, ‘we have hardly anything left of the aesthetic legacy of that early structure.’
‘But we didn’t think we had any stained glass until recently,’ Seliger remarked.
According to recent research, the Ancestors of Christ stained glass panels at Canterbury Cathedral (above) date from 1130-1160, at least a decade before Thomas Becket was assassinated in the church. Henry II first appointed Becket as his chancellor, then nominated him as Archbishop of Canterbury in 1162, in the hopes that his confirmation would grant the Church of England more power.
Becket, on the other hand, discovered a newfound religious belief and worked to expand the archbishopric’s authority, reclaiming church holdings lost to the monarchy and restoring the church’s jurisdiction over clerics accused of secular crimes.
He also excommunicated several of Henry’s ministers and advisors and threatened the king with ecclesiastical sanctions.
‘Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?’ Henry reportedly pleaded.
On December 29, 1170, four knights rode to Canterbury and executed Becket in the cathedral’s northwest transept.
Canterbury Cathedral in Kent, UK, is one of Great Britain’s oldest Christian constructions.
Visitors in the nave of Canterbury Cathedral Thomas Becket was a powerful archbishop of Canterbury in the 12th century.
The Ancestors of Christ panels ‘would have observed Henry II come on his knees praying for pardon, they would have witnessed the firestorm of the fire that burned the cathedral in 1174,’ Seliger said.
‘And then they’d have seen all of British history,’ says one expert. The oldest known stained glass windows are in Augsburg Cathedral in Bavaria, Germany, which were completed in the late 11th century.
Madeline Caviness, Catholic art historian, questioned the dates attributed to several of the Ancestors of Christ panels at Canterbury as early as the 1980s, citing stylistic variances.
Yet disrupting the priceless items of art and places of worship was too dangerous.
A stained-glass window in the cathedral’s chapel depicts Henry II’s knights assassinating Thomas Becket. Four decades later, University College London (UCL) researchers developed a ‘windolyser,’ a portable instrument that shines a beam on glass, causing it to release radiation that can be used to estimate when it was created–similar to how spectroscopy works.
The study’s lead author, materials scientist Laura Ware Adlington, believes some of the ancestral panels date from 1130 to 1160, at least a decade before Becket’s death.
The Canterbury Cathedral, which was founded in 597, was fully rebuilt between 1070 and 1077.
The ‘Ancestors Series’ panels were thought to be installed after a fire destroyed the structure in 1174–over a period stretching from the late 1170s to 1220.
Built in 597, Canterbury Cathedral was extensively reconstructed between 1070 and 1077, and again following a disastrous fire in 1174. However, data from the windolyser indicated that they were present long before the fire, had been stored throughout restoration, and were then incorporated to the rebuilt cathedral.
Caviness, now 83, told BBC News: ‘The scientific discoveries, the observations, and the chronology of the cathedral itself all fit together quite neatly now.’
‘I wish I was younger so I could devote more time to assisting Laura with her future projects.’
But I’ve got a few more projects to keep her busy.’ Other panels in the famous house of worship have also been questioned: in 2019, experts suggested that Victorian-era stained-glass windows were actually made in the Middle Ages. Rachel Koopmans, a medieval history professor at York University, said a panel depicting a group of pilgrims on their way to Canterbury actually dates from the Middle Ages.
Only eight of the twelve windows created to depict Becket’s story remain, and they were part of a sequence in a church built in his honor.
In 2019, Koopmans told York University magazine, “The unique panel portraying traveling visitors allows us to understand how the early pilgrims to Canterbury interacted and what they would have looked like, even down to the pilgrims’ gorgeously ornamented boots.”
She made her case for the pilgrimage window using documentation from the cathedral archives and an 1861 photograph of the window, and she and Seliger were granted permission to remove it for study.
They used digital photography and spectrometry to confirm that the glass in that window was also from the 1100s, over 800 years earlier than previously thought.
Stained glass windows were important in medieval times because they educated an uneducated public about religious narratives.
Koopmans told the magazine, ‘These were the comic books of their day.’
‘They were meant as colorful bands for visiting pilgrims to read and enjoy.’

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