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Oldest Stained Glass Windows in Britain

Updated: Sep 15, 2021

Canterbury Cathedral’s stained glass windows are the oldest in Britain, scientists at University College London have discovered.

Researchers at UCL did not set out to prove the windows were the oldest in Britain but were trialling a new method to analyse glass, which allows them to date it without having to take any fragments. The team examined four windows known as the Ancestors of Christ, which feature up to 30 prophets. They analysed the windows over three years and discovered that they were in fact made between 1130 and 1160, more than half a century older than previously thought.

It means that the windows were in place when the infamous murder of St Thomas Becket took place inside the church walls in 1170.

Even more extraordinarily, perhaps, is that the windows also survived the fire that ravaged the church in 1174. Conservationists previously believed that no windows had survived this.

The massive stained glass window depicts 86 near-life-size figures of the male ancestors of Christ, looking down on the choir and eastern extension of the medieval cathedral. Made of coloured glass, with the details of the faces and costumes painted on the surface, and they are significant examples of what was at the time a relatively new art - monumental stained glass. They are also considered to be among the most famous works of English medieval painting.

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