Ficksburg - Over the years, several people had mentioned the stained glass windows in All Saints Anglican Church in Ficksburg. So when I passed through the town, a visit was in order.
Unlike the olden days, when churches stood invitingly open, the doors were locked. However, a call to a number listed on the door evoked a typical small-town warm-hearted, “Wait there. We will see what we can do.”
Within minutes the church was unlocked, protective shutters were opened, and light streamed in. Unusually, these windows were not scenes of worshipping magi, saints, or biblical highlights. Instead, all were of exquisite, delicate sprays of flowers.
The history of the windows proved fascinating. A leaflet mentions that back in 1898 some of the congregation complained that the sun shining through the plain glass windows blinded them. A double layer of coloured glass was introduced, with religious pictures on paper inserted between. Needless to say, these soon faded as the sun beat down and had to be replaced frequently.
In the 1960s the then rector, the Reverend Dennis Stewart, mentioned that the windows left much to be desired. Next, plain glass was again refitted on which a Helen Tennant (who duly became a Mrs Dickson) painted symbolic designs. Apparently the paint was not up to scratch and in 1972 she offered to redo the widows, but proposed an alternative method of art, which was given the go-ahead in 1975.
Inspired by the many indigenous flowers growing in the area, Tennant decided their beauty would make a fine theme, rather than the usual religious ones.
Each window was first designed on paper; each delicate flower was carefully and accurately drawn. Next, glass was cut in the shape of the window and placed over the design.
Multi-hued glass in many shapes and textures, was collected from far and wide, with some pieces even being imported from Italy.
After placing the glass between layers of canvas and newspaper, it was broken into thousands of different shaped fragments in a multitude of sizes, which were glued into place on the window glass, following the design underneath. Many glass pieces were layered upon each other, and by using thousands of pieces of glorious-hued glass in varying thickness and texture, a vivid three dimensional effect was achieved.
As the light changed, so did the shades, and the many flowers came alive… transformed by the sun’s shifting rays.
It took a year to complete the 10 windows, many of which were sponsored by parishioners wanting to dedicate a window in memory of a loved one. Tennant, we are told, chose the flowers which she thought might best portray the personalities of those commemorated in this way.
Walk around the church, and you will see zinnias and cosmos, a butterfly, purple grapes above a sheaf of wheat with three hedgehogs in front of it. Kiepersol and wild olive, a white dove, rosehip; the reds of sutherlandia, erythrina, indigofera, Protea caffra and erica (symbolising the “red cross” of healing of a local nursing sister).
The artist commemorated her own maternal grandparents using agapanthus, watsonias, and wild grasses, many of which grew wild on their farm. In the window dedicated to her paternal grandparents she chose primrose, hibiscus, tulbachia, celemaris, statice and rudbeckia.
Lobelia, scabius scilla, lilies, aristea and red-hot pokers all bloom and flourish in this garden of windows.
The locals are justifiably proud of their church. - Sunday Tribune