Thursday, 18 April 2013

Birding in Stained Glass.

During our recent trip to Bamburgh, Sam and I visited The Parish Church of St Aidan.  I hadn’t been in this church for many years and don’t remember having taken a lot of notice of the interior on previous visits anyway.  On this occasion we had planned some photography in the evening so it did entail taking a good look around.  Although I make no claims to hold strong religious beliefs, I do like historical buildings and the atmosphere that they have, especially religious buildings.  I also like peace and quiet which isn’t always easy to find in this hectic and often noisy world of ours.  I was very impressed with St Aidan’s Church and in particular the stained glass windows.  It was really the stained glass windows which took us back for a second visit.  These windows are said to be some of the finest stained glass windows in the north of England.  Before we left on our first evening visit we found some stained glass which included depictions of wildlife and this was the principal thing that drew us back.  So there is a bird and wildlife element to this post.  Incidentally Sam got himself an interesting book related to nature too (one in a series that he collects), which was got very reasonably from the books on sale in the church.

Some of the stained glass in the church is of some age and Flemish, but what caught the eye most of all was more modern pieces which were unveiled in 1936.  They commemorate the young grandchildren of Arthur Lionel Smith, Master of Baliol College, Oxford.  Both grandchildren died at a young age and I found them very poignant.  The glass which features the granddaughter includes representation of farm animals including a small pig looking out from the pig-sty.  One of the ladies arranging flowers in the church pointed this out to us, and whilst obvious once you found it, it was not that easy to find.  The birds and wildlife are included in the glass representing the grandson and I include some images below.  Wildlife represented included Dipper, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Blackbird, Red Squirrel, Gulls, Rabbit, Grey Partridge with nest and eggs, Goldfinch, Green Woodpecker and I think, Swift.  The window alongside depicts Guillemots.

You may need your binoculars to pick the birds and wildlife out in the righthand side image.

I’ll include some other images simply because I enjoyed taking them I was pleased with the result.

Representation of St Aidan and placed above the spot where he is said to have died.

Returning to the topic of birdlife.  Of course, St Cuthbert features a good deal in the church and is represented in the stained glass and elsewhere.  The story has it that St Cuthbert was the first bird conservationist offering protection to the Eider Ducks in the region.  Hence the name Cuddy Duck which will come to little surprise to most locals.  This seems to have been nothing more than a myth perpetrated during the Victorian era.  I found no representation of Eider Ducks in the Stained Glass, nor did I find Puffins represented.  If you want Puffins just go to Seahouses, as they seem to be represented on almost everything in the gift shops!  I suppose better still take a trip to the Farne Islands and at least you’ll get the real thing.

Grace Darling is buried in the family grave in the grounds of the church.  Her rather grand memorial stands yards away from the grave, which I have only recently realised.  The memorial was placed where it was so that it could be seen by folk on passing ships and boats.  I’m sure most reading this blog will be very much aware of the history behind Grace and her father’s heroics in rescuing people from the wreck of the Forfarshire.  The Grace Darling Museum is opposite the church.  As a schoolboy I was brought up on tales of Grace Darling.  I have to admit I have only just read the details of the inquest into the death of passengers on the Forfarshire as that was not something that was ever included in the story when I was young.  Nor do I think I was ever told that the Darling family offered accommodation to visitors, which included naturalists and bird watchers, to the Farne Islands.  This brought them a little extra cash to the family income.  The family’s diet included birds, and their eggs, collected on the Farnes.   Mr Darling being the lighthouse keeper.  When the lighthouse on Longstone replaced that which the family had lived in on Brownsman, the family found the conditions far bleaker in their new surroundings.  There were no bird colonies on Longstone, however Mr Darling worked at laying sand to make conditions suitable and bird colonies built up so clearly played some part in changing the ecology of the island/s.  Mr Darlings shooting and fishing continued and I guess the family diet continued to include eggs!

One last thing about the church.  The graveyard has many interesting and old gravestones including one which depicts a skull and crossbones.  It is the grave of a pirate.  He, I assume a he, seems to have taken a prime spot in the graveyard as it is near to the main doorway of the church.


  1. Looks impressive. It reminds me of the Church at Holy Island.

  2. Saintly links between the two churches of course. I actually don't think I have been in the one on Holy Island. I must put that right.

  3. Yes I can recommend the one at Holy Island.

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