Hidden and Vanishing History
One of my earliest chapel visits for this research was back in May 2018. At the time I did not go to the trouble of editing the series of 60+ images, since I was displeased with the composition, with the background being so easily visible even at f/2.0. When given permission to take the photographs, I was advised that I would be the first person to photograph the windows. In a perfect world I would have returned for photo shoot at a later date, armed with a large sheet to mask the exterior. However, just two weeks after my visit the chapel was demolished… I was the first, last and only person to photograph the windows.
I have now edited the images, but although there is a striking elegance and simplicity to the six lights, I have no plans to print these because of the detraction of the cars. This is not beyond the possibilities of image editing, but it would be many tens of hours of work – time that I simple do not have at the moment.
When the extensive building works are complete, there will be a new chapel at St. Hilda’s College, located within the new Boundary Building. I will make a point of enquiring about stained glass within the new building – these may be being rehoused, or perhaps something new is being commissioned?This notion of vanishing history is one that has been a backbone to my work. The demolition of chapels is not (currently) commonplace in Oxford, yet for buildings whose intention is always to welcome people, there is a pervading sense of vanishing history albeit to a lesser degree, with some chapels being more hidden than was once the case, thanks to declining congregations.
Focussing specifically on my research, the stained glass within places of worship can cause problems: On my planning visit to Somerville College Chapel (also in May 2018) I was confronted by an unexpected juxtaposition of huge window depicting Christ, within a nondenominational chapel. Further information about the window can be found in my original post HERE. At the time I was advised that some groups using the location had objected to the depiction of Christ and as a result the possibility of concealing it behind curtains was being considered.
I was minded of this just last week when carrying out a tentative visit to a very local chapel that has been undergoing restoration and improvement works for the past six months. The home of the Summertown United Reformed Church is an attractive chapel that features a stained glass east window clearly visible from my house. For a Presbyterian church, the inclusion of stained glass is unusual, so it was of little surprise on entering the building to discover that the east window is covered by an enormous curtain. The Minister commented that the windows had caused objections and upset in the past.
I am yet to see the window as my unplanned visit coincided with a snagging meeting between the Minister, architect and the foreman. However, I am intrigued as to what would have caused offence and also wonder why this chapel, purpose-built in 1893 would have featured a stained glass window in the first place. Sadly, such history may have been lost to time.