Shrewsbury Cathedral, which contains seven of Margaret Rope’s finest and largest windows, is now a familiar stop on the tourist trail around the town.
This is because the cathedral authorities have decided to make the building very user-friendly to visitors. Stewards are on duty every afternoon Mon-Sat during the high season (and also mornings on Saturdays); and the adjacent cathedral-cafe The Orchard, which opened last year, makes the tourist experience even more comfortable indeed!
For a Margaret Rope enthusiast, the glory of the cathedral must be the startling Great West Window, though the recently created War Memorial Chapel also features a small Pieta sculpture by her.
The exact visitor opening-hours are 1pm-4pm Mon-Sat (also 10am-1pm Sat), but not Sundays. These are the hours up until October 31st.
It’s a strange thing, but the way Shrewsbury Cathedral is aligned is almost perfect for anyone wanting to see Margaret Rope’s great ‘West Windows’ in their full glory.
The fact is that the cathedral is not in the traditional East-West orientation for a church. The nineteenth century designers, including the great architect, Edward Pugin (son of Augustus), had a very narrow space in which to fit the building, so it is actually aligned almost North-East to South-West.
(So, although everyone refers to the large windows at the end of the building as the ‘West Windows’, this is not strictly correct!)
And why is this better for us?
Well, usually to see a West Window in the full glow of the sun you need to turn up sometime just before sunset of course.
But with a south-west facing window, it is only necessary to be there in the late afternoon. And, in this instance, that is fortuitous… because the cathedral is only open until 4pm!
So, especially in the six months of the summer-season, visitors get the chance to see Margaret’s masterpiece in its full glory if they go along any time after 2pm.
It could not have been planned better…
For stained-glass enthusiasts, there are more than just the Margaret Rope windows, wonderful though they are.
There are some Hardman windows too and a fascinating large east window. The latter is not of the quality of the Rope windows… but then, that would be a hard ask.
On quiet days, the stewards may even be persuaded to show you the ‘hidden’ St Ambrose window, which is not usually seen by the public.
The newly-created War Memorial Chapel which lists all of the congregation’s members who fell in the two world wars has been designed as a quiet place of reflection – all are welcome. The pieta that you see above the roll-of-honour board was sculpted by Margaret Rope; it is a little battered now, but it is still recognisably her style.
For local people, the St Winefride Chapel is another great draw, as Winefride is the patron saint of Shrewsbury.
Guided tours do take place occasionally; pipe-organ societies and stained-glass groups often request them.
A guide book is available for £2.50 – but the stewards are often very knowledgeable, so it’s also worth asking them if you have a question.
So… if you are in Shrewsbury, especially on a sunny day, make your way to the cathedral, located on Town Walls (SY1 1TE).
This description by Mother Mary McMonagle sums up the vision that Margaret was trying to put over in the Great West Window – :
“The height and depth, the length and breadth of Margaret’s spiritual vision is revealed in the West Window of the cathedral.
It is a window on to the universal dimensions of our holy religion, portrayed on several distinct but inter-related levels.
At the apex is the symbol of Christ as the Lamb, slain yet standing above the heavenly Jerusalem, in the heavenly firmament.
Below the entire universe is found – the vast oceans, celestial lights – sun, moon and stars; dry land, plants, seed-bearing trees with fruit; song birds and flying birds.
Then too the angelic choirs and heavenly song.
This is the full chorus of Creation praising God.”
2018 Opening Hours: Shrewsbury Cathedral is open to visitors (from Easter through to the end of October) Monday to Saturday 1pm-4pm, and Saturdays 10am-4pm. On Sundays, visitors are welcome to a Sung Vespers service at 6pm.
From November 1st to Easter 2019, the cathedral is open Saturdays only, 10.30am-3pm.
To volunteer to be a steward, contact Gerrie Hadfield
_ _ _
Please leave a comment below if you wish.
Your email address is kept private and never revealed to others