Gateway to the Classics: In the Days of the Guild by Louise Lamprey
In the Days of the Guild by  Louise Lamprey

The Picture in the Window

How Alan of the Abbey Farms Learned to Make Stained Glass

A LAN sat kicking his heels on the old Roman wall which was the most solid part of the half-built cathedral. He had been born and brought up on a farm not far away, and had never seen a town or a shop, although he was nearly thirteen years old. Around the great house in which the monks of the abbey lived there were a few houses of a low and humble sort, and the farm-houses thereabouts were comfortable; but there was no town in the neighborhood. The monks had come there in the beginning because it was a lonely place which no one wanted, and because they could have for the asking a great deal of land which did not seem to be good for anything. After they had settled there they proceeded to drain the marshes, fell the woods in prudent moderation, plant orchards and raise cattle and sheep and poultry.

Alan's father was one of the farmers who held land under the Abbey, as his father and grandfather had done before him. He paid his rent out of the wool from his flocks, for very soon the sheep had increased far beyond the ability of the monks to look after them. Sometimes, when a new wall was to be built or an old one repaired, he lent a hand with the work, for he was a shrewd and honest builder of common masonry and a good carpenter as well. The cathedral had been roofed in so that services could be held there, but there was only one small chapel, and the towers were not even begun. All that would have to be done when money came to hand, and what with the King's wars in Normandy, and against the Scots, his expedition to Ireland, and his difficulties with his own barons, the building trade in that part of England was a poor one.

Alan wondered, as he tilted his chin back to look up at the strong and graceful arches of the windows near by, whether he should ever see any more of it built. In the choir there were bits of stone carving which he always liked to look at, but there were only a few statues, and no glass windows. Brother Basil, who had traveled in France and Italy and had taught Alan something of drawing, said that in the cities where he had been, there were marvelous cathedrals with splendid carved towers and windows like jeweled flowers or imprisoned flame, but no such glories were to be found in England at that time.

The boy looked beyond the gray wall at the gold and ruby and violet of the sunset clouds behind the lace-work of the bare elms, and wondered if the cathedral windows were as beautiful as that. He had an idea that they might be like the colored pictures in an old book which Brother Basil had brought from Rome, which he said had been made still further east in Byzantium—the city which we know as Constantinople.

In the arched doorway which led from the garden into the orchard some one was standing—a small old man, bent and tired-looking, with a pack on his shoulder. Alan slid off the stone ledge and ran down the path. The old man had taken off his cap and was rubbing his forehead wearily. His eyes were big and dark, his hair and beard were dark and fine, his face was lined with delicate wrinkles, and he did not look in the least like the people of the village. His voice was soft and pleasant, and though he spoke English, he did not pronounce it like the village people, or like the monks.

"This—is the cathedral?" he said in a disappointed way, as if he had been expecting something quite different.

"Yes," drawled Alan, for he spoke as all the farmer-folk did, with a kind of a twang.

"But they are doing no work here," said the old man.

Alan shook his head. "It has been like this ever since I can remember. Father says there's no knowing when it will be finished."

The old man sighed, and then broke out in a quick patter of talk, as if he really could not help telling his story to some one. Alan could not understand all that he said, but he began to see why the stranger was so disappointed. He was Italian; he had come to London from France, and only two days after landing he had had a fall and broken his leg, so that he had been lame ever since. Then he had been robbed of his money. Some one had told him that there was an unfinished cathedral here, and he had come all the way on foot in the hope of finding work. Now, it seemed, there was no work to be had.

What interested Alan was that the old man had really helped to build the wonderful French cathedrals of which Brother Basil had told, and he was sure that if Brother Basil were here, something might be done. But he was away, on a pilgrimage; the abbot was away too; and Brother Peter, the porter, did not like strangers. Alan decided that the best thing to do would be to take the old man home and explain to his mother.

Dame Cicely at the Abbey Farm was usually inclined to give Alan what he asked, because he seldom asked anything. He was rather fond of spending his time roaming about the moors, or trying to draw pictures of things that he had seen or heard of; and she was not sure whether he would ever make a farmer or not. She was touched by the old man's troubles, and like his polite ways; and Alan very soon had the satisfaction of seeing his new friend warm and comfortable in the chimney-corner. The rambling old farm-house had all sorts of rooms in it, and there was a little room in the older part, which had a window looking toward the sunset, a straw bed, a bench, and a fireplace, for it had once been used as a kitchen. It was never used now except at harvest-time, and the stranger could have that.

Nobody in the household, except Alan, could make much of the old man's talk. The maids laughed at his way of speaking English; the men soon found that he knew nothing of cattle-raising, or plowing, or carpentering, or thatching, or sheep-shearing. But Alan hung about the little room in all his spare time, brought fagots for the fire, answered questions, begged, borrowed or picked up somewhere whatever seemed to be needed, and watched with fascinated eyes all the doings that went on.

The old man's name, it appeared, was Angelo Pisano, and he had actually made cathedral windows, all by himself. Although Italian born, he had spent much of his life in France, and had known men of many nations, including the English. He meant now to make a window to show the Abbot when he returned, and then, perhaps, the Abbot would either let him stay and work for the Church, or help him to find work somewhere else.

The first thing that he did was to mix, in a black iron pot that Alan found among rubbish, some sand and other mysterious ingredients, and then the fire must be kept up evenly, without a minute's inattention, until exactly the proper time, when the molten mass was lifted out in a lump on the end of a long iron pipe. Alan held his breath as the old man blew it into a great fragile crimson bubble, and then, so deftly and quickly that the boy did not see just how, cut the bottle-shaped hollow glass down one side and flattened it out, a transparent sheet of rose-red that was smooth and even for the most part, and thick and uneven around a part of the edge.

Everything had to be done a little at a time. Angelo was working with such materials as he could get, and the glass did not always turn out as he meant it should. Twice it was an utter failure and had to be re-melted and worked all over again. Once it was even finer in color than it would have been if made exactly by the rule. Angelo said that some impurity in the metal which gave the color had made a more beautiful blue than he expected. Dame Cicely happened to be there when they were talking it over, and nodded wisely.

" 'Tis often that way," said she. "I remember once in the baking, the oven was too cold and I made sure the pasties would be slack-baked, and they was better than ever we had."

Alan was not sure what the glassmaker would think of this taking it for granted that cookery was as much a craft as the making of windows, but the old man nodded and smiled.

"I think that there is a gramarye in the nature of things," he said, "and God to keep us from being too wise in our own conceit lets it now and then bring all our wisdom to folly. Now, my son, we will store these away where no harm can come to them, for I have never known God to work miracles for the careless, and we have no more than time to finish the window."

They had sheets of red, blue, green, yellow and clear white glass, not very large, but beautifully clear and shining, and these were set carefully in a corner with a block of wood in front of them for protection.

Then Angelo fell silent and pulled at his beard. The little money that he had was almost gone.

"Alan, my son," he said presently, "do you know what lead is?"

Alan nodded. "The roof of the chapel was covered with it," he said, "the chapel that burned down. The lead melted and rained down on the floor, and burned Brother Basil when he ran in to save the book with the colored pictures."

The glass-worker smiled. "Your Brother Basil," he said, "must have the soul of an artist. I wonder now what became of that lead?"

"They saved a little, but most of it is mixed up with the rubbish and the ashes," Alan said confidently. "Do you want it?"

Angelo spread his hands with a funny little gesture. "Want it!" he said. "Where did they put those ashes?"

Lead was a costly thing in the Middle Ages. It was sometimes used for roofing purposes, as well as for gutter-pipes and drain-pipes, because it will not rust as iron will, and can be easily worked. Alan had played about that rubbish heap, and he knew that there were lumps of lead among the wood-ashes and crumbled stones. Much marveling, he led the artist to the pile of rubbish that had been thrown over the wall, and helped to dig out the precious bits of metal. Then the fire was lighted once more, and triumphantly Angelo melted the lead and purified it, and rolled it into sheets, and cut it into strips.

"Now," he said one morning, "we are ready to begin. I shall make a medallion which can be set in a great window like embroidery on a curtain. It shall be a picture—of what, my son?"

His dark eyes were very kind as he looked at the boy's eager face. The question had come so suddenly that Alan found no immediate answer. Then he saw his pet lamb delicately nibbling at a bit of green stuff which his mother held out to it as she stood in her blue gown and white apron, her bright hair shining under her cap.

"I wish we could make a picture of her," he said a little doubtfully. Angelo smiled, and with a bit of charcoal he made a sketch on a board. Alan watched with wonder-widened eyes, although he had seen the old man draw before. Then they went together into the little room which had seen so many surprising things, and the sketch was copied on the broad wooden bench which they had been using for a table. Then holding one end of a piece of string in the middle of the lamb's back, Angelo slipped the charcoal through a loop in the other end, and drew a circle round the whole. Around this he drew a wreath of flowers and leaves. Then he laid the white glass over the lamb and drew the outline just as a child would draw on a transparent slate, putting in the curls of the wool, the eyes and ears and hoofs, with quick, sure touches. This done, he set the white glass aside, and drew Dame Cicely's blue gown and the blue of a glimpse of sky on the blue glass. The green of the grass and the bushes was drawn on the green glass, and the roses on the red, and on the yellow, the cowslips in the grass. When all these had been cut out with a sharp tool, they fitted together exactly like the bits of a picture-puzzle, but with a little spce between, for each bit of the picture had been drawn a trifle inside the line to leave room for the framework.

Now it began to be obvious what the lead was for. With the same deftness he had shown throughout the old glass-worker bent the strips of lead, which had been heated just enough to make them flexible, in and out and around the edges of the pieces of colored glass, which were held in place as the leaden strips were bent down over the edges, as a picture is held in the frame. When the work was finshed, the medallion was a picture in colored glass, of a woman of gracious and kindly bearing, a pale gold halo about her face, her hand on the head of a white lamb, and a wreath of blossoms around the whole. When the sun shone through it, the leaden lines might have been a black network holding a mass of gems. Dame Cicely looked at it with awed wonder, and the lamb bleated cheerfully, as if he knew his own likeness.


The medallion was a picture in colored glass.

Then there was an exclamation from the gateway, and they turned to see a thin-faced man in the robe and sandals of a monk, with sea-blue eyes alight in joy and surprise.

"Is it you, indeed, Angelo!" he cried. "They told me that a glass-worker was doing marvelous things here, and I heard a twelvemonth since that you were leaving Normandy for England. Where have you been all this time?"

The upshot of it all was that after much talk of old times and new times, Angelo was asked to make a series of stained glass windows for the Abbey, with all the aid that the friendship of the Abbot and Brother Basil could supply. He kept his little room at the farm, where he could see the sunset through the trees, and have the comfortable care of Dame Cicely when he found the cold of the North oppressive; but he had a glass-house of his own, fitted up close by the Abbey, and there Alan worked with him. The Abbot had met in Rouen a north-country nobleman, of the great Vavasour family, who had married a Flemish wife and was coming shortly to live on his estates within a few miles of the Abbey. He desired to have a chapel built in honor of the patron saint of his family, and had given money for that, and also for the windows in the Abbey. The Abbot had been thinking that he should have to send for these windows to some glass-house on the Continent, and when he found that the work could be done close at hand by a master of the craft, he was more than pleased. With cathedrals and churches a‑building all over England, and the Abbot to make his work known to other builders of his Order, there was no danger that Angelo would be without work in the future. Some day, he said, Alan should go as a journeyman and see for himself all the cathedral windows in Italy and France, but for the present he must stick to the glass-house. And this Alan was content to do, for he was learning, day by day, all that could be learned from a man superior to most artists of either France or Italy.

 Table of Contents  |  Index  |  Home  | Previous: Venetian Glass  |  Next: Troubadour's Song
Copyright (c) 2005 - 2020   Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.