For your Saturday browsing, here’s a little bit of embroidery history relating to World War I.
I love this story!
Over on The History Blog, you can read the complete story of an altar frontal stitched by soldiers during World War I as they recovered from war injuries.
Because handwork was (and still is!) therapeutic, during World War I, the Royal School of Needlework organized the embroidering of an altar frontal for St. Paul’s Cathedral. It was stitched by 133 soldiers recovering in hospitals in various parts of Britain. The altar frontal was designed in five panels, and then eventually the panels were united into one piece and hung on the high altar at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
During the Blitz in World War II, the frontal was removed for safe-keeping, and it remained in storage until recently.
The Worshipful Company of Broderers is undertaking the restoration work on the frontal, to mark the centenary of the beginning of the Great War. The frontal will be used for the first time since World War II on August 3, 2014, at St. Paul’s, and then it will hang on display at the cathedral for four years, until the 100th anniversary of the end of the World War I.
You can read more about the altar frontal and its history (and perhaps even help trace some of the original embroiderers of the frontal), by visiting the original story published on the St. Paul’s Cathedral website. There, you’ll also find a link to a spreadsheet with all the names of the embroiderers (who came from the UK, Canada, Australia, and South Africa) and the hospitals in which they recovered.
They are asking that anyone who recognizes a name on the list contact the Cathedral with the contact information supplied in the original article. You can help spread the word, too, by telling your friends, families, and acquaintances who had family members in the First World War about the project.
On the article about the frontal on The History Blog, you’ll find a link to the list in Google Documents, in case you don’t have Excel.
I love this point made by the Precentor of St. Paul’s:
The hands that clung to life in the trenches of the First World War and which lifted the bodies of dead comrades into graves, came home to craft this beautiful altar frontal. It is a symbol of faith despite everything and a deeply moving tribute to those who did not return.
This is a wonderful, bittersweet, thought-provoking work of restoration.
I would love to see the frontal in person. If you’re in London in August, or traveling there in the next four years, go to St. Paul’s! If I have the opportunity, I sure will.