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Thursday, 28 May 2015

Documentary sheds new light on Abbey windows

HEXHAM’S famous Abbey has been photographed and filmed on many occasions, but it is the windows that are stealing the show in a new documentary filmed there last week.


Four of the Abbey’s windows will be featured in the film, which chronicles the life and work of stained glass artist Henry Thomas Bosdet.

St Cuthbert’s Church, at Greenhead, will also appear in the film as it too houses work by the Jersey-born artist.

And adding a touch of local flavour, Gloria Donnelly of Hexham, provided some voice-over material for the project.

Film maker Maya Hammersal said: “We used local archives to find out more about the history of the windows locally and found some comments in a parish publication.

“We wanted someone with a local Northumbrian accent to read out the comments from when the windows were first installed and Mrs Donnelly was suggested to us.”

Several other local people have been involved in the making of the film including Rector of Hexham Canon Graham Usher, Canon Raymond Best and Hexham Abbey verger John Arthur.

Canon Usher said: “We get requests to film in the Abbey every few months and we assess them for suitability but most requests are for historical or factual films such as this one.

“The team was in the Abbey for two days and I was interviewed about the iconography of the two main east and west windows.”

In the east, the window depicts the development of the Abbey from a Roman, pagan site, through the time of Etheldreda the holy virgin, up to the confirmation of new Christians in the Abbey by St Cuthbert.

Meanwhile, the west window depicts images of the Northumbrian saints and the history of Northumbria.

The windows were installed by Bosdet between 1905 and 1918, when he was commissioned by the Abbey.

The east window was the first project and was installed around 1907. Two smaller windows followed and the large west window was installed in 1918.

During that time Bosdet also crafted four windows for the church at Greenhead.

The footage filmed at the Abbey and St Cuthbert’s will contribute to the film alongside further examples of Bosdet’s work in three different European countries.

Maya and her fellow filmmaker, Mark Jones, have produced the film as a two-man team, working together on funding, planning, production and editing.

Both are natives to Jersey, where Bosdet also came from, and Maya said: “Bosdet is a Jersey-boy made good but hardly anyone knows about him.

“I came across a book called The Glass Rainbow by Aiden Smith, which is all about Bosdet’s work and Mark and I decided to go one step further and make the film about his work and his life.”

Studying how the life and times of the late 19th and early 20th century influenced and affected Bosdet’s work is a big part of the film.

But it is also an artistic project as Mark explained: “Bosdet really understood glass as an art medium and, while painting is reflective, glass is refractive, and film works well with that.

“We wanted to bring to life what a book can only print in pictures, so we have been trying to wait for just the right light to show off each window to its best advantage.”

The filming process will continue around Europe for the next few weeks before many of hours of footage can be cut and edited into a short film of around 40 minutes.

Maya and Mark are still looking for funding for the rest of the project but hope to return to Hexham at some point in the future with a public showing of the final piece.