During this trip I’ve had the opportunity to see two very, very different pieces of needlework: St. Cuthbert’s Stole and Maniple in Durham Cathedral……
and the Quaker Tapestry in the Exhibition Center in Kendal.
One is old – one of the oldest in the UK – and the other, one of the newest. Both have deep spiritual meaning to many people and both are very fine examples of our art.
Durham is a lovely city. The buildings are beautiful and it’s full of history. Durham Cathedral is a fine example of Norman architecture, having strong lines and incredible stone work inside. It was begun in 1093, completed in 40 years and stands today with very little alteration. It’s a quietly elegant, ancient place.
In the lower level of the Cathedral is an exhibit entitled “Treasures of St. Cuthbert’s”. Here is where you will find the stole and maniple. These ancient pieces of embroidery bear inscriptions stating they were made by order of Queen Aelflaed of Wessex who died before 916. They remained in the coffin of St. Cuthbert until 1827 when the coffin was opened. Their condition is remarkable. The light in the exhibit is very, very dim – to help protect all of the treasures from light damage. It makes it quite difficult to really see anything clearly. The gold sparkles and by standing very still and looking very closely, you can see the detail. However, the photo to the left is much clearer. One surprise – the stole is long and very thin – not much wider than 2-3 inches!
In Kendal, Cumbria we visited the Quaker tapestry Exhibition Centre where the Quaker Tapestry is on display. The tapestry was the idea of Anne Wynn-Wilson, who was teaching Sunday school at the time. As a result of a chance remark by an eleven-year-old boy attending her class in a small Quaker Meeting in the South West of England, the 77 panels of the Quaker Tapestry came into being.
The Quaker Tapestry was begun in 1981 and finished in 1996. Over 4000 men, women and children worked on the tapestry from 15 countries. It’s a narrative tapestry, telling a story, like the Bayeux Tapestry.
The panels tell the stories of Quakers who have contributed in all areas of life – industry, science, medicine, human rights, abolition of slavery, education and social reform.
Each of the panels are embroidered with Appleton wool on a beautiful, soft multicolored wool specially woven for the project. A wide variety of stitches are used in the embroidery and a special stitch was developed for the large lettering. It’s a beautiful and rich tapestry.
I feel so fortunate to have seen both of these works and wish I’d been able to take all of you along with me!