An eye for conservation

An eye for conservation

The South Oculus is one of the largest, earliest, and most important windows at the Cathedral, situated at the highest level of the South-East Transept.

Oculus in Latin means ‘eye’, and the 12th century window is one of a pair of ‘oculus’ windows in the Cathedral – its sister is the North Oculus, located directly opposite it in the North East Transept. The subject of the two windows is the Old and the New Covenant, with the Old Covenant on the north side of the building, associated with the past, and with darkness. The New Covenant is shown on the south side which is the side of light and salvation. It is a masterpiece example of Romanesque art and is the largest circular window of its date in Europe.

The South Oculus consists of a mixture of medieval glass and high-quality 19th century replacements, supported by a complicated geometric iron frame or ‘ferramenta’ and surrounded by stone work. A series of reports carried out on the window over the last few years revealed that the window had undergone damage, partly due to its exposure to the elements.

Nailbourne Forge (23)Situated 22 metres above ground, the window faces due south and is fully exposed to the rain, wind and heat, all of which played a part in damaging the glass. The panels were distorted and leaking heavily which, in turn, had an impact on the surrounding stonework.

In 2009 a project of conservation and protection began to preserve this unique and important work of art in its entirety and in the location it was created for to reduce the rate of further deterioration to an absolute minimum.

Surface treatment of the medieval iron was carried out by a specialist metal conservation firm and colourless leaded glass was inserted into it. These take the place of the historic stained glass and provide a weather tight seal that will protect the precious medieval glass housed behind. The historic glass will be set into an exact replica of the medieval ironwork which will be installed on the inside of the window. The new framework will be linked to the original ferramenta to create an interspace with ventilation gaps which will allow air movement between the two layers of glass, giving the historic stained glass a far less challenging environment and helping to prolong its life.

IMG_2975Installing the window back to its rightful place will be a detailed and specialist project and as such, it will be necessary to limit the public’s access to the South East Transept, from the end of July to September. However, we look forward to keeping you updated on the progress of this exciting project and sharing with you pictures of the Cathedral’s ‘eye’ back where it should be.

As one project ends, another begins, and the Cathedral was delighted this month to launch a design competition in connection with Malcolm Reading Consultants to find an exceptional team to revitalise the landscape immediately in front of the main Cathedral entrance.

The Cathedral’s Precincts were last remodeled in the 1940’s. The Cathedral is looking for a creative team who will combine sensitivity to the classic and historic qualities of the space with an ability to meet modern expectations. Interested teams have until Wednesday 17th July to enter the first stage of the competition. All entrants must follow the registration procedure as explained on the competition website. From the responses, a shortlist of five (the competition’s second stage) will be chosen to work up concept propositions (for which an honorarium will be paid to the unsuccessful teams).

The shortlist will be announced in the late summer and the winning team announced in the autumn with an exhibition on display at the Cathedral’s annual Open Evening on Tuesday 8th October. More details can be found at the competition’s dedicated micro site.

In previous conservation news, you may have been read that the Cathedral put in an application in November last year for funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). The proposed project was designed to harmonise important repair work to key parts of the building fabric and to improve the visitor experience. In May we were disappointed to hear the news that we had not been successful in this year’s HLF major awards. However, we were grateful to the HLF for the useful feedback and after careful consideration, it has been decided that we will resubmit another bid at the end of this year. The result of this application will not be known until April 2014.