Getting the Bump
Naughty at Church

How to Recognise: Medieval Church Windows

Chancel lancet windows  ChetwodeLancet windows in the chancel at St. Mary and St Nicholas' church, Chatwode. There are three lancets in each of the North and South walls, (you can see the edge of the South lancets on the right) and a nice set of five stained glass lancets in the East wall.   

How Old Are Church Windows?
Part Two

This is the second part of a short series; a guide to identifying church windows. In this short series you will learn to recognise their type and approximate age, and from that you may be able to work out the age of that part of the church. Usually these identifying details are just in the top section of a window.

But you will often find later windows inserted into earlier walls. For example, in Wing church there’s a 14th Century Medieval window in a 9th Century Saxon apse.

To read the other parts of this series just click on the links below:

How to Recognise Saxon and Norman Churches Windows
How to Recognise Classical Period Church Windows
How to Recognise Gothic Revival churches

Early English
1189 to 1280

Plate tracery church window at Dinton  BucksPlate tracery at the church of St. Peter and St. Paul, Dinton. I think this is a bit further along in the evolution towards bar tracery than some earlier, plainer examples. This photo replaced one of a plate tracery window from the gothic Revival period; this window is an original example.

From around 1220 the tall thin lancet window began to be used on it’s own or in groups as at Chetwode (top). The hoodmould, that ridge of stone above a window that directs rainwater away, would cover a group of lancets but leave a space above.

This space began to be used for small additional windows, to produce what’s known as plate tracery.

Early English window  ChetwodeAn early English window at Chatwode church. Note the pointed arch.

Over time window designs evolved and the stone between the lancets and between the additional windows above became thinner. It became the bar tracery that we can see between the areas of glass in a window.

That section of a window that in earlier times would be a lancet, is referred to as a light; you might have a two or three, or even as much as a seven light window. The vertical bar tracery between each light is a mullion.

The development of the pointed arch instead of the semicircular Norman type meant there was more flexibility in the shape and size of windows.

I used copies of the two books above (these are Amazon links) while researching this series.

1280 to 1377

St James the Great  Hanslope 03Hanslope church's Geometric East window has intersecting tracery. The curved parts of Geometric tracery are of constant radius; each curve is either part of one circle (as here) or is a full circle. Compare with Great Horwood's flowing tracery, below.

At the end of the previous period there’s a bit of an overlap with start of the Decorated period, when there are Geometric designs with repeating shapes like the East window of St James the Great at Hanslope. A different, perhaps more obviously geometric window can be found at Broughton.

Early Geometric windows could have circles, or three lobed shapes known as trefoils, or four lobed quadrofoils of glass above the lights.

Geometric tracery at Broughton  BucksThis Reticulated period window at the church of St Lawrence, Broughton, has quadrofoils in a repeating pattern. You can imagine the pattern extending beyond the window edges.

In this period cusps began to be used. Cusps are pointed shapes on the edge of the tracery pointing into the glass; four cusps inside a circle of tracery would create a quadrofoil. Later in this period came Reticulated designs like the South aisle windows in Olney church, where the bars form convex and concave compound curves.

Reticulated church windows  Olney  BucksWindows in the South aisle of St. Peter and St Paul's, Olney with curvilinear or flowing tracery. There's plenty of cusps to be seen here.

Late in to the Decorated period came flowing tracery. Normally, the simple geometric shapes were abandoned in flowing tracery windows, though you can see a couple of quadrofoils in Great Horwood's fine East window.

The Decorated style lasted into the 15th Century, only slowly giving way to the next type, the Perpendicular.

Flowing tracery East windowFlowing tracery at St. James, Great Horwood.

1377 to 1547

Perpendicular windows  HillesdenLarge windows and thin walls in the Perpendicular style at All Saints, Hillesden let huge amounts of light in. You can see these windows from the outside in the centre of the picture at the top of part one. There are no buttresses on the outside of this part of the church, because the walls at right angles brace each other.

Easiest to recognise, the Perpendicular style was a great leap forward. It’s named for its straight vertical mullions. These perpendicular mullions now extended all the way, or most of the way, from the base of the window to the top.

This is a strong design, so allows for much bigger windows with bigger lights and more scope for stained glass.

Churches like this have deep external buttresses that mean the walls can be made thinner and still be strong.

The light from the windows is not obstructed inside as much as it would be with the older, thicker walls. Perpendicular churches like Hillsden are light and airy.

Broughton churchThis Perpendicular window is at Broughton.

I like the Perpendicular style, but I also like the Saxon and Norman windows, set into their massive church walls. Next week we will look at windows from the classical period.

If you have any comments or questions about this post, please leave a comment below.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

You write about a window you've labelled as "geometric" in St Lawrence, Broughton. This window actually appears to be reticulated, due to its net like patterns built from ogees followed by inverted ogees. The term "reticulated" refers directly to this kind of repeating net-like arrangement, as it does in the markings of reptile scales.
Your next examples, in South aisle of St. Peter and St Paul's, Olney- you've labelled "reticulated" but these show no reticulation. There's no net-like pattern there, and the presence of a few ogees doesn't automatically make it so. These windows exhibit curvilinear/flowing tracery and would be more appropriately labelled as such.

One last thing: Hanslope church's Geometric East window, which is definitely geometric in style, exhibits "Intersecting" tracery that is quite particular to around the turn of the 14th century. Notably, this is where the geometric style loses its circles- might be worth adding earlier geometric windows to really show the style, and noting the intersecting style your existing example has.

Thanks for this, HBDA. I have begun to edit the post according to your advice. As soon as there's good weather, I will take some more photos and complete the re-edit.


I would be interested to know whether there was in Medieval churches a convention for placing figures of Adam and Eve in East windows. From the images I have seen here, it doesn't look like it. The reason I would like to know is because I volunteer at a Gothic Revival church in Cambridge where we have an East window with two prominent figures of Adam and Eve, produced at a time when Darwin's evolutionary theories had recently been published. I am wondering if there may have been a hint of a reaction against Darwin (who had been educated in Cambridge and tutored by geologist Adam Sedgwick, who refuted his theories) in this choice of figures.

Hi Karen

there doesn't seem to be such a convention, at least in Buckinghamshire. There's a stained glass subject list at the link below, but the entry for Adam and Eve only has three examples, none of them Medieval; two are mid 19th Century, one is late 20th Century.

If you hadn't thought of it already, an internet search for "Medieval stained glass" (and) "Adam and Eve" might help you. You might also find it interesting to do a similar search for wall paintings, as these often show scenes from the Bible.


Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)