For stained glass designer Deborah Lowe it was a challenging and unusual commission.
For Pendle Stained Glass it was an opportunity to help enhance a local church using its renowned expertise.
For the parishioners of St Peter and St Paul’s RC church it was a journey of hope - combined with some trepidation.
The challenge, and also the unique opportunity, was to create three new large stained glass windows, without destroying the simplicity of the rural and historic church off Stydd Lane, Ribchester in Lancashire's Ribble Valley.
A legacy by former parishioner Marie Walmsley came with a stipulation that stained glass be installed in three windows in memory of her family and remaining monies should go to the upkeep of the church.
The bequest provided a rare chance to bring contemporary 21st design to the fabric of the Grade II listed Ribble Valley building.
The church dates from 1789, was extended in 1877 and is renowned as a barn church - reportedly built in a style which would not attract unwanted attention in the days of Catholic persecution.
This barn designation is in fact a subject of controversy - with some disputing that the church was ever a barn church, maintaining it was simply built in the style of its day.
Either way, the church has a long history and although decorations may have been ornate in the past, in its present state its interior is simple and light filled.
It is the oldest Catholic church in the Salford RC Diocese and as such permission had to be sought from the dioceses’s Historic Churches Committee for the new windows.
The building’s interior style and ambience was a key issue for the church’s PPC (Parish Pastoral Council) as its former Chairman, and now secretary, Peter Rabbitts explained: “We were concerned about retaining as much of the light in the church as possible so as not to detract from the simple architecture of the church. We were just very careful we got it right in terms of the nature of the glass designed and the effect it would have on the church.”
Pendle Stained Glass of Padiham was commissioned for the windows project and the company selected stained glass designer and artist Deborah Lowe to design the windows.
Deborah, who alongside her Pendle Glass commissions also runs a freelance business in Todmorden, was delighted. She trained in fine art and worked in museums and galleries before training in stained glass.
Her work has taken her all over the country, including designing windows for two London synagogues .
She relished the chance to design something completely new and contemporary, albeit using ancient techniques and said :“I’m not a medaeval or Georgian - I’m a contemporary stained glass artist. It’s surprising how many people expect you to be under the thumb of the past. We’re modern people...Future people will be able tell these windows were put in in 2018.”
She nevertheless stressed a need to be “quite respectful of the architecture” to ensure designs are “enhancing” She added: “It’s a very beautiful church, it’s really simple and elegant.”
The window frames had to be replaced prior to the glass installation.
Deborah listened carefully to the brief from the subcommittee the Ribchester PPC asked to liaise on the project.
It was agreed the three windows would have different subject matters, but be united with a seasonal theme and river motif.
It had already been agreed, on the suggestion of a parishioner, that one window would celebrate the life of St Margaret Clitherow, the York martyr and saint whose remains are reputed to have been possibly buried in the nearby Stydd church of St Saviour.
Margaret was crushed to death in York at Easter and the window references Stydd and York’s shambles and minster as well as the spring season and her reputed last words: “Jesus have mercy one me.”
Peter said: “The story of Margaret Clitherow is part of the church’s heritage. She might well have been brought over here. But whether it’s true or false that should not detract from it.”
The second window with a theme of “Let There Be Light and Hope” features a golden cross, with a canopy of fruiting boughs referencing the tree of life. Harvest fruits including apples, pears, damsons, blackberries, nuts and other flowers and fruits of late summer and autumn add to the theme.
The third “River Window” celebrates the region’s history and landscape and depicts local flora and fauna with green and gold borders framing a scene from the River Ribble. Fishes, a kingfisher, sheep and a horse are included in the scene which shows wild flowers and a dandelion clock , suggesting the passage of time.
Handmade and textured glass have been used in all windows, with the colours carefully selected by Deborah who then meticulously painted the individually cut pieces which were then fired to create a surface which will last centuries. Some pieces of glass required several firings, depending on the detail of the design.
Deborah worked with project manager Leon Conway of Pendle Stained Glass who cut the individual pieces of glass, put the design together following Deborah's plans and leaded the completed pieces.
Parishioners are delighted with the result. Sue Wilkinson, who lead the windows subcommittee, said: ”I think the windows are wonderful. It's a time to celebrate – they look so beautiful."
* This Sunday the three windows will be dedicated in a short service at 12 noon following the parish’s 11 am Mass. Visitors are welcome to attend and light refreshments will be served in the nearby Parish Centre after the dedication.