On the pleasantly warm and sunny evening of 18th May 2013, St. Michael’s RC church, South Petherton was absolutely packed with local parishioners, plus a contingent from ‘Holy Ghost’, Yeovil.

Patrick Reyntiens, an internationally renowned stained-glass artist, who has the appearance and manner of a man much younger than his 88 years, was seated on a dais at the front of the church, looking completely relaxed whilst chatting to his host, Richard Davey, before being introduced to his audience.

For the next hour, Richard conducted a conversation between himself and Patrick, in which he asked no less than 17 questions about his life and his many famous works in stained glass commissioned in both this country and abroad, interspersed with his choices of music. What follows are just some of the highlights of what turned out to be a fascinating duologue.

What emerged from Patrick’s responses to opening questions about his schooldays at Ampleforth College in north Yorkshire was his love of art and of music, mainly classical. He recalled having an art teacher who had a penchant for playing l8thC music during classes, and he had just loved it. Later, he could see the connections that were being made between the arts and the senses and the value of their interaction in terms of creativity.

These had been happy years, despite the threat of war with Germany, so it was not surprising that his first choice of music was ‘Ave Maria Stella,’ sung by the Monks at Ampleforth. His later choices reflected a taste for music by such composers as Brahms and Messaien, Lizt and Chopin, amongst others.   

In 1943, at the age of 17, he had left school and volunteered for the Scots Guards.  However, according to Patrick, it was his guardian angel who had stepped in when he was about to go to Germany, since he had subsequently fallen ill with a serious infection and was instructed not to join his regiment, so was spared the ‘front line.’ Indeed, Patrick, who is a devout Catholic, later mentioned that his guardian angel had intervened on a number of occasions when his life had been threatened whilst driving on the road!

Since there were no doubts at all in Patrick’s mind as to his choice of career, he took up a place at the Regents (Polytechnic) College of Art in London. To his delight, he succeeded in discovering some amazingly cheap ‘digs’ at £2.50 per week and he continued his studies at the College for the next two years. 

 It was whilst he was studying at the Edinburgh School of Art that he met his future wife, Anne Bruce. Once he had become engaged to Ann, it was imperative that he found employment and by 1954 he was working in the studio of Eddie Nuttgens, a stained glass artist living in Buckinghamshire, and was earning £3 per week. It was during that year that Patrick had his first big break.

Knowing that Sir John Betjeman had played a part in introducing Patrick to John Piper, a designer of stained glass, Richard asked him how this had come about. He recounted his meeting with Sir John, a friend of Ann’s parents, who had introduced him to Piper over a sherry that he recalled had lasted three-quarters-of-an-hour before lunch.  It appeared that he was, essentially, looking for a designer who would be able to convert his designs into stained glass, as he had been commissioned to make windows for Oundle School Chapel.

Whilst Patrick had risen to the challenge, he then had to transport the trial glass panel to John’s house. He amusingly recounted the story of the hair-raising journey riding on his Vespa to Piper’s studio at Henley-on-Thames, with the precious trial panel of glass clenched between his knees! In the event, Piper had been delighted with Patrick’s work and his modernist approach to design; this was just the beginning of a partnership that was to last for 35 years.

Working together as co-designers, Patrick and John produced some of their most notable work, such as the massive Baptistery window in Coventry Cathedral that, according to Patrick, had been inspired by the suggestion to ‘throw a bomb at it.’ The result is an incredible explosion of violet/deep mauve that immediately attracts the eye and, in Patrick’s words, ‘It lives beyond its period.’

There are also the great windows in Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, which had been inspired by Patrick’s reading of Dante, but, again, he and John had worked together as co-designers. The panels of glass were 12 feet wide, each weighing one-and-a-half tons, so that the stained glass work had to be very cleverly engineered. Begun in 1962 and completed in 1967, this major project was an incredible achievement!

But did he regret the sheer immobility of these great works in stained glass? On the contrary … ‘It’s a wonderful feeling to think that your work will survive for many hundreds of years. It’s something to support one spiritually, mentally and psychologically and keeps you going.’      

It was during the first two years of the work on Liverpool Cathedral that Patrick and his wife, Anne, a painter, set up an art school at their Buckinghamshire home, Burle, who came to study stained glass, printmaking, ceramics and sculpture.

Teaching was to continue alongside working on commissions when, in 1976, he became head of fine art at the Central School, and a further generation of students were to benefit from his infectious enthusiasm for Craft and his wide-ranging knowledge of the history of art and architecture. 

 It’s clearly a source of pride to Patrick that his son, John, continues to follow in his own footsteps and is a very significant stained glass artist with commissions for Her Majesty the Queen and for the Houses of Parliament.  His designs include the strikingly beautiful window at the rear of St. Michael’s church, and this was to be the first one to appear in the film. He, too, utilises modernist designs to great effect, and a photograph of this window accompanying an article by Colin Young about the church can be found on the ‘Church’ page of the website.

John, devotes much of his time to helping his father to execute his ideas in stained glass, in addition to completing his own commissions.  Together, they have designed and made windows for churches in many parts of Britain, including St. George’s RC church, Taunton in 2010. The window, comprised of 7,000 pieces of glass, was described as being ‘reminiscent of mediaevalism in its image of Christ in 13th/14thC style.’

Just one year earlier, and at the age of 84, Patrick had worked in association with Graham Jones to create a set of windows for St. Martin’s church, Cochem, in Germany. This major commission was the inspiration for the 2011 documentary. ‘From Coventry to Cochem: The Art of Patrick Reyntiens.  

Whilst Patrick clearly has a great zest for life, he also has the air of one who is at peace with himself.  He and Anne had not only been blessed with four children, but also a long and happy marriage, though, sadly, Anne had passed away in 2006.

Asked about the role of faith in his life, Patrick commented that he said the Rosary every day of his life.  When prompted, he also spoke of his guardian angel, telling him: ‘You will live until you are 96.’  ‘I said, ‘How wonderful.’ He said, ‘You will have to work for it!’

It must have been difficult for Patrick, who has been an avid reader all his life, having an extensive and eclectic library, to choose the book that he would like to take with him if ever he was far away from family and friends, but he did so without hesitation. He opted for Helen Waddell: Mediaeval Latin Lyrics.

Finally, if he could take just one extra item, away with him, what would it be?  Patrick decided that he would like to have a supply of Krug champagne and was assured by Richard that his wish would be granted.

Then to the lively sound of Scott Joplin playing ‘The Entertainer,’ we all drifted outside to enjoy the drinks and delicious refreshments that had been set out in the church grounds, before returning to see the film that had been made of Patrick Reyntiens’ life and work.


NB. Patrick’s other choices of music:

*Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20, played by Alfred Brendel.  *Brahms Danse Hongroise, by Inga Sodergen and Fernanda Soares.  *Messaien’s Quartet for the end of time, performed by the Amici ensemble.  Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E Minor Opus 64, played by Nigel Kennedy.   Lizt’s ‘Apres une lecture due Dante,’ played by Alfred Brendel.   Chopin’s Fantasy in F Minor, played by Yevgeny Kissin.