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Community & Business

29 April, 2023

History of St Ambrose’s stained glass windows

Although the St Ambrose Memorial Church has sat unoccupied for some time due to its structural integrity, the magnificent building is far from forgotten.

By Emily Middleton

The over-century-old building has recently received funds to undertake much-needed stabilisation work, but one aspect that will remain untouched is the stained-glass windows.

Art historian, Dr Caroline Miley, recently reached out to The Gilgandra Weekly about a pair of stained glass windows that sit in Gilgandra’s St Ambrose church. Dr Miley explained that they were placed in 1934, and were created by well known artist Christian Waller.

“Bishop Wylde commissioned Melbourne artist Christian Waller to make the windows on the recom- mendation of Louis Williams, who was a great admirer of Christian’s work,” said Dr Miley.

“The bishop had received a donation of £100 and Waller made the pair for £115, which was a generous concession, since it was half her usual fee. They are memorials to James Higgs, a local postmaster, and his wife Elizabeth.”

The windows at St Ambrose depict The Resurrection and the Good Shepherd, as chosen by Bishop Long. Dr Miley explained that they refer to the fact that the orig- inal church was built by the Brotherhood of the Good Shepherd.

“They are modern in style with elements of art deco and arts and crafts, Waller was a great colourist and the windows are notable for the beauty and subtlety of their colouration, which is restrained but rich,” she said.

“The figures are stylised and embedded in surrounds of fragments of glass painted to suggest semi-abstract flowers and foliage. In each, the single figure of Christ fills the frame and a ray of divine inspiration descends on his head. He is seen in profile, typical of this artist, and while the robes are abstracted, the features and hands are painted in exquisite detail.

“The figures in the pair face each other and a curved band containing the titles sweeps across both, uniting them. In the Resurrection, Christ looks up to heaven and reaches upward.

“In the Good Shepherd window, he holds a crook and a lamb, while looking down to the earth where his ministry takes place. She portrayed the Good Shepherd as she saw him - powerful and watchful rather than overly gentle.

“An interesting detail is that Christian wished to place the marks of the Passion on his hands, but the Bishop asked her to omit them.”

Dr Miley explained that Christian Waller was a fas- cinating artist who was influenced by international trends in modern art, as well as by the British Arts and Craft Movement.

“She came from Castlemaine and studied at the National Gallery School in Melbourne. She was an intensely spiritual person, a theosophist who also had a deep interest in Christian theology and symbolism. These two aspects are frequently combined in her win- dows,” she said. Christian Waller was the first female professional stained-glass artist in Australia, and the last until the craft revival of the 1970s, Dr Miley explained. She created a huge body of work of over a hundred pan- els as well as prints and mural paintings, and was a pio- neer of modernism in art. Sadly, Christian Waller died young, of heart disease, in 1956.

Today, the windows still stand on the Wamboin Street side of the building. They are best viewed from the inside. 

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