Medieval window glass, Bury St. Edmunds

window glass fragment

974 fragments of medieval window glass were recovered during the excavations of St. Saviour’s Hospital in Bury St Edmunds.

Many of the fragments were decorated with floral patterns or inscriptions. The window glass has been coloured in two ways: staining or painting. There are a large variety of colours including: blue, green, ruby and yellow. There are five main categories of designs represented in the window shards: foliate, architectural, geometric, figurative and inscriptions. A staggering 166 different unique designs have been identified across all five of the categories listed above. Many of these designs can be seen in stained windows across Norfolk, but amazingly some have also been spotted at Cantebury Cathedral.

drawing of all pieces of window glass fragments found
Illustrated fragments show foliage designs (top), inscriptions (bottom left) and possibly angel wings from a figure (bottom right, not photographed). (illustration by Donna Wreathall)

It is unknown how many stained glass windows there were at St. Saviours Hospital, as only the setting for the ‘West Window’ still survives in the ruins today. It is suggested in historical sources that the ‘West Window’ may have also been known as the ‘Great Hospital Window’. The ‘Great Hospital Window’ almost certainly contained decorated glass and was even fitted with shutters:

“In 1385-6 a shutter with twigs was bought for the great window in the hospital for 6d”

The variety in the fragments here suggest that there were other stained glass windows, as the evidence shows varying quality and thickness of the glass, the different inscription designs and a 50 year gap in the dates of some of the glass fragments which range from the Late 1300’s to the Early 1400’s.

Sadly the chapel and hospital were dissolved along with the Abbey in 1539 and was later at least partially demolished. A small section of the ruins are still standing alongside the rear car-park of the large Tesco supermarket on the St. Saviours interchange.

Further Information
1353-1439: accounts of claviger (1353/4, 1374/5), hospitaller (1385/6-86/7) and bailiff (1438-9). Accounts held at Suffolk Record Office, Bury St. Edmunds Branch.

Caruth, J and Anderson, S. 1997. St. Saviours Hospital, Bury St. Edmunds (BSE 013): A report on the Excavations 1989-1994. Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service Grey Literature Report 97/20

The ‘From the Vaults’ series is written by the County Council’s Archaeological Archives Officer

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: