Between 1995 and 1996, Brian Clarke designed and fabricated a suite of 15 stained glass windows for the restoration of the thirteenth-century Cistercian Abbaye de la Fille-Dieu in Romont, Switzerland. The restoration of the still-active convent was undertaken by architect Tomas Mikulas.
The colour of the windows relates to the path of the sun’s movement and to the nun’s daily liturgy and prayer – ‘starting from the mystical and blue morning in the sanctuary, to warm tones in the nave later in the day’. The glass chosen and developed for the windows, some hand-painted by Clarke, responds to the orientation of the building: richly textured transparent glass is used in the east, south and west windows while opaque glass is used in those that face north, onto cloisters and receive only weak natural light.
‘The complementary relationship of Clarke’s stained glass windows to the rest of the restoration is exemplary. In an almost monochrome edifice, all shades of beige-ochre (the floor, the walls, the painted murals, the wooden elements), Clarke’s stained-glass windows vigorously gather the other elements into a living whole. The architectural role that the old painted decoration, preserved in a too-fragmentary way, can no longer fulfil has been taken over by Clarke’s stained glass windows in an admirable way. A striking achievement, not figurative, resolutely contemporary, they were to be the expression of a life of hope in a convent inhabited continuously since its founding in the thirteenth century.’
In 2009, Clarke returned to this commission, after a hailstorm destroyed his 1996 oculus window for the abbey. Clarke interpreted the hailstorm as a ‘sign of God’, lending him an opportunity to perfect his previous design. In 2019, Clarke stated in ‘Romont revisited’, for the 6th Vitrofestival Romont/Swiss Glass Biennial that ‘It remains to this day one of my most treasured works.’