Church architecture in Hertfordshire and elsewhere, art, books, and whatever crosses my path

Saturday 7 March 2020

Edward Bawdenish stained glass in St Theodule church, Sion, Switzerland

Sion, Valais, is my favourite of the places I've so far visited in Switzerland. At least three churches, several museums and galleries, two castles, and plenty of attractive domestic architecture, all within a dramatic mountainous landscape, make me think that even if one day I manage to see everywhere in the country, Sion will still be pretty near the top of my list.

Many churches in Switzerland have collections of 20th century stained glass, much of it bold and brilliant, making many of the modern windows found in English churches look tame and timid in comparison. Sion's St Theodule (next door to the cathedral. which has its own suite of 20th century glass, though very different in style) was built in 1514-16 in the Flamboyant style of late Gothic. It has a complete set of windows by Swiss artist Bernard Viglino, who was born in 1924 and is still alive today. I like them very much. As there's no Swiss equivalent of Pevsner information about them (or details about the architecture) are elusive, so I can't tell you when they were made. I'd guess 60s or 70s; according to Professor Wikipedia the church was renovated in the early 60s, so it's quite likely that they date from then.

I can't tell you much about Viglino, I'm afraid, except that as well as making stained glass he paints, makes mosaics and no doubt works in other media.* He has worked in a number of different styles. I realise that this is an Anglocentric perspective, but his St Theodule windows remind me of the pictures of English artist Edward Bawden (1903-89) with their cartoony simplifications, colouring and jollity. They both enjoy depicting animals in a lively, humorous manner like that of children's books; see for example the fish in the window of Christ walking on the water, and the sheep in that of the Good Shepherd. (Bawden never worked in stained glass, so far as I know.) 

St Theodule (Theodore in English) lived in the 4th century and was the first known bishop of Valais. He is said to have discovered the tomb of St Moritz (Maurice) in what's now the city of Saint-Maurice, where he founded an abbey. (Theodule's attribute is a devil carrying a bell, which relates to the legend that the Pope gave him a church bell, which he forced the devil to carry across a mountain pass now known as the Theodul Pass; however, Viglino doesn't refer to this story.)

Historians differ on to what extent St Maurice, who also features in the windows, was a  historical figure. He is alleged to have been a Roman soldier from Thebes, Egypt, who converted to Christianity; he commanded a legion of fellow Christians. He and his men refused to take part in massacres or to worship the Roman deities. Naturally, this brought them into conflict with the Emperor Maximian, and eventually he had some, or all, of them executed. (There are two windows by Edward Burne-Jones depicting Maurice's story in Easthampstead, Berks, England.)

I've decided to include nearly every photograph that I took, even some of poor quality, as I'd like to establish an online record of these fine windows. I started in the north west and went round clockwise. Some of the photos are inadequate because some of the windows are seriously obscured by the architecture (for example, the first one below; why would you go the the trouble of commissioning a window and then ensure that it was impossible to see complete?), some because there's another part of the building behind them cutting off the light, some because I took them in a rush as we had a train and plane to catch, but mostly because I'm incompetent. 

I've identified the subjects as well as I can. Any further information would be very welcome.

* There's a 1990 interview with him (in French) here, and a review of a recent exhibition here.

Daniel's lion and Jonah's whale

Isaiah top left, presumably Daniel below

Ivory tower; with ?Mary and Jesus

At the foot of the tower lambs are brutally attacked and eaten by ?wolves

The tower is attacked by spear-carrying winged figures

The four evangelists

SS Matthew and Mark
SS Luke and John

The martyrdom of St Moritz and the discovery of his burial by St Theodule


Scenes from Genesis 
God creating Adam

Eve picking the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge

The Expulsion from the Garden of Eden

Abraham sacrificing Isaac (or ?Cain killing Abel)

Old Testament scenes
The Tower of Babel

?The fall of the walls of Jericho


Ezekiel's vision 

Old Testament scenes

New Testament scenes

New Testament scenes

New Testament scenes

New Testament scenes

SS Francis and Clare

The archangels Raphael, and Michael defeating the Devil

The archangel Uriel, and the Annunciation

God the Father

Noah giving thanks after the Flood

Moses with the Ten Commandments

God the Holy Spirit

Mary's impregnation by the Holy Spirit

The Baptism of Christ by John the Baptist

God the Son
Adoration of the Magi


Angel pointing to the empty tomb

Miracle of the loaves and fishes

?Jesus at the house of Martha and Mary/?The wedding at Cana

Christ and Lazarus

Christ walking on water

The Good Shepherd

Jesus blessing a traveller

Jesus blessing the sick

On display in the church is a triptych by Hans Bock the Elder (1550-1624), who worked mostly in Basel. 

It was painted in 1596, and, when open (as it's usually displayed) depicts three incidents in the life of St Theodule.

The left panel shows Theodule discovering the bones of St Maurice and his Theban legion.

The central panel Theodule giving a sword to Charlemagne, thus conferring legitimacy to his reign. (This is of course symbolic, as Theodule lived four centuries before Charlemagne.

And the right panel the miracle of the wine.

When closed, an Annunciation is revealed.


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