The emblematic stained glass windows rise high in Bewley’s tea shop on Grafton Street. Larger than life framed inhabitants, created with colors that glow like emeralds, rubies, & sapphires, look down at the diners pouring pots of tea and spreading jam on scones. The eyes and aliveness of the figures are what captures me.
The graceful people portrayed in the windows are part of a larger family of beings designed by Harry Clarke. Harry was a genius, a leader in the Irish Arts and Crafts movement. There are his blue stained glass fairy tale like beings at the Hugh Lane National Gallery, there’s St Columba, St.Bridget, St. Brenden and St. Patrick on display. More saintly beings are portrayed in windows of local Dublin churches like John’s Lane Church. The stained glass windows in Bewley’s Tea House are lovely in that one can just be a bit hungry or thirsty to find them. One doesn’t need to be in the mood for a museum, gallery, or church visit. Clarke’s stained glass work is the finest accompaniment to any bit of food or prayer. The forms rise up gracefully, firmly grounded in earth, their eyes glint & follow the observer. A dancing fairy like woman appears ready to walk out of the frame. The knight standing next to her, in armor with a long sword, is ready to defend. And he’s as handsome as she is winsome.
What was it that Harry Clarke saw that other artists didn’t? What is his story? How did he capture vibrancy of his subjects in a way that reveals their life force ? How is it that Bridget seems to be caught in conversation with St. Brenden over in the next window. Is she saying Ha, here I am, Goddess resurrected as saint, I do abide, Brenden. And Brenden, hero of traveling over high waves across the wild Atlantic to North America knows how to hold his tongue.
Brigid is still revered as a goddess of hearth and home, of light and strength. As a saint, she’s known as a miracle worker with the gift of blarney. They are proof of the strength of the oral tradition. The stories survived difficult centuries of time. The stories were told to me at bedtime, and now I introduce them to you. People still follow Columba’s paths in Donegal to meditate and pray. Women still journey to find Bridget’s wells and fires. Patrick is still in each shamrock, under all our feet as we wander. Below are two links to view some of Harry Clarke’s fine windows.