The Pricke of Conscience Window
The position of the window
This is the only window which is known to have remained in the same position in the church throughout its history.
The date of the window
Gee dates it at around 1410. He also mentions the suggestion that it was made by John Thornton of Coventry, who made the huge east window of York Minster in 1405-8. However, the recent detailed examination and full restoration of that window have effectively scouted this suggestion. The stylistic differences are too marked.
Henry Johnston’s sketch of 1670
Henry Johnston sketched both this window and the Nine Orders of Angels window in 1670. His detailed sketch of the Pricke of Conscience window including its Middle English texts were of very great help in restoring the window in 2022, in the same way that his sketch of the Nine Orders window had enabled its restoration in 1966.
This and the Nine Orders of Angels window are the only windows depicted in full in his sketchbook, which is otherwise entirely concerned with genealogical and armorial evidence depicted in Yorkshire churches in sculpture, tombs and donor panels in windows. He seems to have been doing research on behalf of his brother, who was writing a history of eminent Yorkshire families. Though some donors were named in the Pricke of Conscience window, these had become fragmentary by Johnston’s day (see below), and there has never been any room for donors in the Nine Orders of Angels window. Johnston evidently felt that they were the two most remarkable windows of all those he had seen, and blow the genealogy.
The donors of the window
Johnston records the remains of the inscriptions visible beneath the donors.
These had seemingly disappeared altogether by 1861, when they were replaced by the present inscription in Latin saying that the window was restored then.
This window, eaten away with age, was restored after fundraising, AD1861.
This was by the Revd. Robert Whytehead, rector of All Saints in 1861, who at the same time had the St Michael and St John window restored (page 29).
According to Johnston the right-hand (eastern-most) group of donors had this partly- complete inscription:
[Pray for the souls] of Roger Henrison and Cecilia his wife, of Abel Hessle and Agnes [his wife] and all the faithful departed.
The centre panel of donors had just these words remaining in 1670: et dni. H. Hesyl.
The left-hand panel in Johnston’s day had only the words fenestra, window, and uxoris, wife. But a few years earlier, in 1659, another witness recorded the name Wiloby.
Hence it appears that the donors were the Henrison, Hessle and Wiloby families.
William Hessle, of one of the donor families, was a ‘Puisne Baron of the Exchequer’ from 1421 to 1424. This means a judge in the ﬁnancial court known as the Exchequer of Pleas. ‘Puisne Barons’ were assistants to the ‘Chief Baron’ and had no particular legal background.
The text of the poem in the window
There are diffculties in the way of knowing exactly what the wording in the window originally was.
‘The Pricke of Conscience’ was a widely copied text, and over 130 manuscripts of it survive from the medieval period. They have many textual variants, as is inevitable in any family of hand-copied books. No one manuscript agrees with the text in the window. The window reduces the text of each ‘day’ to a single rhymed couplet, which is of course in many cases just a précis of the rather longer portion of the poem’s text for that ‘day’. Johnston’s sketch records all the parts of the window text that survived in 1670. Much of that text had disappeared by the time of the window’s recent restoration in 2022.
In the modern era the poem remained unknown until the ﬁrst published edition in 1863. Furthermore, Johnston’s sketch of the window remained unknown and unrecognised until 1960. This means that when the window was restored, as it was repeatedly, and necessarily, over its history, there was no evidence of what the words should be. It was repaired several times in the 18 th and 19 th centuries, including by the eminent glazier William Wailes of Newcastle in around 1844. Then a major restoration in 1861 was carried out by J.W. Knowles of York (1838-1931). Knowles replaced many of the decayed words then barely visible, or not visible at all. Unfortunately this was just before the poem’s ﬁrst modern edition of 1863, and so Knowles still had no external evidence to go on. Moreover his work contains what are now seen to be various anomalies and errors in Middle English.
Thus the couplet for ‘day’ 11 reads
of their holes & wende a bowte
But the spelling ‘their’ was unknown in Middle English, and the word was in fact painted by Knowles.
‘Day’ 2’s couplet reads
so lawe as all men sall it cee
But Johnston records it as saying
so law vnneth men sall it cee
And the published text of the poem has
þat vnnethes men sal it knawe
‘Vnnethes’ is a Middle English word meaning scarcely. Clearly the word had vanished from the window by Knowles’s time, and he had no way of knowing that it should be there.
There are other indications of where the surviving wording is Knowles’s. He appears not to have understood the medieval convention whereby the letter ‘s’ looks like its modern version only at the end of a word, and is a ‘long s’ elsewhere. Similarly the letters ‘u’ and ‘v’ were not different letters but only different forms of the same letter, the ‘v’ form being used at the beginning of a word and ‘u’ elsewhere, but Knowles mixes these up. (Hence ‘vnnethes’, previous paragraph, begins with the vowel pronounced ‘u’ not a consonant ‘v’).
The restoration of 2022 left the surviving wording in place, even when that contained these Knowles-isms, and conﬁned itself to ﬁlling in the many gaps, mostly from Johnston’s invaluable evidence. The text of the ﬁfteen couplets is now complete.
The following are close-up photographs of Johnston’s sketch of the window. His text is clearly legible. It is also interesting to see that the truncated top section of the window tracery in 1670 still contained the remains of the Christ-in-Majesty that would be expected at the apex of a Last Judgment. And in ‘day’ 14, when Death stalks the land, there is only one corpse laid out in the bed. Today the panel has two! Was a second dead body added at some time since 1670? (For what conceivable reason?) Or did Johnston not sketch to that level of accuracy? (But his commitment to accuracy is very evident.) All we can do is note this as a mystery.