Windows onto the soul of Scilly

Isles of scilly church

Hazel Southam, journalist, broadcaster and now author, recalls her love of the stories Scilly's stained glass windows tell. 


When my elderly mother said she fancied visiting the church on Bryher, I wasn’t expecting very much. Don’t get me wrong, I like visiting churches, but I had no expectation that my socks were about to be blown off by this unassuming seafront church.

But they were. The reason, largely, were the amazing stained glass windows. They were designed and created by local artist, Oriel Hicks. If you’ve got time, you can pop into her studio on St Mary’s, have a chat and see her work. You can even buy something…small.

But when we set foot on Bryher one misty spring morning, I hadn’t yet heard of Oriel Hicks.

Her work in the islands’ churches depicts biblical texts in the Isles of Scilly. So, on Bryher, one of the windows has the verse, ‘And yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.’

As this is talking about lilies, the scene contains the yellow, flag irises that you see everywhere across Scilly during the spring. They are growing on a bank, with other flowers, and above them, swallows dip and wheel.

Outside the window is exactly the same scene. Just 6ft away is a low bank where yellow irises were in bloom, alongside house leeks, valerian and poppies. The first of the swallows dip and wheel overhead.

It is breathtaking. I love coloured glass. But sometimes stained glass windows can seem rather remote from daily life. That is perhaps, only because they were designed in a different era. Then, they would have spoken very clearly into daily life and were intended as a visual aid for those who couldn’t read (or understand Latin), which would have been just about everyone.

So, it was rather thrilling to see a set of modern windows that took Bible verses (as is appropriate for churches) but placed them bang, slap in the life immediately outside the church doors.

I kept looking at the lilies window then walking outside and looking at the bank, the real thing, then going inside and looking at the window again. Talk about drawing inspiration from your surroundings!

If you travel round the islands, you’ll see that this is the hallmark of Hicks’ work. Her latest windows, on St Agnes, show gigs racing to rescue people from a shipwreck and the lighthouse that you can also see through the glass.

My parents holidayed on St Agnes more than 50 years ago, as a newly-married couple. They stayed in a house right by the lighthouse. I sat on an old wooden pew in St Agnes’ church and could reach out and touch the past, their youth, my present, and all because of a beautiful window. 


Hazel Southham
Journalist, broadcaster, and author