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Paradise window restored after 1998 fire

21 March 2014

Geoff Knott

A £3-MILLION restoration of an ancient church has finally been completed, 16 years after it was destroyed by fire.

The installation last week of a £20,000 stained-glass east window was the last phase of the repairs to the Grade I listed St Brandon's, in Brancepeth, Co. Durham.

The paradise window, by the York-based artist Helen Whittaker, represents St Brandon's voyage in search of the Garden of Eden around 900.

It is thought that St Brandon found his earthly paradise in the Canary Islands, so the window's design shows flowers found there, including a Bird of Paradise (Strelitzia), angel's trumpets (Brugmansia), hibiscus, and jacaranda.

Ms Whittaker said: "It fills the top half of the window with an explosion of colour that celebrates our own journey to Paradise, following the path revealed by St Brandon, and witnessed by his faith. It also echoes the prayer: 'That we may see your Church raised up as a sign and sacrament of your truth and embrace', celebrating the resurrection of St Brandon's."

The lower part of the window is clear, to allow a view of an ash tree outside.

The church, which dates from the 11th century, was ravaged by a fire in 1998. The heat was so intense that stone pillars cracked, Victorian stained glass was shattered, and rare 17th-century wooden decorations incinerated. Molten lead dripped from the roof and vapourised into a yellow glaze that splashed on the surviving stonework.

The Priest-in-Charge at St Brandon's, the Revd Richard Simpson, said: "We didn't want a window to be a memorial to the fire or a monument to our past, but to look forward. The building is now both ancient and modern, and we wanted the window to reflect this."

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