People are being urged to catch a last glimpse of famous 16th century glass in Lichfield before it disappears for five years.

At the end of July the East End of Lichfield Cathedral will be boarded up in preparation for the removal of the internationally important Herkenrode glass to renovation workshops, and the restoration of masonry which surrounds and supports it.

The medieval pinnacles and buttresses are so weathered that the failure of any one buttress could lead to a catastrophic collapse of the wall and roof and the shattering of the glass.

The work will take five years and cost an estimated £800,000 to complete. So plan your visits now – see the windows in place for the next few weeks; watch the work on carving and replacing of masonry on site over the next five years; and keep an eye out for the completion of the restoration project in 2014.

Michael Wood, the well known broadcaster and historian, and his wife Rebecca Dobbs, are shooting a ten minute DVD which tells the story of the glass from its origins in Flanders to its installation in the Cathedral – the complexities of the restoration and an exploration of what the scenes in the glass tell us of the Renaissance mind.

The glass was made between 1532 and 1539 for a Cistercian Nunnery, founded in 1132, at Herkenrode in Flanders, now part of modern Belgium.  It is thought that the sketches for the windows were produced in the Antwerp workshop of Pierre Coecke (1502-1550) who having visited both Rome and Constantinople, is credited with bringing Italian Renaissance ideas to the Netherlands.

The nunnery attracted the nobility whose families gave generously to sponsor the windows. The subject matter is partly narrative covering the life of Jesus and partly portraying donors praying before an altar or image, often with a personal patron saint to intercede. In a very special way the glass encapsulates the values and practices of life during the Renaissance period, especially the central role of religion and culture.

The glass was brought to England in 1802 by Sir Brooke Boothby when Napoleon dissolved religious houses in his Europe and purchased by the Lichfield Chapter to replace the stained glass destroyed during the English Civil War. 

For more than 1,300 years Lichfield Cathedral has been a centre of pilgrimage, discovery and spiritual refreshment. It is Britain’s only three-spired medieval cathedral and an architectural treasure trove of international importance.

The Very Reverend Adrian Dorber, Dean of Lichfield, said:

‘The story of the glass, of its ruin and rescue, serves as a powerful metaphor in this Cathedral Church of the death and resurrection of Jesus which stands at the heart of the Christian faith.  These windows are breath-taking, and we will miss them. Do come and see them before the restoration work begins!’ 

Special tours to view the glass before it disappears are taking place between June 22-26 at 1pm and 7pm daily (except June 23 and 24 when there are no 7 pm tours).  Tickets are available from Lichfield Cathedral Shop at 9, The Close, Lichfield, or by calling 01543 306150.

Founder of Lichfield Live and editor of the site.