I first began to seriously notice stained glass when I saw that one of the universities I was applying to for a post-graduate study had a course on stained glass. Later, Sharada Dwivedi (who has since passed away L) informed that Jude Holliday who had written a book titled Stories in Glass: The Stained Glass Heritage of Bombay, would be conducting a book reading at Horniman Circle. So I decided to meet her and clear a few doubts, thinking it would help me in my CST research. It didn’t, but a discussion on stained glass over a cup of coffee at Theobroma at 10.30 am is a near-perfect morning.
My first question to Jude is of course how easy it was to research her book. And her answer scares me. “It was really difficult. While there are some records of the stained glass in Mumbai, the records are really old and almost crumble in your hands. In most cases the records are not kept together.”
Jude, who is a stained glass practitioner herself, has a workshop in Italy. She has conducted a week-long workshop on the subject at IIT Bombay as well.
Talking about the history of the craft in Mumbai, Jude says that it was the British who introduced glass to India. And she says it was a bad idea. “In Britain, where sunlight is less, there were large windows with glass to trap the heat. You don’t need that here in India where people do their best to escape the sun. It made more sense to use wooden shutters that kept light out.”
The English never made stained glass in Mumbai, Jude says. Throughout their occupation, they imported the glass from England. “There were two reasons for this. First the sand available in India is not the right quality and second, the demand for glass in India wasn’t high enough to justify setting up of kilns.” Thus, Jude says, there are very few stained glass manufacturers in India currently. “In the last few years I have worked with manufacturers at Pydhonie. I had to teach them to make the lead casing for the stained glass.” Each piece of stained glass is fixed within a lead casing which are joined together later to form the entire pattern.
She talks about how India’s stained glass itself is a reflection of the cultural dynamics in England at the time. In the 1800s and early 1900s there was a revival of Gothic architecture in England and this was the style adopted in Mumbai. Gothic was considered the true form of architecture and had a lot of stained glass features. Thus, when it was revived stained glass came back into fashion too.
Stained glass lent an ethereal look to the English churches. And if you don’t know what I mean just go to St Thomas’ Cathedral or the Afghan Church.
But how is stained glass preserved or restored?
There are certain guidelines for this, Jude says. The first step is to remove the entire panel. If the glass has cracks, but none of the pieces are missing, restorers should ideally plate it with clear glass on both sides. If, however, the glass is missing it has to be replaced. Every single change, and this all conservators agree upon, must be recorded.
I was curious about the designs one sees on the stained glass windows across the city. Jude dashes all my hopes of a secret cult at work here and says they are mostly just patterns that were prevalent in the classical era. There are no hidden meanings behind these. She adds the most common designs are pictorial representations of Greek mythology or Shakesperare.
As far as options go, Jude says there are fewer colours available now than earlier. “There were 40 shades of green at one time.”
I don’t have a copy of her book or the photos featured in her book. Instead, here are a few pictures I have taken of stained glass from across the city.