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Church window dedicated to a Victorian nursing heroine

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: December 26, 2013

  • "Give shelter to the homeless" window at St Matthew's Church, Walsall

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SISTER Dora is a household name in the Black Country, particularly in Walsall, a woman whose commitment to helping the injured and infirm and those suffering from disease in the second half of the 19th century elevated her to a status compared with Florence Nightingale.

When the Bugle recently visited St Matthew's in Walsall to highlight the parish church's 800th anniversary, we were also keen to see the window that had been dedicated to Sister Dora in 1882.

Although the staff kindly offered to show me, I decided to try and find it myself, but failed. After being pointed in the right direction (the great east window behind the altar) it was a surprise to find such an important memorial to one of the Black Country's finest heroines without any distinctive signs.

However, this beautiful Victorian stained-glass window, designed and fashioned at the works of Burlison and Grylls in London, includes a crucifixion tableau, four archangels, four evangelists, a row of apostles, and seven side and lower lights depicting the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, visit the sick, bury the dead, and visit the imprisoned – all acts of care which Sister Dora fulfilled during her time as a nurse in Walsall and in each light Sister Dora is portrayed in the robes of a nun in a setting akin to biblical times.

The history of Sister Dora's 13 years in Walsall is well documented, but loving, caring nature, shown to the people of the town, may never have been realised had the over zealous obsession with authority that her father, Rev Mark Pattison dished out to her mother Jane and all of her sisters prevailed. Sister Dora, born Dorothy, was the youngest daughter of 10.

Her father forbade any of his daughters to carry out works of charity and would not consent to any of their marriages. None received any formal education but, luckily for Dorothy, her eldest brother Mark made himself responsible for her education, from which she thrived.

Dorothy Pattison was tall and pretty and had many suitors in her formative years, but consistently chose work above any chance of marriage, and in 1860 she fled the family home and became schoolmistress in Little Woolston, Buckinghamshire.

While on holiday at Coatham, near Middlesbrough, she observed the work of one of the first Anglican sisterhoods (Christ Church) and in September 1864 she joined their ranks, taking the name Sister Dora.

The sisterhood already provided nurses for the cottage hospital in Walsall and it was there Sister Dora was sent in January 1865.

The cottage hospital had been established to nurse victims of industrial accidents in the town and was the place where she came to love both the work and the people. Years before her father had forbade her to join Florence Nightingale in the Crimea, but her work in Walsall must have compensated for that disappointment.

This Christmas Eve will be the 135th anniversary of Sister Dora's death from breast cancer, and the window in St Matthew's Church dedicated to her memory is a lasting reminder of the care she showed the people of Walsall.

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