Canterbury, UK - Canterbury Cathedral and “Mad” Henry of Fordwich

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Title

Canterbury, UK - Canterbury Cathedral and “Mad” Henry of Fordwich

Catalog Entry

The artifact, a stained glass window known as "Henry of Fordwich," can be found in Canterbury Cathedral in England. It is a part of a larger piece about St. Thomas and his healing powers. 

Henry of Fordwich, best known from the stained glass window in Canterbury Cathedral, had an undocumented mental illness that is depicted as being “cured” in the stained glass window. He was brought to St. Thomas’s tomb to be helped because he was yelling and screaming. St. Thomas’s tomb and St. Thomas himself were believed to have great healing powers, and the rest of the stained glass windows around this one shows multiple examples of different people that he cured after he had been killed.

St. Thomas was brutally murdered inside Canterbury Cathedral and quickly became a sign of healing and help to people with many varying disabilities after his untimely murder. In the year after he was killed over 100,000 people visited his gravesite for its many healing powers. The stained glass window on which Henry of Fordwich is pictured shows many of the healings that happened after his death, at his tomb site.

The stained glass window that depicts Henry of Fordwich shows a “mad” man, a general term used in many time periods of history for a variety of mental health issues, being beaten in one scene and what seems to be praying in the other scene directly to the right of the first. The story goes much deeper than just what the glass depicts. Henry from a nearby town was bound by his hands and feet and dragged to St. Thomas’s tomb. He was being hit with sticks by his captors, and he could be seen yelling different things. In the first panel, a pastor is holding a bible or a book because of how concerned he is by Henry of Fordwich’s condition. After he was blessed and helped by the pastor, he spent a night inside the cathedral. When the concerned citizens that brought him to the cathedral came back the next day, he was cured because of St. Thomas and his powers. As a gift, the beating sticks and rope were left at St. Thomas’s tomb.

In the two panels, there are a lot of different stained glass colors that all represent a different piece of the story. They are there to give context to people who are looking at the panels. The colors convey various meanings, so even if you didn’t know the story you could break down the stained glass and still figure the story out. The first color that really pops out is the red circle that surrounds both of the panels. This could represent St. Thomas and his martyrdom. The second color is how the pastor is completely washed out in white in every picture I look at. This is because white represents purity and strength through God in stained glass windows. The pastor and the bible that he is touching in the first panel are pure because they are symbols of God. The final and most important color that pops out in the stained glass window is the green in one of his captor’s scarves, which changes from one panel to another. Green in stained glass and in other paintings can represent nature and growth. The green in the first panel seems to be a much darker green representing that Henry of Fordwich has no hope and can’t grow from the point he’s at right now. But in the second panel, the green is brighter and more vibrant. He has changed and grown as a person, “expelling” his mental illness. 

In the stained glass window titled Henry of Fordwich, a man, Henry, is dragged to an altar and a pastor to help him with his "madness." In his time, he had some sort of mental illness or disability that was perceived as unfavorable and something to be cured in a miraculous fashion. 

Bibliography

Preston, Cheryl. “The Miracles at Canterbury.” The Getty Iris, 25 July 2018, blogs.getty.edu/iris/the-miracles-at-canterbury/. 

Tracy, Kisha. “Canterbury Cathedral.” Flickr, Mar. 2014, www.flickr.com/photos/kosho/albums/72157692272058595.

“Symbolism Behind Stained Glass Color in Churches.” Scottish Stained Glass, www.scottishstainedglass.com/religious-stained-glass/symbolism-behind-stained-glass-color-in-churches/.

Artifact Owner

Canterbury Cathedral

Artifact Material

Stained Glass

Catalog Entry Author(s)

Christopher Sutcliffe, Student, Fitchburg State University

Photographer(s)

Kisha G. Tracy

Collection

Citation

“Canterbury, UK - Canterbury Cathedral and “Mad” Henry of Fordwich,” Cultural Heritage through Image, accessed November 27, 2022, https://culturalheritagethroughimage.omeka.net/items/show/130.

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