Stained Glass Windows

The stained glass is perhaps the cathedral’s crowning glory. It was the largest stained glass project ever executed and has some of the finest Victorian stained glass in the country, produced by the leading company of the time: Clayton and Bell.

Conceived by Bishop Benson and Canon Mason, it adopts a fine late Victorian High Church approach, influenced by the Oxford Movement. The full scheme was subject to various revisions during the building work. Both Benson and Mason continued to be involved even after they had left Truro.

The scheme has three big themes: the Trinity, Biblical stories and the history of the English church. Alongside these are three lesser themes: Cornwall, baptism and St Mary’s aisle.

The rose windows

The greatest windows are the three great rose windows which reflect the Trinity;

God the Father/Creator appears in the great West window which is divided into seven sections for the seven days of creation

Jesus, the Son of God, is at the heart of the North transept rose surrounded by the prophets and his antecedents: Jacob, Isaac, Judah and Abraham, leading through to Mary and Joseph

The Holy Spirit is at the centre of the South window with the twelve apostles around the edge

The biblical stories

The biblical stories are told in and around the quire. The great east windows tell the story of Christ and his Passion.

The lancet windows below the West rose and the upper clerestory (which are very difficult to see in detail) show stories from the Old Testament: Adam and Eve, through to Noah, Elijah and Jonah. The quire transept windows tell the story of Jesus’ early life and ministry.

The history of the church

The third great theme is the portrayal of the history of ‘the Catholic Church, and of the English Branch of it, ranging from the earliest days since Pentecost down to the present day’.

This is in many respects the most unusual sequence, and the theme is quite challenging for a modern audience. There are some interesting inclusions like the medieval artist; why is Joan of Arc depicted?; And who are some of the more obscure individuals and saints who are included, people like Dean Colet, Margaret Godolphin, or Sir John Eliot? The choices reflect the late Victorian sensibilities and the enthusiasms of the two creators, like, for instance, the execution of King Charles I.

However, there is a flow to the sequence that does make sense. The theme starts in the South transept through to the retro-quire and quire. This section begins with St Peter receiving the keys from Christ and ends with St Benedict.

The North transept continues the story with St Piran, St Germanus and St Petroc, through to St Augustine and the conversion of the English, including St Gregory’s famous phrase ‘Not Angles but Angels’.

The nave windows move on to ‘the mediaeval period Church, the Reformation and the missionary labours of modern times, and some leading figures of the latter English Church, poets, apologists, evangelists, missionaries and pastors.

It is in this section that we find people like John Wesley, Charles I and a range of names that are far from being household names today, like John Keble. It is the selection of subjects here which gives the whole a sense of the high Victorian period from which this sequence received its inspiration.

Both Bishop Benson and Canon Mason are included in the final window which brings the story right up to date with the foundation of Truro Cathedral.

The other themes

The other three smaller include the Baptistry, which predictably focuses on baptism with the life and death of St John the Baptist, but it also includes windows following the life of Henry Martyn, a nineteenth century Cornish missionary who travelled to India and Persia. Martyn seems to have been a particular favourite of Canon Mason, one of the first canons of the cathedral. It also includes some Cornish saints like St Constantine and St Winnow.

Cornwall’s industry is included in the west nave windows, which feature mining and fishing through images of miners, fishermen, Newlyn harbour and Dolcoath mine.

And finally, there are the windows in St Mary’s aisle, which has some mid-Victorian windows from the original St Mary’s church on traditional biblical subjects, as well as some medieval fragments.

More information

There is much more detail about the windows in the excellently researched website by Michael Swift, a leading expert on stained glass, who has spent many years as the Diocesan Stained Glass Advisor.  Visit website

If would like to book a stained glass windows tour at the cathedral, please visit our tour page for more information.