▪On the trail of a lost window

The work of researching Margaret Rope’s life & works goes on. As each month passes, new discoveries are made.
We know there are a number of lost windows, which might well be in store somewhere, unknown – and slowly, details are emerging of them. Here, the Margaret Rope specialist, Roger Hall, outlines how his investigations have turned up the details of one from a Scottish site.

It started with a tip-off from a contact of mine in Shrewsbury: the Diocesan Archivist, Father Peter Phillips, who had found a Margaret Rope cartoon. (A cartoon in this context is a full-size design drawing for a window).

Cartoon of Virgo Potens at Harlescott

I emailed Fr Peter and he sent me a photograph of the cartoon (see pic right), which he had found behind a wardrobe in the presbytery of St Winefride’s Catholic Church, Monkmoor, in Shrewsbury, and which was now hanging in Our Lady of Pity Church, Harlescott, in Shrewsbury.

It depicts Our Lady: around her head are the words ‘VIRGO POTENS’ (Virgin Most Powerful). This is one of the titles by which Mary is addressed in the prayer sequence known as the Litany of Loreto, first recorded in the 16th century, but this particular representation of Virgo Potens is based on visions experienced by the nun St Catherine Labouré of the order of The Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul, in 1830.

What made this cartoon particularly interesting was that it did not correspond to any known Margaret Rope window.
Cartoons were only produced when a commission had been received – so where was this window? There was one possibility: the Margaret Rope Archive has a list of windows in the artist’s own hand which includes a reference to a window of Our Lady at ‘Lanark Hospital’. We knew of two Margaret Rope windows in Lanark, which is in southern Scotland, but neither was of Our Lady and they were both in the town’s St Mary’s Catholic Church. Some research on Lanark Hospital was needed.

Lanark Catholic Church
Lanark Catholic Church. It is just yards from the old hospital site.

It turned out that there had once been a St Mary’s Hospital in Lanark, which was closed some decades ago and then absorbed into a complex of council offices. What was most significant was that the hospital had been run by the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul, for whom Virgo Potens would have had a particular significance because, as we have observed, St St Catherine Labouré was one of their most famous members.
I contacted the nuns, who still have a nursing home in Lanark, and they forwarded my query to their Provincial Archivist in London. She searched her records and found this photograph (below) of the hospital oratory chapel.

Lanark Hospital Chapel interior

So we had found the window corresponding to the cartoon!
… or at least parts of it, for the lower part of the cartoon, a globe encircled by a serpent, is missing from the window in this photo – presumably there was no room for it – and the two-line inscription at the bottom has been moved to the middle of the two adjacent lights.
A window which was designed for a tall lancet has been squeezed into three short rectangles. What’s been going on?

The most likely explanation seems to be that Virgo Potens was originally installed in a larger lancet window in what was then the hospital chapel and that for some reason the chapel was later relocated to a different part of the hospital, with smaller windows – the stained glass being adjusted to fit. The hospital was altered at various stages of its life – there were fairly major building works around 1921 – so perhaps the original chapel was demolished or repurposed. We shall try to find out more.

The loss of the globe with encircling serpent is unfortunate because it formed an important part of this particular vision of St Catherine Labouré. It represents the sins of the world: Mary is crushing the serpent, a Biblical reference, to Genesis 3:15, and a sign that she is the mother of Christ, who conquered sin. Virgo Potens is incomplete without it, and the window would certainly not have been made like this originally.

And the other outstanding question is, of course, whether the window still exists somewhere within the current Lanark Council office complex – or was removed to another location. (It is possible to make out what appears to be the former hospital, now surrounded by more recent buildings, on an aerial photograph).

Enquiries are proceeding. If you think you can help these investigations, please email me.

Roger Hall, November 2020

Copyright in the photo of the Lanark Hospital Chapel belongs to the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul. We thank them for allowing us to use it.
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